When the alarm went off at 4am, we groaned and debated whether we should hike the Great Wall of China from Jinshanling to Simitai another day. Begrudgingly though, we dragged ourselves out of bed and made our way to the Dongzhimen bus station. Most folks doing this hike book through a tour group. But to save money (nearly US$72 total), we decided to go the do-it-yourself route. We saved money, but it wasn’t without a certain amount of hurdle-jumping.

We soon found that jumping these hurdles at 4am is not our strong suit. The route itself was a bit vague. We couldn’t confirm the Beijing bus station still existed (a rule I started to enforce after navigating ourselves to more than one nonexistent bus station!). However with no one able to confirm for us the existence or nonexistence of the public bus station (or even its exact location), we decided to put my rules aside and just set out for it anyway.

When we reached the subway stop, we looked at the exit map to determine where the public bus station might be located but came up empty handed. Standing there perplexed, a friendly woman approached us and motioned asking us where we wanted to go. In our usual method of pointing, we showed her our final destination of Jinshanling. She immediately understood us and led us directly to the bus station as well as the awaiting bus! Without her help, we would have totally missed the station as it was located within an unlit parking garage.

Thus far, the do-it-yourself route was fairly easy. We boarded the bus and made our way to Miyun, where we were to catch further transportation to the Jinshanling entrance. As soon as we hit the first bus stop of Miyun, however, a man started yelling for us to get off the bus. Startling us awake, he immediately got my heart racing by yelling “this is your stop! This is your stop!”. My first instinct was NOT to believe him. But, he was gesturing and yelling so we got out of our seats. Was he the bus driver? I wondered. Totally dazed, he literally pulled us off the bus. I was resisting by this time while yelling back to Chris whether we should get off. Neither of us knew, so I eventually stopped resisting and off the bus we went. If there’s one thing to learn, it’s listen to your intuition.

Left standing on the side of a street far outside the city center, a flock of taxi drivers surrounded us squawking exorbitant rates to get to Jinshanling. Admittedly, I am not a morning person. Mix that type of personality with rate gouging taxi drivers and you don’t get a pretty scene. I believe I was hissing, so Chris wisely intervened.

The ringleader of the group (the one that pulled us off the bus) started negotiations with Chris while I stood by glowering. With his first offer coming in just above a full tour price (US$60), we started walking. I was certain we could find the right bus stop and further transportation to Jinshanling on our own. To his benefit though, he never gave up. Nearly 1/2 mile later, he finally met our asking price of 140 yuan (US$20) for a ride to Jinshanling with pickup from Simitai four hours later.


This 12km (7 mi) hike along the unrestored portion of the Great Wall from Jinshanling to Simitai is amazing. As we started up the trail to the wall, touts here and there offered us water. When we said “no, thank you” a “maybe later” always followed. We learned quite quickly that “maybe later” really means maybe later and the touts will follow you for the whole hike. We thought it was a nice way of saying no,but that proved to be wrong. We eventually had to eek out the “no, not maybe later” to a much disappointed face.

Once we hit the wall, all the frustrations of the morning just fell away. Walking on the crumbling stones from the Ming Dynasty, we recalled that as children we never thought we’d hike the Great Wall of China. We remembered dreaming of these far off places from our National Geographic, and it seemed like a real accomplishment to finally be here.

The Jinshanling section sports 67 towers with 2 beacons and 5 passes. What’s this mean for the average bloke? A lot of hard hiking. The wall slithers along the highest hills providing the hiker with great views from above. It’s crumbling facade invokes a certain amount of peacefulness among fellow hikers as well. Most talked in hushed voices or simply enjoyed the solitude silence brings. Knowing we were walking on the same bricks that messengers and guards traveled centuries ago, we felt awe at the long and lasting achievement of the Ming Dynasty. Without a doubt, it’s in the top standing as one of our favorite hikes of this trip.

More pictures from our Great Wall hike can be seen on Chris’ and Jodi’s¬†respective flickr pages.

One Response to “Hiking the Great Wall of China: Jinshanling to Simitai”

  1. Nomada23 says:

    Nice post Jodi! The hike sounds cool? Once you actually got there, were the 12 k difficult? How long did it take you? If I had to pick one side to go which would you recommend? Thanks!!