Hiking & camping on the Great Wall Of China is one of the most memorable, but also one of the least known experiences to do in Beijing.
You won’t find it on any of the “Top things to do in Beijing” lists and most people don’t even know that camping on the Great Wall Of China is possible… but it is.
And whether you are visiting Beijing for a few days or living there, this is one of the most unforgettable things to do during your time in China.
If you are interested in hiking and camping on the Great Wall Of China, our guide covers all you need to know to backpack across the Great Wall section from Gubeikou to Jinshanling as a two-day trip:
- Quick Hike Facts
- Trip Overview
- How Long Is The Hike
- How Much It Costs
- What You Will See
- What To Bring
- Food & Water
- My Experience
Quick Hike Facts
Before we dive into the details, here are a few quick facts about our backpacking trip on the Great Wall:
- Trail Difficulty: moderate
- Time Needed: 2 days
- Starting Point: Gubeikou
- Ending Point: Jinshanling
- Length: 8-10 miles total
- Suggested Tour Company: Beijing Hikers
Before heading to Beijing, I had no idea that camping on the Great Wall was even a possibility. It was actually my sister, who had lived in Beijing for 3 years that suggested for us to hike a portion of the Great Wall since she had done trips like this in Beijing before.
While you can visit and hike on the Great Wall during the day on your own, for overnight camping trips like this, you will need to go with an experienced tour group.
To camp on the Great Wall, you’ll need an overnight camping permit and those are only issued to tour companies like Beijing Hikers that we ended up going with.
Usually, I will try to do most of my backpacking trips on my own, but I was pretty happy to sign up with a tour company for this specific trip. Traveling in China can be pretty intimidating and Beijing Hikers tour company took care of everything for us. They drove us to the Great Wall, led the hike, delivered tents to our campsite in the evening and even cooked our meals. Plus the tour guides spoke perfect English which was super helpful.
This Great Wall hiking trip is good for all types of fitness levels, but you will be doing a lot of walking up and down hills.
The Beijing Hikers tour company keeps these backpacking trips pretty small, usually less than 10 people. During the hike, you will have one guide in front of the group keeping a quicker pace and one guide in the back for those who want to hike at a slower pace (like me!).
The upside of going with a tour company is that you won’t need to carry a giant backpack – the company will take care of all the camping gear for you. All we had to carry on this trip was a medium day pack with snacks and water.
How Long Is The Hike
Our Great Wall backpacking trip took 2 days to complete and we hiked a total of 10 miles – around 4 miles the first day and 6 miles the second day. Most of the hiking that we did took place on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning.
During this time we covered an old section of the Gubeikou wall on the first day, camped in an old watch-tower and continued on to the Jinshanling part of the Great Wall on the second day before returning back to Beijing in the afternoon.
This specific Great Wall hiking trip doesn’t happen every weekend so check the Beijing Hikers website calendar for the next “Camping: Gubeikou Great Wall and Jinshanling Great Wall” trip.
How Much It Costs
This Great Wall camping trip costs 1690 Yuan ($238 USD) per person which isn’t exactly on the cheap side. A trip for two people comes out to almost $500.
But as I mentioned above, the tour company does take care of everything for you from transport and food to entrance tickets and camping permits. This was definitely a bucket list item for me, something that you do once in a lifetime.
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What You Will See
We started our backpacking trip on the Gubeikou part of the Great Wall, a section that in ancient times was frequently attacked by the Mongols. This part of the wall was never restored and much of it is still very rugged and partially ruined.
You can visit the Gubeikou section of the Great Wall as a day trip from Beijing but our tour guide informed us that this is not a very popular spot to visit compared to other sections. The locals view the Gubeikou Wall as wild and dangerous. Instead, the locals typically go to one of the more popular renovated sections like Mutianyu or Badaling.
I’ve been to both Mutianyu and Badaling and the experience at these spots is completely different. Mutianyu and Badaling portions of the Great Wall have been restored and upgraded with cable cars, shops and are typically full of tourists. If you want a more low key experience, this camping trip will show you a different side of the Great Wall.
On the second day, we hiked on the Jinshanling part of the wall. The Jinshanling section is known for having many watchtowers and unique architectural style that can’t be found at any other parts of the Great Wall. This section has been renovated and now is operated by the government as a scenic visitor area.
What To Bring
The tour company arranges just about everything for the hikers including tents, sleeping bags, and food for all of the meals so there wasn’t much that we needed to bring along.
The biggest thing to consider was what to wear since the weather in China can get pretty extreme depending on the season.
We did this trip in early September on a weekend that happened to be one of the hottest weekends of the year. Here are some essentials that we brought along on our Great Wall hiking trip:
- A medium-size backpack to carry water, snacks and other small items.
- Hiking shoes (if you have any). I didn’t bring a pair on my Beijing trip and I just wore my regular Nike’s. While they did work ok, I was slipping in certain parts of the trail so shoes with a good grip would work better.
- Hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen to protect yourself from the sun.
- Quick-dry clothing like shorts and breezy shirts. I also like to bring an extra pair of socks, underwear, and a shirt for the following day.
- A light jacket or sweater for the night time.
- Headlamp or some type of light to go to the bathroom at night.
- Toiletries like a small travel dental kit, deodorant and toilet paper (please carry all TP out – don’t leave it on the trail).
- Wipes to “shower” at the end of the day.
- A bag to carry out your trash.
- A Portable battery charger in case your phone dies.
- For the most part, there is no reception on the Great Wall so you may want to download a Netflix show or bring a Kindle to read at night.
What you don’t need to bring:
- Water, food, camping gear, sleeping bags or trekking poles – these will be provided.
If you are interested in what camera gear I use to create my photos, here is the camera gear that I brought along on my Great Wall backpacking trip:
- Main camera: Sony a7II Camera With 28-70 mm Standard Lens
- Polarizer Filter for the standard lens (helps eliminate reflection and enhance color especially on super bright days): Amazon Basics 55 mm
- Wide Lens (great for landscape shots): Sony 16-35 mm F4
- Polarizer Filter for the wide lens: Amazon Basics 72 mm
- Small Tripod (to stabilize photos and eliminate blur): JOBY Gorrilapod
- Memory Cards: SanDisk 32 GB
- Batteries: Wasabi Power battery charger and extra battery pack
- Camera Bag: Lowepro weather-resistant bag
Food & Water
The tour company provided us with all of the necessary food and water from Saturday afternoon to Sunday afternoon. The only things that they suggested for us to bringing along food-wise were some snacks.
During the bus ride to the Great Wall, the tour guides fed us Subway sandwiches. You will be asked to email your food preferences prior to the hike (vegetarian, meat etc).
Before heading out on the hike the guides handed us 3-4 bottles of water per person. You will need to carry all of your water during the hike so make sure to bring a backpack that will fit it all. It was super-hot during our hike in September and we finished all 4 bottles of water during the day.
On Saturday night the guides set up a dinner for us in the watchtower consisting of sandwiches, hot dogs, ramen soup and veggies. The best part – they also brought along a few bottles of red wine! It was a simple but nourishing dinner after a long day of hiking.
On Sunday morning the guides made us a small breakfast with coffee and PB&J sandwiches. They also handed out more water for us to carry on the hike.
Once we finished the hike on Sunday afternoon they took us to a local Chinese restaurant for a family-style lunch at a big round table. We got to try different types of local dishes (and a few beers) before hopping on the bus for a long nap on the way back to Beijing.
When I talk to anyone about my experience camping on the Great Wall, the number #1 question I always get is “But where did you go to the bathroom?”
I get it. It’s the same question that I got when I told everyone that I would be traveling in my van for 15 months. Which, if you’re interested in, you can read more about here.
If you are curious too, well, there are no bathrooms on this section of the Great Wall. If you need to go, you’ll just need to hop into the bushes and do it there.
There are bathrooms at the beginning and end of the trip but nothing in between for 24 hours except some bushes, a few smaller side trails, and pure nature.
If you do need to go to the bathroom on the wall, just keep in mind the “Leave No Trace” practice and don’t throw the toilet paper in the bushes. Just pack it with you and throw it away in a proper trash bin later.
We started our trip by waking up early on Saturday morning to pack our things and head out to the meeting point at the Liangmaqiao subway station at 8:45 am. Our guides were already there waiting for us in a big coach bus.
At 9:30 am we drove to the Lido Metropark Hotel Starbucks where we picked up a few more hikers. If this option is closer to you, you can also meet the guides at this pickup location.
From there it was a 3-hour drive to the Great Wall. During the drive we got to meet our awesome guide Katie, our trip mates and eat our Subway lunch.
We started the hike at around noon in Gubeikouzhen, a small town with around 1300 residents. From here we hiked up a mountain towards the Great Wall and had a pretty awesome view overlooking the village and green mountains all around us.
Gubeikou was a popular mountain pass for travelers to take between China and Mongolia. As a result, this portion of the wall was often attacked and damaged by the Mongols who wanted to invade China, especially during the cold seasons when food was very scarce.
The Gubeikou wall was never renovated so some portions of this wall are now a bit rugged and overgrown. The biggest challenge of this section for us was that it offered little to no shade which made our hike a lot hotter and slower.
On Saturday we hiked for about 4 miles until we reached our designated watchtower and set up camp for the night. All of the camping gear was brought up to us in the tower by our tour company and all we had to do was set up the tents.
After dinner, we watched a beautiful sunset from the watchtower, something that this spot is especially popular for. After sunset, there wasn’t much to do at the camp so we tucked into our tents and went to sleep.
In the morning we got an early head start after breakfast and we were back on the trail by 7 am.
Right after our campsite, we passed the 24-Eye Tower named after the 24 windows in it. This is the most scenic tower on the Gubeikou section of the wall and in ancient times it was used by a Chinese general as his main office.
Right after the 24-Eye Tower, there was a closed-off Chinese military base so we had to climb down from the wall in order to walk around it.
The next portion of our hike passed through a forest and farmlands providing a much-needed shade. Although the second day is longer hiking-wise and considered more strenuous, I felt like it was the easier of both days because we hiked in the early morning and in shaded parts that kept us cool.
After a few mile trek through the forest, we trailed back up to the Great Wall and hiked along the Jinshanling section. Compared to the Gubeikou section that we hiked in the previous day, the Jinshanling wall looked in a lot better shape with a ton of watchtowers that were used to keep a look-out for the enemies.
We ended the hike at noon in Jinshanling where we exited and hopped back on our tour bus. From there, our guides took us to have lunch in a traditional Chinese restaurant with celebratory beers and food before heading back to Beijing.
Looking for other interesting things to do around Beijing? Check out our other Beijing posts below:
- Guide To Visiting Summer Palace In Beijing, China
- Tips For Visiting Temple Of Heaven In Beijing, China
Planning your trip to China and looking for a place to stay in Beijing? Browse all the top Beijing hotel deals below!
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