How to Be a Loner on The Great Wall

You may think it is going to be impossible to find a piece of The Great Wall of China that you will get all to yourself. With 4 million visitors annually you could be right. However, I am going to let you in on a little secret. There is a place where you can get away from the throngs of tourists and find pockets where you will not see another soul.DSCF0895

One hot June day, our family of 7 had the privilege of visiting the Wall. We had been staying in the village of Mutianyu, a sleepy little area 40 miles outside of Beijing. I’ll admit, with our large party we were never truly alone on the Wall, and probably actually resembled a tour group. That being said, we just couldn’t believe how few people we encountered throughout the day.

With great anticipation, we rode the cableway to the top of the mountain and hopped off right onto the Wall. Our first big decision was which direction to head. We decided to go left and immediately ran into a vendor selling touristy items. Of course, our youngest son Jack wanted a souvenir Chinese hat (which looking back was probably not a very p.c. option) and we obliged. A little tip, if a vendor doesn’t argue with you and basically says you are “killing them” over the price, or chase you down in order to make the sale, you are probably paying too much. We paid too much. The vendor walked away with a smile and we kicked ourselves for not trying to bargain harder.

Potentially offensive hat on head, off we went. The first thing we noticed, there were stairs. A lot of stairs. Like nothing but stairs. I kept telling myself we would get to the top of the next hill and have the opportunity to go down, but it seemed like the entire hike was uphill. You know the old adage of walking to school uphill both ways? Well, now I know it can actually be true!DSCF0913

So we walked and we sweat. It was summer and it was hot. Thankfully we ran into vendors at various watchtowers along the way who sold water, popsicles, and beer. And come on, to say you drank an ice cold beer on top of The Great Wall is pretty darn cool.DSCF0880

Eventually, the Wall began to get more dilapidated. Our oldest, Autumn is always up for an adventure and was psyched to explore this section, also known as the “Wild Wall” so we continued on. After all, although it looked a bit dangerous I had to prove to my kids that their mom is no wimp. I can hang with the best of them.DSCF0918

To say this part of the hike was treacherous is an understatement. I’ll admit it was not one of my finest moments as a protective mother. At some points, we were literally climbing up slippery sand trails on hands and knees. But once we reached the top the views were outstanding.DSCF0958 It was totally worth the risk…until we realized we had to turn around and go back down. Do you remember the children’s book, The Pokey Little Puppy when he ran “pell-mell and tumble bumble” down the hill? Well, that’s about how we went down. But despite our harrowing journey, we all made it back to the restored section of the Wall relatively unscathed.

Brotherly bonding before Elijah’s infamous breakdown.

It was getting late and time to head back to home base. We were exhausted and the only thing keeping us going was the fun luge ride we would be able to take back down to the bottom. But you know how I told you it was an uphill journey both ways? Yep, I was right. Both ways. Our poor wobbly legs could hardly climb any more steps. However, we had a way to go in order to make it to the luge but were finding it pretty cool that most of the people had cleared out and we were basically on our own on the Wall. Well, we found it pretty cool until we realized that the visitor center had closed and the luge was no longer running. My husband tried to convince the workers to just let us take a quick trip down but they weren’t giving in. He couldn’t even sway them with a monetary bribe. So guess what we got to do…take the stairs all the way down to the bottom…of a mountain. Our middle son, Elijah, was having a complete meltdown. Well, to be honest, he had been having a meltdown since about the first 500 stairs we climbed and I was getting to the same point pretty quickly. Finally, after a few hundred more stairs we made it to the bottom. Elijah collapsed and we all felt as if we had just run a marathon. Later when we calculated our steps we figured we had walked about 10 miles!IMG_0221

Although it was a difficult journey, we all agreed it was an amazing experience. We loved having the opportunity to walk The Great Wall and would do it again in a heartbeat. Perhaps next time though we will train before we go, and maybe even do some carbo-loading the night before.

If you want to be a loner visiting The Great Wall, do as we did. Take a journey out to Mutianyu and enjoy few crowds, stunning views, Just remember, wear good hiking shoes, drink beer, wear a watch, and don’t miss the luge!

Make sure you check out my Mutianyu travel guide here: How to (Mutianyu). The best way to do The Great Wall of China. for lots of handy tips.



  1. Enjoyed the story and was huffin n puffin by the time I finished it. They say going down hill is tougher than uphill you made it and made great memories.


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