To get a better understanding of the Great Wall of China history, free from crowds and hawkers selling souvenirs, you need to go a bit wild. By wild, I mean heading to the wild wall section of the Great Wall near Beijing. ‘Wild wall’ is the name given to any unrestored section of the Great Wall of China near Beijing. Spending a day hiking a section of the Great Wall which had been left in its natural state was a highlight of my trip. It also gave me plenty of Great Wall of China information to pass on to others who might also want to do this Great Wall of China walk.
Clear skies, a great guide and the feeling of being surrounded by history and nature made this the tour of a lifetime. Great Wall of China tourism has grown incredibly since tourists first started visiting the wall. By venturing away from most of the other tourists who visit better known parts of the wall, you get a deeper appreciation of the Great Wall of China. Because I had such a great time hiking the wild wall (and it was hard to find information on how to do it well), I wanted to share some of my tips for walking the wild wall.
So, where is the wild wall? It is everywhere in northern China, but some parts of it are easier to get to than others. One critical factor about exploring the wild wall is the safety issue. Wild sections of the wall are not developed for tourists and travellers so they are potentially hazardous to get to and climb. This is where a few top tips come into play when planning a visit to a section of the wild wall near Beijing.
1. Wild wall walk with a guide
Do some research and invest in a guide who is knowledgeable and safety conscious. Some guides can be looking for a quick buck and will cut corners to make life a little easier for themselves. Look for good feedback on sites such as TripAdvisor and also do some independent research. We found Imperial Tours online and were reassured by the fact their tour got great reviews and the photos of the walk looked good. A guide who speaks excellent English and understands the history of the wall is essential so you can learn about what you’re seeing. This is one of the best things about hiking the wild wall near Beijing and really brings the whole experience to life.
2. Get fit for your wild wall hike
With many sections of the wild wall open for hiking, it’s essential to choose one that is a good fit for your level of fitness. Some parts are relatively flat with only small climbs while others are downright terrifying. The wild wall at Jiankou is one example of this as it is perilously steep. Do some research and talk to potential tour guides about which section is best for you. It is important that you are honest with them and resist the temptation to overstate your level of fitness.
3. When to visit the wild wall
Spring and autumn are by far the best times to hike the wild wall. Both of these seasons are neither too hot nor too cold. Weather is the most significant factor when hiking the wild wall. In summer you will bake, and in winter you can freeze as these sections of the wall are open to the elements. One thing I didn’t consider on my visit was wind. As some sections of the wall are quite steep and narrow, wind can play a big part in cancelling or changing the trip. If the wind is too strong, it can get pretty hairy when you’re clinging onto mortar that is a few thousand years old while looking down the side of a mountain.
4. Learn about the Great Wall
Watch a documentary or read up on the general history of the Great Wall of China before you do the hike. By doing some research on the wall, you will get a much greater appreciation of the architectural and engineering achievements which make this structure so incredible. My most significant wow moment came at the end of our hiking trip along the wild wall. We had walked for about an hour before coming to a crest on top of a guard tower. My eyes took in the sight of the mountains before me and the Great Wall which seemed stretch on forever, winding up the incredibly high peaks and down steep valleys, until it vanished in the distance. It is hard to comprehend how vast this structure really is.
5. Allow one day in your itinerary
One aspect to consider with the wild wall is how long it takes to experience it. You will need to allow at least one free day in your itinerary to walk the wild wall. A few days which can be swapped with another activity if the weather is bad is even better. It takes at least two hours from Beijing to reach most of the sections worth visiting, and this is without heavy traffic. The highways which lead to the sections of the Great Wall outside Beijing are amazing, fast and new. The biggest issue is traffic leaving and entering Beijing.
Leave as early as you can and expect significant delays on your trip back to Beijing as you get closer to the city. You will need to allow at least three hours on the wall itself to get the most out of a walk on the wild wall. You don’t need to walk for the whole three hours but you do need plenty of time to keep stopping to take photos. A whole day is required due to the traffic on the trip to and from the wild wall.
6. Take your rubbish with you
One thing I wasn’t expecting was the litter dumped at the towers along the wall. Always do the right thing and take all of your rubbish with you. Even better, pick up some empty cans and packets and take more back than you came with. It is essential to respect the history and culture of this magnificent structure. As the saying goes, take only photos and leave only footprints.
Disclosure: The writer loves exploring the Great Wall of China and would gladly go back and do it all again tomorrow.