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 – the Gypsies got you covered for how to camp on the Great Wall of China.
Which Section to Visit?
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.
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 hacks trying to sell you postcards and t-shirts.
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
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
All the places you need on the map.
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
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.
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.
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!”
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.
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.
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.