Julie China 25 Comments

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

Hiking Stats

Distance: 6.73 km (4.2 miles) one-way
Starting Elevation: 625 meters (2,050 feet)
Ending Elevation: 525 meters (1,700 feet)
Highest Elevation: 1,202 meters (3,350 feet)
Lowest Elevation: 500 meters (1,650 feet)
Total Elevation Gain: 525 meters (1,700 feet)
Total Elevation Loss: 650 meters (2,125 feet)

Great Wall of China Elevation Profile

Elevation profile

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.

starting the hike

Climbing onto the Great Wall of China

To get onto the wall we had to climb up two wooden ladders.

Climbing Ladder


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!

Jiankou China

Jiankou Great Wall of China

Great Wall of China with kids

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.

Tyler Rivenbark China

Jiankou to Mutianyu

Great Wall Hike unrestored with kids


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!

Earth Trekkers China

Hiking Great Wall with kids

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!

Great Wall of China in March

Great wall China hike

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.

Hiking unrestored Great Wall China

Great Wall unrestored

Great wall with kids

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.

Great Wall of China

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.

Tyler Rivenbark

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

Tyler Yaxin and KaraWe 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 6.73 km (4.2 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 hike, 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.

We did this hike in March 2015.

More Information for Your Trip to China

CHINA: Learn how to visit Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, the best things to do in Yangshuo, what it is like to hike the Great Wall of China, things to do in Beijing, and get essential travel tips for China.

TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY: For more information about the camera gear we carry, check out our Travel Photography Gear Guide. And tips and tricks for taking great photos in our article How to Take Better Photos while Traveling.

TRAVEL INSPIRATION: For more travel ideas, here are 10 unique destinations to put on your travel wish list and 10 bucket list destinations from around the world.

GREAT HIKES FROM AROUND THE WORLD: For more great hikes, check out our article listing the 20 Best Day Hikes in the World. See our full list in our Hiking Guide.

Going to China? Read all of our articles on our China Travel Guide.


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Comments 25

  1. Avatar for SRT

    I remember doing this exact route some 10 years ago. that view that hits you the moment you climb up the wooden ladder (manned by an elder who climbs the mountain to the wall daily!) after trekking up the mountain is really unforgettable.

  2. Avatar for Beverly

    Julie Amazing story and photos of the Great Wall. We were planning on Spring 2021 being in Asia for several months but who knows now when we will be traveling to the area. It sounds like you have been to Beijing several times. Any place special you like to stay?
    At this point in time, we still have Morocco starting September 24th and then on to Egypt Oct 22. I have secured Ali as our guide.
    Only time will tell –
    We had to come home from Puerto Vallarta early and it is still cold here in Michigan. Oh will, it gives us extra time to open up the house and get it ready for Summer. Take care and stay well

    1. Avatar for Julie

      We spent one month in China in 2015. About one week of that was in Beijing. We stayed at a small hotel called Michael’s House. If you are looking for a small, budget hotel this is a good one to consider. The staff here were super friendly. Every night, Celine, one of the women who worked here, helped with Tyler with his Mandarin. I don’t know if she still works there…we fell out of touch over the years. I am hopeful that travel will pick up this fall. Morocco and Egypt will be an amazing trip…I can’t wait to follow your travels. Cheers, Julie

  3. Avatar for Donna Andersen
    Donna Andersen

    Such a glorious adventure!! My husband is not able to do such a strenuous hike, but we both love the older, original pieces of history. Is there a place on the Beijing side of the wall where we can gently visit and see the Jiankou part? We’d love to be able to at least experience a slice of the more original!!!
    Many thanks!!!

    1. Avatar for Julie

      Jiankou joins up with Mutianyu, and Mutianyu is a restored section of the wall, so it’s much easier to walk. However, to be able to look out towards the Jiankou section, you will have to walk up a long, steep staircase. On our post Walking the Great Wall of China (which is all about Mutianyu and written by Kara), there is a series of photos of this staircase/hill towards the end of the post, so you know what to expect. Jiankou is just past this steep hill. I can’t recall how much you would be able to see from here, but it’s your best bet without actually hiking Jiankou. Cheers, Julie

  4. Avatar for Martin
    1. Avatar for Julie
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