How to find a great escape in the Great Wall

How to find a great escape in the Great Wall

Just two hours from Beijing, travelers can spend a night in a Ming watchtower

Hikes along the Great Wall are a relatively simple option, easily accessible from Beijing, and can be done leisurely over several days or in a power-trek over just one or two days. 

We geared up for the Gubeikou section of the Great Wall in Miyun County, about two hours north of Beijing.

We hiked to four Ming watchtowers on the peaks of rigid hills where we set up camp in a windy tower, downed a few Stella beers and enjoyed the expansive views. 

"Checking in" at the Great Wall at Gubeikou.

Equipment and camping gear is strewn about. Sleeping, or trying to sleep, in a watchtower is rough.

The two-hour hike along rigid peaks to reach the watchtower was no easy task.

Now this is a view worth hiking all day for.

We hiked uphill through muddy trails overgrown with trees and lilac bushes to three more watchtowers.

Still standing strong and looking remarkably solid even after all these years.

The view seemed endless. We counted 15 watchtowers on the hilltops around us.

A final look out from the Gubeikou tower window before we departed. 

Camping the Great Wall of China

It isn't as difficult to camp the Great Wall as one might think. A quick Google search finds a plethora of companies offering hikes and camping tours.

Mountain Biking Asia leads a five-day, 40-kilometer trek in Hebei province (from US$2,000 per person).

China Adventure Tours runs hikes ranging from one to 24 days (US$74 to US$3,200+ per person). Or you can go it alone.

A 10-kilometer stretch between Jinshanling and Simatai is a popular section for hiking, and Huanghuacheng and Mutianyu also have sections of well-preserved wild Wall.

Beijing taxis will take you to the wall for about US$70 round trip. Bring plenty of food and water, a flashlight for each person (we learned this the hard way), and toilet paper (missing a flashlight makes things in this area, uh, difficult).

Designate a group toilet, most definitely not in the tower.

Rules and regulations about hiking and camping on the Wild Wall are murky. Technically, Beijing Municipality limits access to parts of the wall not designated tourist areas (Hebei province does not), but rules are rarely enforced. Graffiti, removing bricks and littering are all illegal.

Also, be respectful of your surroundings and don't act like idiots if you choose to camp on (or in) a historic site like the Great Wall of China.

Article first published  October 2011, updated June 2012

Mitch Moxley is a journalist based in Beijing. He's written for publications including Time, The Globe and Mail, Foreign Policy and The Guardian from China, Mongolia, Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines.

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