Great Wall of China
Best Walking Trails, Ed-Shoe-Cation

Top Hikes In China – What You Need For Walking the Great Wall

The Great Wall of China is located in northern China, and is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world.  It also happens to be one of the most popular walking trails in the world, and many have gone there for just that reason.   

One thing about the Great Wall is this – the more we learn, the less we seem to know.  Some say The Great Wall of China extends from the Gobi desert to the Yellow Sea.  Some describe it as a wall extending from the Shanhai Pass in the Hebei province by the Bo Sea, to the Jiayuguan pass in the Gansu Province in the west.

Construction of theGreat Wall of China by dynasties

What we do know for sure is that it was built a very long time ago and it was added to over the years by different generations or dynasties of Chinese people, for 2 main reasons.

Why was the Great Wall built?

The Battle of Xiangyang

The Battle of Xiangyang in 1267 was a key battle for the Mongols as they moved into China.

Just as U.S. President Trump today, wants to build a wall between the United States of America and Mexico, to protect his country from intruders from the south, the Chinese people over 2000 years ago between the 8th and 5th Century B.C. , wanted to build a wall to keep their enemies out of China.

The Chinese people also needed a trade route to central Asia so they could walk along side their camels who were carrying their trade goods to Mongolia, and then bringing new products back to their homeland safely.

What materials were used to build the wall?

At the beginning, gravel was placed between wood in piles to form a wall, but as time passed, stones and whatever materials were available to the people, were used to make the wall of today.

How long is the Great Wall?

The Great Wall of China is the longest structure ever built by humans.  It is between 4000 miles and 14000 miles in length.

The widest section is around 9 metres (30 ft.) and the highest point is 8 metres.

The wall has been destroyed in places many times and renovated over the years in other places as well. The Wall is in great shape near Beijing because it is a popular tourist attraction and they need it to look its best.

Walking the Wall from Jinshanling to Simatai

Private tour of Great Wall from Jinshanling

If you are planning a holiday in China and you want to include walking the Wall in your itinerary, you might want to begin in Beijing.

You could spend awhile in Beijing enjoying its highlights i.e. visit the Forbidden City; marvel at the Summer Palace; here about the history while in Tiananmen Square; walk among the remaining hutongs (traditional old streets); and of course enjoy Houhai Lake with food and drink.

The day before your walk adventure begins, relax and make last minute preparations before you travel to Jinshanling about 100 km away by bus or auto.

The distance from Jinshanling to Simatai is 11 km and you will be walking east. This section of the Wall is adventurous, but that all depends on you fitness level and maybe your age.  It is definitely magnificent for all who come.

Even though the first part of this section is popular, it shouldn’t feel too busy.  Most tourists can’t walk too far, so after 3 hours of walking, you should be pretty much on your own.

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Watchtowers will aid you in your picture taking and be careful of the obstacles i.e loose gravel and rocks.

This might be a good spot to talk about your footwear. You will be walking and stopping and viewing and talking for most of the day.  You might be climbing and slipping, and balancing as well.

Let’s assume that you exercise regularly because you are planning on walking at least to Simatai. You still need the best walking shoes or hiking boots if you prefer, which will allow you to make the trek.

There will probably be workers and signs of renovations but you might decide to walk more than the 11 km.  Footwear, water, snacks, and comfy clothing are all super important as most experienced walkers know.

Guided or Unguided Tours?

Many local hostels and hotels offer unguided day trips.  They will help you get to the starting place and pick you up at the other end.  Remember, to get to Simatai, you will be walking east.

If you traveled from Beijing to Jinshanling and you found accommodations there, you might be interested in walking west the next day to Gubeikou, which is about the same distance (12 km).

This walk is different and well worth the extra day.

Walking parts of the Oldest Section of the Great Wall

the great wall

It is very important to note that The Great Wall of China is many walls in northern China, not necessarily connected.  As time passes, more “great walls” are being exposed and experts believe that this wall is much bigger and longer than might be imagined.

The world’s longest structure winds through many different environments such as rugged mountains, desert corridors, and lush marshlands.

If you are ready to walk the “original Great Wall of China”, or at least parts of it, you might want to begin at Lanzhou.

Prepare yourself for sensations that will dazzle your emotions from monkey legends to giant water wheels to bactrian camels, native to this part of the world.

bactrian camel

Learn about ancient irrigation methods.  Try to identify hundreds of different fruits and vegetables, but most of all, enjoy the walk!

Be Prepared! You never know who you might meet

tourists at the Great Wall of China

Exploring the beauty of the Great Wall less traveled will definitely mean less humans to contend with.  You will be experiencing the Wall in its most natural form, possibly unrestored over 2000 years.

Don’t forget to …

•  Plan your trip in the spring or autumn seasons for northern China.  The temperature needs to be comfortable for you since you will be hiking great distances each day.

•  Hire a local guide if possible and use a reputable tour company.  This person will be able to give you not only the history of the Wall, but add local gossip that you would otherwise never know.

•  Be prepared for all types of weather.  Since you probably will be walking through a variety of habitats, you might encounter rain, cold/hot temps., snow and ice, rocks slopes and more.  You definitely need more that one pair of hiking boots.  You might want to look into “Vivobarefoot” for a great pair of minibus footwear.  If it is possible to wear pants and shirts that absorb moisture, that would be great!  Dress in layers as well.

•  Behave like a “true” environmentalist.  Leave the place in better shape than when you arrived.  That could mean that you will be picking up other people’s garbage so bring a bag.

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•  Remain hydrated too!  Bring your own water.  You might be fortunate enough to have a camel pack container for your water.  You wear it on your back and drink through a tube when necessary.

•  We will assume since you are a “walker”, that you will be wearing sun screen and be carrying a smart phone with a great camera i.e. iPhone 7 plus.  Oh, and good quality binoculars are a must.

•  Have fun whenever possible too.  For example, take some Chinese cash with you because you might want to toboggan down the Wall near Badaling or Mutianyu.  It isn’t expensive, but it does cost.  Just so NO to the vendors along the way.  You are they to walk not to shop, and you really don’t want to carry too much cash on your personal body.

•  Get into shape before you visit China, because this section of the wall can be challenging, and you want to be prepared for anything.  You wouldn’t want to have to access your health insurance so far from home.

The Great Wall under construction

After walking the first stage of this ancient section of the Great Wall, you might be ready for a camel ride through part of the Tengger Desert.

camel trek on the Tengger DesertThe beautiful sand dunes, arid plant life, beetles and lizards, and the buried Great Wall, will be a welcome change to walking.

Ejin Banner

The Wall’s towers, like the Ejin Banner,  peak above the sand, still watching for the intruders from the north.

The temperatures at night are in direct contrast to the daytime.  Sleeping is rather comfortable.

camping in the desert


In closing, whether you walk the 1960’s version of the Great Wall of China, one hour from Beijing, with all the crowds, or you walk the beginning of the ancient Wall beginning at Lanzhou, you will never forget this experience!

The hikes might be crowded or remote but still wonderful!  Your days will be long and exhausting, and you will require stamina.

The desert is not a mountain when it comes to hiking, but it will get hot during the day and cold at night, so wear layers.

Beautiful scenery from the Great Wall

You will need specific equipment and supplies.  Besides the hat, sunglasses, and all the clothing mentioned earlier, pay particular attention to your footwear.

Vivobarefoot men’s trackers might be just the right footwear for this special, once in a lifetime China walk.

Vivobarefoot men's trackers

Make sure your footwear is broken in.  Wear them for up to a year before you go. Take a spare pair just in case.  Use that pocket knife to cut your pieces of moleskin to place on your blisters and sore spots.

Whether you wear Nike Minimus, Tom’s shoes/boots, Vivobarefoot, or just an old pair of cross trainers, you need comfort, grips, and durability on your feet.

And one last thing …

Stay close to your group so you don’t get lost.  It happens. The bus rides are rather long before you begin the walk, but the Chinese culture is so different, your camera will never get a rest.

Forget the backpacks, there are too many people who could steal something you can’t afford to lose.  Go with the cross body bags with the secure zippers. The Lowepro passport sling might be a good idea.  You always want to know wear your passport is.

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