How to Camp on the Great Wall of China

by Sasha Savinov

When it comes to China, one experience that’s high on every traveler’s list is a visit to the Great Wall. There’s a lot of talk about building walls these days, but nobody does it like China. They build the best, most fantastic walls! In total, the “Long Wall” (the actual meaning in Chinese) stretches over 13,000 miles from the sea in the northeast all the way out to the desert in Gansu. Started as individual walls built throughout several kingdoms and dynasties, the parts were joined to create the world’s largest manmade structure. A visit to the Great Wall is a must when traveling to China. For a truly memorable experience, why not go ahead and camp out on one of the New Seven Wonders of the World? Sound like too much work? Never fear – we’ve got you covered for how to camp on the Great Wall of China.

Which Section to Visit?

Badaling. Image by David Pursehouse from flickr.com.

From Beijing, you have the chance to visit many different sections of the Great Wall. Most people head to the Badaling (八达岭 – bā dá lǐng) section of the Wall. This is due to its convenient location related to the city, the fact that it’s highly developed and easy to walk on, and Chairman Mao’s famous statement about this section – “He who has never been to the Great Wall is not a real man.”

This is the Disney section of the Wall. Be prepared for massive crowds of pushy Chinese tourists wearing matching ball caps and following a flag waving, mega-phone wielding tour guide. If you don’t want to hate your Great Wall visit with a feverish passion for the rest of your life, stay far, far away from Badaling.

Jiankou Great Wall

Getting better… the Jiankou section.

If you’d rather get some fresh air, enjoy incredible scenery, and do a bit of hiking, you’ve got quite a few options.

There are a few sections that haven’t experienced too much restoration and make for a much more enjoyable trip – Jiankou (箭扣 – jiàn kòu), Jinshanling (金山岭 – jīn shān lǐng), and Simatai (司马台 – sī mǎ tái) all come to mind. At these more remote sections of the Wall, you won’t find so many people, and you won’t be pestered by vendors trying to sell you postcards and t-shirts.

Gubeikou Great Wall

Gubeikou – unrestored and absolutely amazing.

Those seeking a real adventure and a once-in-a-lifetime experience are encouraged to head to Gubeikou (古北口 – gǔ běi kǒu), located northeast of the city out in Miyun county. You’ll have to put forth a bit more effort to reach this one, but the juice is definitely worth the squeeze.

Despite what naysayers may tell you, camping is definitely allowed here. Pack up your camping gear, some food, and drink, and set out on what will most certainly be an adventure you tell your grandkids about. After all, you’ll be in a select group if you know how to camp on the Great Wall of China.

Getting to Gubeikou

Gubeikou Camp

Well worth the effort!

While a few groups run camping tours, it’s entirely possible to do it on your own. Of course, the more Chinese you speak, the easier that will be. If you prefer the easy way, contact the Beijing Hikers and plan a trip with them.

Those who are up for a challenge and an adventure full of butchered Chinese and body language – read on for how to DIY:

  1. Catch the express (快 – kuài) bus 980 from Dongzhimen transport hub (东直门枢纽站 – dōng zhí mén shū niǔ zhàn). This massive bus station can be reached by either subway Line 2 or 13. If you’re paying cash, the fare will be around 10-15 RMB, but if you use a handy public transport card, it’ll only set you back 6.
  2. Get off the bus at the Miyun Drum Tower Station (密云古楼 – mì yún gǔ lóu). Ignore the black cab touts and walk up the street to another bus station (this one serves smaller buses that make loops of the countryside).Take bus #25 headed to Gubeikou. This fare should cost around 3-5 RMB.
  3. When you get off at Gubeikou, you can either walk or pay a driver to take you to the entrance of the Wall. That should cost either 10 or 30, depending on which part of the Wall you want to visit.
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In total, the trip will take you around 3-4 hours. At Gubeikou, you have two options – the “Crouching Tiger Mountain” (卧虎山 – wò hǔ shān) or the “Coiling Dragon Mountain” (蟠龙山 – pán lóng shān) section.

If you’d prefer a longer hike that gives you the opportunity to walk all the way to the Jinshanling section, you’d better go with the latter.

Camping on the Wall

How to Camp on the Great Wall of China

Camping in a watchtower.

We tried to make the hike to Jinshanling and camp there, but we were greeted with a sign that reminded visitors in classic Chinglish “not to camping.”

Although I had camped out on Jinshanling a few years prior, we didn’t want to risk being booted off the Wall. We headed back up the Coiling Dragon and found a nice restored watchtower to set up camp instead.

Great Wall campout

Home for the night.

We had the Wall all to ourselves!

We pitched our tents, enjoyed a packed dinner of pasta salad, cheese, and wine (who says you can’t be classy when camping?), and kicked back to enjoy the stunning views of sunset over the Great Wall of China.

Great Wall sunset

Worth all the effort just for this.

With nobody around but us, no car horns blaring, and no flashing neon lights, it was hard to believe we were still technically in Beijing. Such a moment of peace and solitude in the most populous country on Earth is hard to come by, and it’s definitely something to be cherished.

Sleeping under the stars in a watchtower of one of the greatest man made structures in existence is certainly a life-changing experience. To quote Rachel, it was “The coolest thing I’ve ever done in my life!”

Great Wall sunrise

Not a bad way to wake up.

The sounds of birds chirping served as our alarm clock, as we got up at a quarter to five to see the sunrise. The weather gods smiled upon us with a crystal clear blue sky – a rarity in Beijing – and we were treated to a magnificent sunrise.

After a few more hours of shuteye, we enjoyed a little breakfast and then hiked back to the entrance.

Gubeikou Great Wall

Having a whole section to ourselves. Pretty cool!

Great Wall Gubeikou

Views like this never get old!

Along the way, we didn’t meet a single soul. Nothing but uninterrupted views of the mountains and the Great Wall.

Thinking of the poor saps who were at that very moment fighting the hordes at sections like Badaling, we couldn’t help but laugh.

Our reward for a job well done.

At the small guesthouse near the village, we were welcomed in by the proprietors, who were excited to have some foreign guests.

They cooked us up a tasty lunch of cucumbers, tofu, scrambled eggs and tomatoes, and fried sauce noodles, and they brought out a few ice cold bottles of Yanjing beer. Lunch for three plus the brews and a ride back to the bus station set us back a mere 150 RMB (around $22).

It was the perfect end to one of the best travel experiences ever and it sent us back to the concrete jungle refreshed in mind, body, and spirit. Living in Beijing was tough at times, but trips like this made it all worth it.

Check out some highlights in this short video:

If you’d like any other advice on pulling off the Great Wall camp, or just visiting Beijing in general, leave a comment and let us know. We’re happy to facilitate any China adventures you might be planning! If you’d rather just move there, we’ve got an extensive guide to living in China that you’ll want to check out.

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Have you ever camped on the Great Wall? Tell me about it in the comments!


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22 comments

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22 comments

Ari Shome June 9, 2019 - 3:30 am

Hi, this is a really good post. Thanks for the information! Just want to ask, did you have to hike to get to Gubeikou or was the hike to get from Gubeikou to Jinshaling only? Also if we drive do you happen to know if we can park near Gubeikou? Thanks

Reply
Rachel Story June 10, 2019 - 12:40 pm

Hi, Ari! The Gubeikou section has its own entrance where you buy a ticket to get up on the Wall. I’m pretty sure they have a small parking lot so it should be okay for you to drive. Hope this helps!

Reply
Tom Brone April 16, 2019 - 4:00 pm

Hi!

Can anyone confirm if it is still legal to camp on the Gubeikou section of the great wall of China?

Thanks!
Tom

Reply
Rachel Story April 19, 2019 - 2:58 pm

Hi, Tom!

I don’t think it’s technically allowed to camp anywhere on the Great Wall but the Gubeikou section is so remote that it’s not patrolled. I don’t think it will be a problem for you to camp there. I hope this message reaches you in time! Sorry for the delayed response. If you do try it, come back and add to the comment thread to let everyone know! Cheers and safe travels 🙂

Reply
Tony March 11, 2019 - 11:47 am

Thanks for the wonderful post. Love the info you have. I’m wondering how do you visit the “toilet”? Is there any in the first place or it’s all wild and free during the camping? If so, gosh, won’t it smell awful?

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Sasha Savinov March 18, 2019 - 10:32 pm

Hi Tony, thanks for the comment. Whichever section of the Great Wall you visit, you’ll only find actual facilities at the entrance/ticket office. As far as camping goes, yes your only option is to use the “facili-trees” 😀 …

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Joseph Thonpson March 7, 2019 - 7:21 pm

This experience was a lucky one. Do not camp by your own without booking with a Great Wall camping company. Once you are caught, you will be fined and get trouble with the park police. My friends returned with $700 fine and four hours in the black room in the police office.

Reply
Rachel Story March 7, 2019 - 8:34 pm

Thanks for the comment! Did your friends camp all the way at the Gubeikou section? Because yes, it’s not allowed at other sections. I have a hard time believing the authorities went all the way to Gubeikou and handed out citations. Do your research about where you can and can’t camp on the Great Wall and you’ll avoid fines and nights in Chinese Jail.

Reply
Caitlin October 31, 2018 - 10:26 am

My friend and I are going to China in March and are planning on camping a night or two on the Great Wall. I have been having a hard time trying to determine where we can camp legally. Any advice?

Reply
Rachel Story November 6, 2018 - 5:09 pm

Hi Caitlin! Thanks for reaching out! I know for a fact you can legally camp on the Gubeikou section of the Great Wall. That is the section that we went to and we describe how to get there in this post. We did a lot of research and that’s why we chose Gubeikou because it’s legal. It’s a rather remote area of the Wall that takes about 3 -3.5 hours to get to from the center of Beijing so you won’t have to worry about people telling you that you can’t do it. Good luck! Let me know if you have other questions 🙂

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Nads August 27, 2018 - 8:52 am

Hi Sasha and Rachel, Thank you for sharing. I’m currently traveling China, I was hoping to find a piece of the great wall to camp on in Gansu province, do you have any knowledge of this. I can speak a bit of chinese and get by well even in the remotest of places, so if it’s really difficult to get to don’t worry I’ll find a way. if not even though i had no intention of going anywhere near Beijing, I might just have to get this experience in, I’m not sure i can leave with out camping on the great wall! So if I can’t do it in or near Gansu do you have any recommendations. Also as I’d been trudging around with camping gear and not using it i sent it home!! oops! do you think there would be anywhere I could hire something even if it’s just a sleeping bag, I’ll quite happy to Bivvy for the night. If not I guess it will be a trip to decathlon. Anyway thank you for your time. Nads

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Rachel Story September 1, 2018 - 4:09 pm

Hi Nads! Thanks for reaching out. Sorry for my late response!

I do not know of anywhere to camp on the Great Wall in Gansu. I would imagine they’re pretty loose on the rules since it’s a more remote section of the Wall that doesn’t get many visitors. You can always play the dumb foreigner card and say you didn’t know. I doubt there would be a place to rent camping gear. That kind of thing just doesn’t exist in China. But you can find cheap gear at a department store or market. Hope this helps! Sorry I don’t have more info. Feel free to reach out if you have other questions. I’ll do my best to find an answer!

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Ina August 12, 2018 - 3:29 am

Hey & thanks for sharing!! We will be in Bejing at the end of the month and have read controversial info on waether or not camping is allowed. As it’s been a year since you ventured there, do you have any up-to-date info on the current regulation? We do not speak any chinese, so I wouldn’t want to provoke trouble ….

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Rachel Story August 12, 2018 - 9:37 am

Hi, Ina! Thanks for reading and reaching out! As far as I know, camping is still allowed in the section we write about in the post – Gubeikou. It’s not allowed in all sections of the Great Wall which is probably why you’ve read conflicting information. There are guesthouses around that part of the Wall so in the unlikely case someone did make you leave, it shouldn’t be too difficult to find accommodation for the night. Just be sure to have a phrase book with you so you can at least ask simple questions if you need to. Are you visiting any other places in China?

Reply
McCall Mintzer September 24, 2018 - 6:01 am

Hello Ina!! I have also read conflicting information about what you are and are not allowed to do! I will be going to Beijing in the middle of October and would like to do this hike. Can you please let me know if you ended up going on this path and if you ran into any trouble? Any suggestions would be great. Thanks!!

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Rachel Story October 2, 2018 - 9:37 am

Hi, McCall! Thanks for checking out the post! I’m 99% positive you can still camp on the Gubeikou section of the Great Wall. This is where we camped and this post explains how to get there. We had no problems when we went and I’m sure it hasn’t changed. It’s a more remote section and it’s not very busy. It takes about 3 hours to get there from Beijing. Good luck and let me know if you have other questions! 🙂

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Ricky August 6, 2018 - 11:27 am

Hi there, thank you for sharing your adventures. We’re going to Beijing next month for 2 days in a short stopover. I want to do the hike but about 10 years ago I remember going to one where we spent about 4-5 hours. It was 10km hike.
Is there one that’s much shorter, like an hour? Just to go far away from the throng of tourists but not wasting our short visit to Beijing just to hike the Great Wall. Thank you!

Reply
Rachel Story August 6, 2018 - 1:28 pm

Hi, Ricky! That’s awesome you’re going to Beijing! The nearest section of the Wall to the city is Badaling but I strongly advise against going there as it’s the most visited and therefore the most crowded. I would suggest going to the Mutianyu section. It’s completely restored and you can easily take a bus from town. There will be other people there but it’s a beautiful area and they have a fun toboggan slide you can ride back down to the bottom. Let me know if you have any other questions! Also, you should check out our post about what to do with 72 hours in Beijing. It’ll give you a few other ideas of things to do during your short stay: https://www.gratefulgypsies.com/72-hours-in-beijing/

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Julia April 28, 2017 - 8:08 pm

Your first couple of sentences. Amazing. I did not know you could camp on the wall! I’m pleased to say, that my friends and I chose a non-touristy section – I want to say it was the Jinshanling portion you referenced? Such a great experience – your pics too are awesome.

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Sasha Savinov May 1, 2017 - 10:29 am

Thanks, Julia! Jinshanling is a pretty amazing section of the wall. Unfortunately, you can only camp on certain parts. This is up there on the list of coolest things we’ve done, for sure! Thinking about the fact that you are sitting on a structure that is thousands of years old brings all the feels. If only those walls could talk!

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Jonathan Lee March 12, 2017 - 5:45 am

Hello, my girlfriend and I are going to beijing in a week’s time and we really want to do a camp on the Great Wall as you did. However we have a couple of qns such as were there any rangers doing patrol or would there be a fine if we got caught.
Looking forward ro your reply!

Jonathan

Reply
Rachel Story March 12, 2017 - 11:25 pm

Hey, Jonathan!

Thanks for checking out the post.

There are certain sections of the Wall where camping is allowed and Gubeikou (the place we went) is one of them. So there aren’t any rangers patrolling. As long as you purchase an entrance ticket from the office at the bottom of the Wall when you arrive, you should be fine! Be aware that it takes about 3 hours to get from the city center to this particular sections. Feel free to ask if you have other questions. Have an amazing time in Beijing!

Reply

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