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Hiking The Great Wall of China

Hiking The Great Wall of China

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When we were planning our trip on the Trans Mongolian train journey, Beijing was one of the stops I was most excited for. We did some incredible things in Beijing, but for me, the stand out was our Great Wall of China trip from Beijing.

We spent about 6 hours hiking along an unrestored part of The Great Wall of China, where we saw an incredible sunrise and absolutely no other person. I felt we truly experienced some of the wild Great Wall and I’d recommend it over and over again.

When I first started researching the best part of the Great Wall of China to visit, I quickly put the popular Badaling Great Wall section to the bottom of the list. Sure, it’s the closest and easiest section of the Great Wall but it’s also incredibly, over the top busy.

Once we were in Beijing we decided we’d try and spent the night by the Great Wall of China so that we could walk along the wall at sunrise. With buses, the earliest we could’ve got there was way after sunrise. That meant the only way to see the Great Wall of China at sunrise was to stay the night beforehand.

Useful resources and articles for planning your Trans Mongolia Railway trip
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Lonely Planet Trans Siberian Railway guide
Booking.com for great deals on accommodation
Skyscanner for cheap flights
Getyourguide.com to find great small-group tours
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About the Gubeikou Great Wall of China

The Gubeikou, China section of the Great Wall of China is one of the oldest parts of the Great Wall. Near the town of Miyun, a famous pass during the Yushun Period in China, the wall and town were both a fortress between Shanhaiguan and Juyongguan as well as being an important route from Beijing to Northern China and Inner Mongolia.

The name of “Gubeikou” has existed for over one thousand years while other four names of “Simatai Great Wall”, “Jinshanling Great Wall”, “Panlongshan Great Wall” and “Wohushan Great Wall” only appeared some 20 years ago when local governments were keen on developing Great wall tourism and making different names for the “bits” of the Wall both from economic and administrative perspectives.

From where we stayed, there were two main sections to the wall divided by a river that runs through Gubeikou town. The Wohushan (Crouching Tiger Mountain) portion in the west is much steeper and provides a more challenging hike. There’s also the eastern Panlongshan (Coiled Dragon Mountain) has a milder and clearer path that eventually begins to ramp up a few kilometres on.

The Gubeikou Wall, unlike many other sections, has never been restored. This means that at some points it’s easy to forget you’re walking on the Great Wall of China as the rock is crumbled and you can’t really see the wall. There are also some areas you actually can’t walk on the wall as it’s that crumbled.

Nevertheless, seeing the wall in its real state, without any fixes being made to it is quite something. Wherever you are on this section of the wall, you can see towers nearby and on top of pretty much every mountain around. It’s really quite incredible.

The Gubeikou Great Wall area is known for its fresh air, dense vegetation and beautiful surrounding scenery. Together, this made it a preferred spot for the emperors of various Chinese dynasties in the summer months. It became known as “Small Chengde” as a result. On top of this, the Gubeikou Great Wall has also been declared “the most famous Great Wall in China” by UNESCO.

However, it still remains quiet and relatively free of tourists so if you’re looking for quiet sections of the Great Wall of China, or for walking the Great Wall of China, then be sure to check out Gubeikou!

Where is the Gubeikou Great Wall of China?

where is gubeikou great wall map

The Gubeikou part of the Great Wall of China is around 130km north of Beijing, China.  Shown by the blue circle on the map to the left. It’s very easy to visit the Great Wall from Beijing.

Which part of the Great Wall of China to visit?

Deciding on which of the Great Wall sections to visit really depends on how much time you have and what your priorities are.

In short, if you’ve only got half a day and don’t care about hiking or the number of people then I’d suggest Badaling section of the Great Wall or the Great Wall at Mutianyu. These will be the best part of the Great Wall to visit for a quick trip.

Getting to Badaling from Beijing is relatively quick and easy since you can get there by train. Mutianyu Great Wall has also become a lot more popular in recent years. Despite it often people referred to as a quicker section of the Great Wall of China, the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall is now very busy. We spoke with people on the train to Mongolia who described it as being packed.

If you have a whole day, or more, to visit the Great Wall of China, like hiking and/or want to get away from crowds then I’d 100% recommend the Gubeikou Wall. We saw no one at all on over 6 hours of hiking and seeing an unrestored section of the wall felt quite special. The Jinshanling Wall is getting more popular and is more restored but will be a lot quieter than either Badaling or Mutianyu. The same goes for Simatai.

How to get to Gubeikou from Beijing

great wall of china at gubeikou at sunrise (1 of 1)-2

Wondering how to get to the Great Wall of China? Getting from Beijing to the Great Wall of China can be done pretty easily by public transport. When it comes to getting to Gubeikou from central Beijing, there are several different options. You can take the bus, a taxi, or drive yourselves. We chose to get the bus since it was by far the cheapest way to get to Gubeikou even if it ended up being a bit longer.

You can see how to get to the Great Wall of China below.

Beijing to Gubeikoi bus

There are 2 options when it comes to getting the bus to Gubeikou. There’s the 980 Express bus, and the tourist bus to Gubei Water Town. Getting the 980快 (the symbol means express) means you have to change, but it’s an easy enough change to make.

The 980快 bus leaves from Dongzhimen bus station (东直门交枢纽) in Beijing and the last stop takes you to tMiyun Changtu Chezhan(密云长途车站). This journey takes about 1.5 hours and costs 15RMB each. This bus leaves every 10 or so minutes and starts at 4:30 AM and finish at 18:30 every day.

Instructions in the Beijing Lonely Planet and those we received from our hostel, said that the bus would drop you off at the bus station. We found this wasn’t exactly the case. The last stop drops you off at a bus stop just a short walk away from the bus station. That doesn’t matter though as the next bus you take stops at this stop. So if anything it’s even easier. If the bus does drop you at the bus station then you’ll need to cross the main road and turn right to get bus Mi 25 (密25).

Once you’re off the 980快, wait at the stop for the Mi 25 (密25). This takes another 1.5 hours and costs 11RMB. There’s a bus roughly every hour and the last one leaves that stop at 16.50 in winter and 18.20 in summer.

Mi 25 bus to Gubeikou schedule:
Winter schedule 
  • 6:10
  • 6:40
  • 7:40
  • 8:20
  • 9:10
  • 10:10
  • 11:10
  • 12:00
  • 12:40
  • 13:15
  • 14:10
  • 14:55
  • 15:40
  • 16:50
Summer schedule 
  • 6:10
  • 6:40
  • 7:40
  • 8:15
  • 9:10
  • 10:10
  • 11:10
  • 12:00
  • 13:10
  • 14:10
  • 15:10
  • 16:10
  • 17:05
  • 18:20

Note: Once you get off the 980 Express you’ll immediately be approached by taxi drivers who’ve been waiting at that stop. They’ll try and charge you a large amount to drive you to the Gubeikou Great Wall. When we said no they kept trying to tell us there wasn’t a bus that would take us there (even though we knew there was). Stand your ground if you don’t want to get a taxi.

If you do, want to get a taxi then expect to pay around 150RMB.

Tourist bus to Gubei Water Town from Beijing

You can also get the tourist bus to Gubei Water Town and walk the Great Wall from there. The tourist bus is direct so you don’t need to worry about changing, but it doesn’t take you to where the Great Wall hikes listed below start from.

This bus leaves from Beijing South Station at 11am, 14.30 daily and there’s an extra one at 9am on weekends. From Dongzhimen Station at 12pm, 15.30 and an extra at 10am on weekends. The bus from Gubei Water Town to Beijing leaves at 9.30am, 12pm and 15.00 with an extra one at 13.00 on weekends.

Getting a taxi to Gubeikou

Getting a taxi to Gubeikou from Beijing will cost about 600RMB each way. Tell the driver you want to visit Gu Bei Kou (古北口).

great wall of china at gubeikou at sunrise (1 of 1)-2

How much does Gubeikou Great Wall cost and when is it open?

great wall of china gubeikou hike at sunrise

Great Wall of China entrance fees vary depending on which section you visit. The Gubeikou Great Wall is open all day, all year. Official entrance from Gubeikoi town is 25RMB. However, there was no one at either part of the Great Wall that we hiked during our visit.

Where to stay near the Great Wall of China

great wall of china at gubeikou at sunrise (1 of 1)-2

Despite being a small village, there are a few places to stay near the Gobeikou Great Wall of China. I think most of them are probably only on Chinese websites as when we were walking around we saw a lot more hotels than we could find online.

The Great Wall Box House

I’d recommend The Great Wall Box House which is where we stayed. Not only do you get a view of the wall from most of the rooms but you can very easily hike both sections of the wall here with Panlongshan being the closer of the two.

You can have dinner made for you at the hostel which is very tasty (if not a little expensive). The rooms are pretty comfortable and the bathrooms are spotless. Plus, if you’re a cat lover the hostel is full of them!

I’d recommend taking plenty of water with you for your stay or making the short walk to the town’s shop as the water at the hostel is very expensive (28RMB vs 5RMB). Also, remember to take cash to pay unless you have a Union Pay credit card as that’s the only one accepted!

See prices & book here

Other Gubeikou Great Wall accommodation

These hostels and hotels get great reviews and are also very close by the Gubeikou section of the Great Wall.

  • Chez Ina & Jasee: Closer to the Wohushan section, this hotel has rooms with either a shared or private bathroom. Rooms have TVs, kettles and there’s an onsite restaurant too.
  • Gubei Water Town Dongshan Farm Stay: Enjoy a Gubeikou homestay with a local family at this guest house. Breakfast included!

Prefer a Great Wall of China tour?

If you’d prefer to have all your transport and hiking on the Great Wall arranged for you, check out these Beijing Great Wall hiking tours.

Gubeikou Great Wall Hikes

great wall of china gubeikou

If you’re visiting the Great Wall of China at Gubeikou, chances are you love a little bit of a hike! Badaling and the Mutianyu Great Wall are the places to go if you just want to see the wall (along with a few thousand others). But, if you want to hike then you’ll love hiking Great Wall hiking at Gubeikou!

Panlongshan West Bound

great wall of china gubeikou hike at sunrise

This was the first small hike we did in the Gubeikou area. Leaving the Great Box Wall hostel at just after 4 am we walking through Gubeikou village streets to the sounds of crowing cockerels and headed up to the small temple area that signals the gate to the Great Wall of China.

At this time in the morning, there was no one there to buy an entrance ticket from. In fact, there wasn’t anyone anywhere!

From the temple, we headed west and followed the Great Wall of China as it crossed over the main road. From here everywhere you look you can see mountains topped with towers. Each one is different and the first one we got to we could go inside and climb up to the top.

We walked as far as the third tower, taking hundreds of photos along the way and watching the sun come up. What made the sunrise on the Panlongshan Great Wall even more special was that it rose right behind a tower!

This isn’t a long hike and it’s not particularly steep either but it’s a great one for sunrise before breakfast!

Panlongshan East Bound Loop

great wall of china at gubeikou (1 of 1)

After going westbound we still had a few hours before breakfast at the hostel was available. Therefore we retraced our steps back to the temple and went eastbound instead.

This is a bit steeper with a lot more steps than westbound, but nothing unmanageable.

From here it’s possible to do a loop which takes you past lots of towers and down back to the village (see map below).

There’s some construction work going on along this part of the section, pretty much where you turn off and come back through the village.

You’ll get great views of the towers in the distance here and the wall itself too as it winds and snakes its way over all the neighbouring hilltops.

Gubeikou to Jinshanling hike

great wall of china gubeikou

This is the hike that most people coming to Gubeikou have in mind. It’s a long day hike and in the summer it’s extremely hot so you’ll want lots of water. BUT, it’s a great one to do if you’re keen on trekking the Great Wall of China.

From Gubeikou you’ll walk along the unrestored section of the Great Wall and watch as it begins to change to a more restored version as you approach Jinshanling.

At one point along this hike, you’ll have to leave the wall and walk through the bush. That’s because part of this wall is a protected military section. Some people we spoke to recommended having a compass or at least working GPS here as it can be easy to start heading in the wrong direction once you’ve left the wall.

Other hostel guests we spoke to said that they saw people selling ice cream once they reached the Jinshanling Great Wall, for which they were super grateful given it was so warm out!

The Jinshanling part is a lot busier usually too and the easiest way to get back to Gubeikou is to get a taxi from here. Of course, if you’re doing a Great Wall day trip from Beijing you can also arrange for a taxi back to Beijing too.

The hike takes about 4-6 hours and is around 11-15km, depending on whether you have to leave the wall or not in the military section.

Finding the trailhead for above 3 hikes

From the Great Wall Box House hostel, you’ll head back to the centre of the village. This is done by turning right out of the main entrance to the hostel and walking to the end of the path. Turn right again, and then left until you come to a square with a basketball hoop. Cross the river and then turn left on to the main road through the village.

As you walk down this road keep your eyes open for this blue sign.

great wall of china gubeikou

Turn right and walk uphill and around the bend to the left and you’ll come to a temple area.

great wall of china gubeikougreat wall of china gubeikou

Climb the steps to the temple and from here you can either go left or right (east or west) depending on which of the above Great Wall hikes you want to do.

great wall of china gubeikou

Wohushan (Crouching Tiger Mountain) hike

great wall of china gubeikou hike at sunrise great wall of china gubeikou hike at sunrise

Whilst not officially open to the public, this part of the Great Wall was possibly my favourite of the sections we hiked. This is the very steep section of the wall that you’ll see climbing, very impressively, up a mountain to the west of Gubei town.

It looks like work has begun on restoring this part of the Great Wall as the very start has been mostly paved over and there’s a fairly new looking temple building near the entrance. There are also some information boards full of history of this section of the wall. But that new section ends pretty quickly and soon you’re wandering along a rocky path through the trees.

We didn’t have time to hike the whole thing before our bus left for Beijing but the section we did hike was spectacular. I can only imagine what the views from the top are like!

This was the most crumbly part of the Great Wall we came across in the area too. For a lot of the hike, we did you couldn’t walk on the wall itself as it was that crumbled and would just disappear in sections.

There’s also a railway that runs under this part of the wall – that journey must be beautiful and without a doubt one of the best hikes in China!

Finding the trailhead

To find the trailhead for this hike from The Great Wal Box House hostel, check out the below instructions.

  • Follow the above directions to the temple area.
  • Go through the gate and walk down into the town, parallel with the main road to your left.
  • When you reach the Dongsheng Building Materials Store (东升建材商店), turn left and walk towards the main road.
  • Cross the main road and take the bridge over the river.
  • Follow the road straight and round a bend and the entrance to the Wohushan Wall will be on your left.

Sleeping on the Great Wall of China

great wall of china gubeikou hike at sunrise

You can also go camping on the Great Wall of China. The Great Wall Box House hostel will help you organise this or, if you’ve packed your camping gear with you you’re basically good to go. Whilst officially you’re not supposed to, there’s literally no one around so practice the rules of wild camping and arrive late, leave early and you’re sure to be good.

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