I have done this twice, with different routes. Both were great experiences, especially the sunrise and sunset on the wild Great Wall, with all its broken ramparts and uneven surface covered with grass and shrubs. There is much information regarding how to do it, but all in Chinese. I know, you guys all speak fluent Chinese so no problem.
Just kidding. 😀 I am sure it would help if I just write an English version since recently I got asked several times about how to camp on the wild Great Wall. 🙂
In the northern part of Beijing there are several sections of Great Wall, some of which are developed for tourism while many others are left to nature and time. Have you ever been to Badaling（八达岭）? This is the most touristic section of the Wall I have ever seen…… and no, I don’t want to revisit it. When I went back to China last year to work for a year, I finally got time to explore the wild sections, which proved to be much more interesting.
Among all the wild Wall sections, the one ADJACENT TO MUTIANYU (慕田峪) is the easiest to reach from Beijing downtown, so I will talk about this section and leave the other section named Jiankou (which includes more hardcore trekking) for another article when I have time to write.
Pic 1. Just Some Lovely Photo To Get Your Attention
1. Take metro to Dongzhimen Metro Station (东直门地铁站). Exit through Exit H to come aground. Then go to Dongzhimen Bus Station (东直门公交枢纽) just a few meters away, which was a rather big indoor station just beside a Chinese fast food store NOT the one which was on the roadside. That was a bus stop, not station.
2. Find 916 or 916 Express (916快), which departs about every 20 minutes. Normally you don’t need to wait for the bus. Once a bus departs, the next bus will dock, so there is always a bus there, which you could buy the ticket (or use your public traffic card, which I totally recommend) to enter. The price was about 12 RMB (2 USD) as I recall. Before stepping in, it helps to confirm with the driver that this one does go to Mutianyu (慕田峪) direction. To do this, you need to speak fluent Chinese. Ok, let’s start Chinese lessons right now. Read aloud after me, “*&%%&**^$”. Just kidding. 😀 Just asking the driver “Mutianyu?” will be sufficient.
Pic 2. Just Another Lovely Photo To Get Your Attention
3. Bang! The bus departs. WOWO! How exciting! 😛 😀 Remember that the bus does not go directly to Mutianyu. Once you make the driver/other passengers know that you are going to Mutianyu. He/She will tell you when to step out. The bus ride is a bit less than one hour as I recall, so after a while go to the driver and ask him/her if you should get prepared to get off.
4. Black taxi. Yes, now it’s the exciting time! Once you are dropped off on the roadside., you will see some cars or minivans parked on the roadside. They will either approach you or you can approach them. It’s suggested to ask all of them for the price and choose the cheapest one. It cost 10 RMB per person the last time I did it in 2016.
Pic 3. I Promise This Is the Last One…… 😛
5. Arrive in Mutianyu Great Wall section with black taxi. The taxi will be parked just a few meters from the entrance of Mutianyu, which boasts a huge gate. Remember! That is NOT where you are going. You are going to the wild Wall, not this developed touristic attraction. So you walk towards the gate, passing the gate, the entrance and the ticket windows. Then you come to the end of the platform (pic 4) where the ticket offices were situated. Below you there is a motorway. Come down and cross the motorway. Then you see a small path even lower down. That is the path to the wild Wall! 😀
Pic 4, Just Before Descending the Platform of Mutianyu, With the Village Behind Us
6. Follow the small path and whenever you are not sure about the turns, ask the villagers “Ye Chang Cheng (野长城)” (which means wild Great Wall). The villages are in rather traditional style, with grey tiles and adobe walls. You can find shops selling traditional products and regular food and beverages in the village. There are also small restaurants for lunch. Walk through the village and you will be in the fields now and continue climbing up the hill. Eventually you will be under the high walls of Mutianyu. Previously it was possible to climb up the wall here, provided that teamwork was present (pic 5, 6).
Pic 5. Teamwork
Pic 6. More Teamwork (I know, we look very cool. 😉 😛 )
However, it’s very possible that nowadays there is control to prevent this from happening. Therefore, you will have to turn left, walk under and along the wall until you reach the wild section, Other tourists on the surface of the wall may look down at you as if you are from another planet. Don’t be bothered. Those who explore the wild Wall are always the minority. 🙂 Then there will be a small gate of the wall, through which you can get inside and walk up to the surface of the wall (pic 7). Yes, now you have arrived! 😀
Pic 7. Have Finally Surfaced
7. Near the position where you surfaced, there is a sign stating that “this part of the wall is not developed and is forbidden for visiting”. Feel free to take photos with this sign, as I did with friends (pic 8). 😉 If you have time, walk along the wild section to explore more and also find a perfect spot for camping.
Pic 8. Photo With the Sign
8. Keep in mind that for defense purpose the wall was built on the top ranges of the mountains (pic 9), which means at night it can be very very windy and cold. The biggest challenge for sleeping there is the noise the wind makes and then the coldness. It’s thus suggested to bring earplugs and warm sleeping bags. I know you are going to tell me that you will be there in the hottest summer, like July or August, but even then it will be rather cold, like 10 degree Celsius at night.
Pic 9. The Wall Was Built On Mountain Peaks
9. The best places to camp are the watchtowers which appears about every few meters. They are walled in four sides. You can set up your tent in the yard of the tower (pic 10). If you can find enough firewood, you can start a fire, but seriously, it can be very windy and the Wall was mainly constructed in Ming Dynasty (so more or less early Renaissance in western chronicle), so be careful when playing with fire and do not let it blown to the woods surrounding the Wall, which may endanger the very existence of this ancient construction. Also since there is no toilet, we’ve got to take care of our own shit.
Pic 10. The Yard of A Watchtower
10. Soon the sun will be setting down and you will have the chance to watch the sunset on the Wall (pic 11, 12). You are now far away from the city and there is little light pollution. The sunset is stunning! More stunning is the sunrise on the Wall. WOWO! Amazing! 🙂
Pic 11. Amazing Sunset
Pic 12. Sunset Through the Watchtower
11. After watching the sunrise (pic 13, 14) and have some food, you now have two options to go down to the gate of Mutianyu, where you can find transport back to Beijing. One is follow the way you have come up with, which means quite some walking. The other one is to walk towards Mutianyu section of the developed wall, which included crossing a part of sealed wall separating the wild and the developed sections. Then continue until you arrive in the ticket office for cable car tickets. You can choose to take the cable car for 60 RMB per person or walk down from where the cable car ticket office is, which is easier than the way you have come up with. Since once you cross the sealed separation wall you will be in a developed touristic site, there will be people selling water and snacks and near the entrance/exit of Mutianyu there will be shuttle bus for 10 RMB to take you to the entrance/exit. The water/food can be quite expensive, especially on the surface of the Mutianyu Wall, as the sellers have to carry them all the way up from below. One bottle of water can be 10 RMB. Since there is no garbage bin in the wild section, bring your own rubbish and in the developed section drop it in the garbage bin.
Pic 13. Time for Sunrise Yoga?
Pic 14. What A Scene!
12. Once you arrive in the exit, which was just beside the entrance, you are back to the point where the black taxi has dropped you. Then take a black taxi and then a bus to downtown Beijing.
13. Guys, to be honest. I am a native Chinese and rather adventurous guy. Before I went back to Beijing for work in the end of 2015, I had lived in Europe for about 6 years and traveled the world for 2.5 years, hitchhiking, wild camping, couchsurfing and so on. To me camping on the wild Wall is probably the coolest thing to do in Beijing. That’s why I did it twice, once with Canadian/Norwegian/Dutch couchsurfers and once with Chinese/Malaysian friends.
Pic 15. Just Some Cool Photo On the Wall
14. Very importantly, check the weather before you go, if it is gonna rain, you will have no chance to see the sunrise and in that case perhaps it’s a good idea to postpone the journey. About the season, late spring, summer and early autumn are the best. I did it once in April and another time in June, both being awesome experiences. Don’t be deceived by the hot daytime, at night it can really get cold.
Pic 16. Looks Like Autumn But Actually Was April
15. About timing. It’s better to start early, like arriving in Dongzhimen Metro Station at 10 AM or 11 AM with food, tents and so on, then you will have sufficient day light for hiking up and exploration. The bus might take about 1 hour, then the black taxi about 30 min, then walking on the path to reach the Wall will take the longest time, 2-3 hours depending on your capacity, Once you reach the Wall, to reach the wild section takes maximally 30 min.
16. I know I am a talkative guy… but I promise this is the last line! 😀 Since this section is undeveloped, so it is free of charge. Any attempt by anybody to ask money from you for entering the wild Wall should be refused. I once put up a fight with a local villager who thought he could charge us simply because he was a local. Wonderful experience! Always liked fighting with those people who want to rip me off. 😀
Pic 17. Have Fun and Take Care of Your Own Shit! 🙂
1. Since I am not your dad or caretaker, it’s your own responsibility to choose to do this trekking and camping and take care of your own safety. 😛
2. Photo credit of Pic 1 & 8 goes to Mr Arif Nasser of Canada. Photo credit of Pic 2, 13, 14 and 15 goes to Ms. Maria S. Hansen of Norway. The rest belongs to me. 🙂 All rights reserved
3. If you discover changes in bus fare or other information, please let me know and I will update it. 🙂 Thanks!