How to (Mutianyu). The best way to do The Great Wall of China.

So you want to visit The Great Wall of China? Good choice. Being one of the 7 wonders of the world it certainly won’t disappoint. After all, how often can you say you have been to a manmade structure that can be seen from outer space? That in and of itself is pretty cool. In fact, visiting The Great Wall became our family’s favorite trip in China.

However, there are some pretty big mistakes that can be made when visiting The Great Wall. More than 4 million people visit the Wall every year. Trust me, you do not want to get caught up in the throngs of people that cluster in massive groups at various points along the Wall. It will make your visit much less enjoyable fighting your way through crowds as you climb stair after stair after stair after stair. Yes, there are that many stairs. In fact, you will go up and down so many times you will feel as if your legs are going to fall off. Why in the world did they have to include so many stairs in any way? Seriously.IMG_0172

But I digress. If you want to visit The Great Wall and enjoy your experience, you will need to get outside of Beijing. Go to Beijing and see the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace. Maybe take in a Kung Fu show or eat some Peking duck, but when you are done take a drive outside the city to Mutianyu.

Mutianyu is a small village situated about 40 miles outside of Beijing. It boasts few crowds and one of the best-preserved areas of the wall. While there is a very nice hotel and one tourist center in Mutianyu, you won’t find very much else in town. Staying overnight is limited but possible and if you stay where we did, you will be treated to a surprisingly relaxing vacation.

The Village of Mutianyu


How to get there

Luckily you have multiple options to get to Mutianyu. If you are using Beijing as a home base, your best bet will be traveling by car or bus. We flew into Beijing, spent the day there taking in the sights, then hired a driver to take us out to the village. You can also take a bus that runs regularly throughout the day.

How long will it take

The answer to that is, how long do you have? We spent the better part of a day hiking along the Wall. It was such a luxury to have much of the Wall to ourselves, and the scenery kept getting more and more beautiful so we just kept going. By the end of our trip, we calculated to have walked 10 miles! I would suggest staying overnight for a night or two so you won’t be rushed.DSCF0879

Where to stay

Our family of 7 stayed at The Schoolhouse at Mutianyu. We all agreed it was by far our favorite place to stay out of all our trips in China. It felt more like a villa in Sonoma Valley than a hotel in China. The Schoolhouse offered a lovely courtyard, open-concept rooms with views of the Wall, and delicious meals. During our stay, we enjoyed a jazz night under the stars complete with a wonderful buffet dinner. Check out their website here: for lodging and dining options as well as seasonal offerings and special events.

How to do The Great Wall at MutianyuIMG_0115

One of the highlights of visiting The Great Wall at Mutianyu is the cableway and luge options for getting up and down the mountain, especially when traveling with children. They get a kick out of riding the ski lift to the top and rushing down the luge to the bottom.
Price: adults-single trip CNY 100/round trip CNY 120, children: single trip CNY 50 single trip/CNY 60 round trip.
Service Hours: March 16-November 15: 8am-5pm, November 16-March 15: 8:30am-4:30pm
Of course, The Great Wall itself doesn’t close, but the cableway and luge do. Whatever you do, take note of these hours. When we went we were clueless. If you want to get a kick out of our misadventure with the luge (and more), just click on this link: How to Be a Loner on The Great Wall

Thoughts and Things

  • When we arrived at the top of the cableway, we walked north along the Wall. Eventually, this led us to the “Wild Wall”, a section of the Wall that has not been preserved. This area offered some spectacular views. However, if you go this way use extreme caution. Hiking becomes treacherous at times. At some points, we were literally climbing up slippery sand trails on hands and knees.DSCF0936
  • People sell water and snacks along the way. When we went it was pretty hot and ice-cold popsicles were very welcomed so make sure you bring some cash.IMG_0190
  • You will be walking on some very uneven surfaces and up and down steep steps. Wear comfortable shoes and dress appropriately.
  • Sometimes the air quality is bad so it may be necessary to wear a mask. Make sure you check the AQI before you venture out.
  • The best times of year to visit are; April, May, September, and October as these are the months with the most favorable weather. We went in June and it was really hot but the trees were very green, aiding to the spectacular views.IMG_0211

If you are going to visit The Great Wall, do it right. Get out of Beijing with the millions of others and take a trip to Mutianyu. It will be an incredibly enjoyable experience and one you will never forget!

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.