Great Wall of China at Jiankou

Admission:

Hours:

24 hours

How to get there:

It's a day trip at least, requiring transportation either by private van or bus. Buses 916 and 936 depart Beijing's Dongzhimen Long-Distance Bus Station (Dōngzhímén Chángtú Qìchē Zhàn, 东直门长途汽车站) for Huairou (Huáiróu, 怀柔), the administrative center of Huairou County, between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. daily. From there, local buses or taxis can get you out to Xizhazi.

Jiankou (Jiànkòu, 箭扣), for the right type of trekker, is as good as the Great Wall gets. It's not as accessible or manageable as tour magnets like Badaling, but for anyone willing to hike and climb over some rough patches, the payoff is huge: incredible views of China's most iconic attraction as it snakes its way up and down rocky peaks in all its ancient, crumbling glory.

There are no restorations here, nor are there souvenir vendors (yet) or gaggles of matching-hat-wearing retirees led by bored bullhorn-wielding guides. Instead, it's all wall and a sense of wild openness that is rarely found so close to Beijing. Indeed, it's not hard to imagine that just to the north, behind the next peak perhaps, barbarians are encamped and ready to take a crack at the empire. At least it's not hard until you look a bit closer and note that a large tree has split the wall before you and that the impressive guard tower ahead is collapsing into rubble on one side.

The best place to start is Xizhazi (Xī Zhà Zǐ, 西栅子). From here, the wall runs roughly east and west, and both directions are worth pursuing. Go roughly 30 km (18.6 mi) to the east, and you'll arrive at the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall. Head the other way, and the Great Wall at Huanghua awaits.

A trail that begins in Xizhazi village leads to the wall. Turn left and head toward the tallest tower—known as the Eagle Flies Facing Up (Yīng Fēi Dào Yǎng, 鹰飞倒仰)—which stands tall and proud, far in the distance. It's a tough but beautiful five-hour hike. Before you reach it, a flat, paved section of the wall marks the turnoff point to take you back to the road. From there, it's a much more leisurely and flat 20-minute walk back to the parking lot.

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