Escape the Crowds: Where to Hike the Wild Great Wall
Updated: Nov 11, 2020
Ok y’all, amazing is a word we throw around pretty frequently. And I will admit that I have been known to toss it around all cavalier-like to describe anything from a great basket of french fries to the latest drama on The Bachelor.
But for real, today we experienced something that actually amazed us—and in case you didn’t glean it from the title, that something was The Great Wall of China. Ok, so even though the Great Wall cannot be seen from outer space (I know, I was a little disappointed when I found out, too. But I thought it was only right that you knew the truth), the Great Wall is still; well—pretty great. It is impressive in its seeming endlessness (over 5,000 miles) and it amazes me to think it was constructed over 600 years ago. And today, we traversed about five of those miles, and it. was. amazing.
As you might know, I have a penchant for the road less traveled, so to speak. And I wanted to experience the beauty of the Great Wall without the infringement of crowds. Therefore, simply hopping on a cable car and riding to the top for a photo op (which is fine, if that is your thing), simply wasn’t for us. As one of our hiking mates stated, “I like to work for it.” And we definitely did! It may not have been quite as challenging as our Torres del Paine hike, but it was just as exhilarating.
Our driver from Wild Great Wall Adventure Tours picked us up bright and early after a breakfast of hard-boiled eggs and watermelon (I just wasn’t in the mood for noodles and chicken feet this morning). Outfitted in hiking shoes and athletic apparel and loaded down with snacks and water, thirteen of us jumped in the van for the two hour ride out of the city. The farther we traveled from Beijing, the more sky we could see, and I could glimpse the mountains surrounding the city for the first time.
We began in a little village, almost a mile hike below the wall. The path up was steep, but afforded us some pretty spectacular views of the wall in the distance.
When we finally reached the wall, we let out whoops of joy—and then received a bit of a start when a man’s head popped out from above. He was not guarding the wall from Huns, but from tourists. We needed to pay 5RMB to pass, which we happily gave.
Climbing the tower to finally access the wall.
Part of our desire to hike this part of the wall was because it is “wild”. Trees have overtaken most of the path and full sized stones litter the walkways. Clambering to the outlook rooftops provided breathtaking 360 degree views of the mountains, with the wall snaking through the trees like a vein. The lookout towers have an almost haunting air about them, and it was crazy to imagine what it must have been like to be stationed on this great structure so many years ago.
Our Wild Great Wall adventure came to a fork in the road at the Ox Horn Bend—considered dangerous due to its steep incline and propensity for tripping up unwitting tourists. Before our driver had taken his leave, he advised against taking the route, suggesting a less dangerous shortcut through the woods. But, if you really think about it, everything can be dangerous—heck, getting in your car every day is dangerous! And, sometimes you need a little bit of danger in your life to appreciate feeling alive. At least, that’s what three out of thirteen of us thought. So, with that, we broke off to take the (very steep) road less traveled (probably for a reason). (Sorry, Mom!)
The path was indeed steep, and it started to rain once we had reached the top. But the views were absolutely stunning and other life-affirmation-seeking (crazy?) individuals passed us along the way. We quickly took our leave before the stones became too slippery and half crab crawled, half slid down the other side of the bend. We rejoined our group intact and exhilarated!
I'm not sure what the exact angle of this incline was, but it's STEEP!
Ok, I need to impress on all of you how many steps this thing has. It’s a lot. After putting our hammies and glutes to the test with our steep ascent, we finally reached the restored portion of the wall, where our knees and quads got in on the action. I think my legs were almost vibrating at one point, the muscles were shaking so much. Thousands of steps and almost as many photos later, we reached the comfort of the cable car, where our tired feet and legs received a well earned rest!
This trek reminded me why I wanted to travel in the first place---the world is full of amazing, awe-inspiring places that make you feel humbled. In a time when we can be so divided, it is inspiring to see the beauty that other cultures and countries have to offer. I, for one, left that wall a little bit changed and truly amazed. I hope you have the chance to visit someday for yourself!
Andrew signing his name on one of the Great Wall towers.
Head on over to TripAdvisor if you would like to read my full, official review. Keep an eye out next week for a video featuring our adventures on the Great Wall of China. Subscribe to receive regular updates right to your inbox!