A childhood bucket list: Hiking the Great Wall of China

The Great Wall and I have a long history

I wrote my first bucket list when I was in 2nd grade. It hung on my bedroom door for many years. It was written in cursive on 8.5×11 printer paper and decorated with stickers along the edge. It wasn’t a very long list. This was pre-Google and pre-Instagram after all and much of what I knew of the world came from children magazines and books.

I attempted to create THE ultimate bucket list multiple times ever since, but it never took. I guess I’m not much of a list person. But throughout the various versions, there were 2 things that constantly made it to the top of the lists: to see the Great Pyramids in Egypt and to stand on the Great Wall of China.

I still haven’t been to Egypt.

But I finally can say that I’ve crossed off one of the oldest bucket list items in my life. Woot!

I stood on the Great Wall of China!!

But now that I’m finally here in China, standing on the Great Wall just won’t cut it. Oh no.

I need to HIKE the Great Wall!

The not-so-fun way of hiking the Great Wall

The most common, and some say the best, section of the Great Wall to hike is between Jinshanling and Simatai. The drive from Beijing to Jinshanling trailhead took a little over 2 hours.

When we arrived the guide gave us a map and unceremoniously escorted us out of the bus with some parting wisdom, “Remember to turn left at the junction, not right. Ok, bye! Try not to get heatstroke!

And off we go.

Did I mention it was 100 degrees out with 90% humidity? And there was no lick of shade?

The Great Wall was much more impressive than I expected
The Great Wall was much more impressive than I expected
And going...
It just keeps on going and going…
It just keeps on going and going...
And going…

I just arrived in Beijing 8 hours earlier. Between the heat and the jetlag, I didn’t quite realise how excited I should’ve been (thus the lack of pics of moi on the Wall – I was too busy surviving). I’d been dreaming of being on the Great Wall for so long but at the time all I felt was the sun beating on me and the sweat dripping down my back, my legs, and from my face to my camera.

Midway I strike a conversation with a German girl (whom I later met again in Xi’an), and that helped distract me. Misery loves company and all that.

And eventually I got used to the heat. I hit my stride, picked up the pace, and I practically ran the last mile of the wall. I can now say that not only did I hike the Great Wall of China, I ran it!

(Ok, it was more like a jog. Or a very quick walk. And it was towards the cold beer I knew was waiting at the end).

Between the huffing and puffing, I kept saying to myself, “I’m in China, I’m in China and I’m on the freaking Great Wall!”

It might’ve taken me some 25+ years to make a childhood dream happen, but I did. I gotta say, that was a pretty sweet feeling.

I read that it can get crowded on the Great Wall. I think it's true on the sections closer to Beijing (Badaling and even Mutianyu), but out here there was often just me and the endless wall.
I read that it can get crowded on the Great Wall. I think it’s true on the sections closer to Beijing (Badaling and even Mutianyu), but out here there was often just me and the endless wall.
All alone on the Wall :)
All alone on the Wall 🙂
Even though the Jinshanling to Simatai section is mostly flat, there are some uphill stretches.
Even though the Jinshanling to Simatai section is mostly flat, there are some uphill stretches.
And some steps are quite high
And some steps are quite high
Looking back towards we just came from
Looking back towards we just came from

How to Hike the Great Wall of China



The Tour:
I booked a Jinshanling to Simatai tour from Beijing Downtown Backpackers Hostel.
If I were to do it again, I’d have gone with a tour where the guide actually comes on the hike (like this one).

Hiking length: 6km (3.7miles), passing 22 towers with some parts in original condition.
Longer hike possible from Jiankou to Mutianyu

Getting supplies: There are stores selling hats and sunscreens, snacks (non-perishables like chips, crackers, etc) at the trailhead. There are people who sell cold drinks and instant noodle on the wall.

Things I wish I had brought: fresh fruit and wet wipes.

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