The Great Wall of China…one of the world’s most iconic sights and one of the top ten things to do on many traveler’s bucket lists. We couldn’t visit China without seeing this amazing place. It was so amazing that we actually visited the Great Wall twice. Our first visit was to the restored section at Mutianyu. Several days later we hiked the unrestored section between Jiankou to Mutianyu.
About the Great Wall of China
The Great Wall of China spans thousands of kilometers, stretching from the Yellow Sea to the Gobi Desert in Mongolia. Some of the most accessible sections are found near Beijing, a city that deserves at least several days on any visit to China. From Beijing, Badaling and Mutianyu are the most accessible sections of Great Wall, and farther out lie the unrestored sections of Jiankou, Jinshanling, Simitai, and Huangyaguan.
For us, the section of Jiankou seemed the most interesting. This section offers awesome views of the wall switchbacking across the mountain peaks, plenty of steep climbs, and almost no other visitors. Add in a few slippery, almost dangerous sections and this sounded perfect for our thrill seeking family. While our two Moms were out shopping in Beijing, the Earth Trekkers would be getting some great exercise on the Great Wall of China.
Hiking Jiankou to Mutianyu
For this hike we hired a guide, using the tour company Great Wall Hiking. Their perfect reviews on Trip Advisor caught our attention and through communication by phone and email they made it simple to book our tour. Things were all set for our Friday the 13th hike on the Great Wall of China.
At 8 am we met our guide for the day, Yaxin, at our hotel. By minivan we were driven out to the Great Wall and two hours later our hike began. It was a chilly morning, temperatures starting off in the low 30’s, and there were still spots of snow on the ground. We had crystal clear skies and a bright sunny day, perfect for those awesome views of the wall and the surrounding mountains.
Yaxin led us on a one hour hike uphill through forests and shrubs to the Jiankou section of the Great Wall. It was a bit strenuous and a great warm up for what was to come later in the day.
Climbing onto the Great Wall of China
To get onto the wall we had to climb up two wooden ladders.
From atop one of the watchtowers we had our first panoramic views of the Great Wall of China. To the west the Great Wall snaked off towards to Gobi Desert, a long, long way from here. To the east was the unrestored section of Jiankou out to the restored section of Mutianyu. The skies were clear enough that we could see all of the way out to Beijing. Yaxin had snacks in his backpack which we gobbled up, hungry from our climb up the mountain. What an amazing place for a pitstop!
This is an Amazing Hike!
For two and a half hours we hiked along the crumbling, unrestored sections of the Great Wall. This was a blast for our whole family.
Hiking here was like walking on an obstacle course…stepping over piles of stone blocks, weaving around trees growing on the wall, skirting around areas where the wall was starting to fall away into the valleys below. At times we were walking right along the edge of the wall, as the stone railings had fallen away maybe even hundreds of years ago.
For kids, this truly was an adventure, and Tyler and Kara thought that this was much more fun than walking along the smooth, safe, perfectly preserved wall we had walked on just two days ago.
Halfway through hiking Jiankou, Yaxin gave us a choice: take a short cut, briefly leaving the Great Wall, to avoid a large climb and descent, or make that climb up the wall with a very slippery downhill section. Tim and I left the choice up to Tyler and Kara and they very enthusiastically chose the more difficult but adventurous of the two options. Back up the wall we go!
The climb up and over rough terrain and loose stone blocks was challenging but was also exactly why we chose this section of the wall. We love the climbs and we really love those views once we get to the mountaintop.
From here, the highest part of the hike, our views were the best of the day. We also got a good view of what lay ahead of us…a very steep descent on a slippery stone trail. Going down just may be harder than going up!
Sliding Down the Great Wall of China
Descending back down the wall was challenging for all of us. With aid of the wall, using the windows and brick work as handholds, we were able to climb back down the wall. We were slipping and sliding and Kara fell a few times, laughing all the way. I do not know what we would do if these stone railings weren’t intact. This was the most dangerous part of the day but if you ask Tyler and Kara it was also the most exciting.
Mutianyu Section of the Wall
A few more quick climbs and descents got us to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall. This part of the wall we saw just two days ago. Having walked the wild wall really made us appreciate how smooth and easy it was to walk on this part of the wall. Mutianyu almost looked too pretty and too perfect.
Our hike continued for one more hour as we walked along Mutianyu from station 20 out to station 6. There are several ways to get down from the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall: cable car, chair lift, or toboggan. Tyler and Kara were adamant about riding the toboggan, the quickest and most exciting way to get back to the parking lot. This ride was not covered in our fee we paid for today’s tour but the extra cost was worth it. Yes, walking on the Great Wall was a blast for Tyler and Kara but riding the toboggan was icing on the cake.
Riding the Toboggan
The toboggan, a marvel of German engineering, is a luge type track in which people ride a sled on wheels. The only control is a lever which serves as a brake. To steer, just lean left or right and let the curves of the track guide you down the mountain. It is very safe and simple and tons of fun, especially for kids.
We first rode on a toboggan while in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany and Tyler and Kara still talk about it today. We never thought we would be able to ride on one in China! This toboggan course is awesome. It’s a long ride, taking 2 to 3 minutes to get to the bottom, with lots of twists and turns to keep things exciting.
From the parking lot of Mutianyu, our driver, Xiao, picked Yaxin and the four of us up. Now it was time for a very late lunch, as it was 3 pm by now. Tyler got Subway (because of his peanut allergy) and then the rest of us ate at a local Chinese restaurant. Here we ate fried green beans, beef and pork dishes, shrimp, and several kinds of rice. Lunch was good and we didn’t realize how much of an appetite we worked up until we started eating.
By 6 pm we were back at our hotel in Beijing. It was a fabulous day and without a doubt will be one of the highlights of China for our family.
More About Hiking Jiankou to Mutianyu with Kids
We hired the company Great Wall Hiking. They run a variety of tours to the Great Wall, most of them to the unrestored sections. The service they provided was very professional. Everything ran like clockwork, with our guide meeting us on time at our hotel and with transportation provided to and from the Great Wall.
Our guide, Yaxin, was excellent. He spoke very good English and he was great with Tyler and Kara, always making sure that they were safe and having a good time. We are very pleased with our experience with Great Wall Hiking and highly recommend them to others considering a more adventurous visit to the Great Wall of China.
The hike from Jiankou to Mutianyu spans 9.5 km (6 miles). The entire journey, from pick up to drop off at our hotel, took a total of ten hours. It was a long, challenging day but very much worth it.
Tyler and Kara had a great time. At the time of hiking, our kids were 10 and 12 years old. If your kids have the stamina, seeing the unrestored sections are much more exciting for children than the restored areas. Just be prepared for lots of climbing and some slippery sections. By taking the route from Jiankou to Mutianyu, you get the best of both worlds: the crumbling, ancient wall, the beautifully restored sections, and the grand finale of the toboggan at the end. For adventurous families, this is an awesome way to see the Great Wall of China.
Post updated June 2018.
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