If camping overnight on one of the coolest World Wonders isn't on your bucketlist, it totally needs to be — it was definitely the highlight of my semester abroad in China).
*Quick ILP Update — we have closed our semester abroad program in China and are not updating info found in this post. We're keeping this post live as it may be a helpful resource for you, but know that information was last up to date at the time this post was published.
Just going to the Great Wall and taking pictures is still a once-in-a-lifetime type of experience, but like most major tourist attractions there's some unfortunate aspects to it. I can't tell you how many people I've talked to who said it was crowded and that they felt rushed because they were on a tour's schedule.
That was the exact opposite of my experience — I went camping up on the wall, had a whole unrestored section to myself, and could have spent days hiking from tower to tower. You won't regret putting this adventure on your bucketlist.
Seriously, this experience is usually a highlight of any Beijing trip and any ILP China trip because it's that unreal. Here's what another volunteer had to say about it: "This experience was without a doubt the highlight of China for me (besides my kids, of course). DO IT DO IT DO IT!
"The hike was a little difficult, but your guide will go as slowly as you need. The Great Wall is absolutely incredible, and this is the most perfect way to see it, in my opinion. The stars were to die for and we woke up to watch an incredibly beautiful sunrise. I can't imagine having gone to Beijing and not doing this."
Totally convinced you have to do this? Good. Here are the details:
A Bit About The Wall
First and foremost, this is probably obvious but the Wall is rather expansive — there are many sections where you can visit that are spread apart. Some are more touristy than others. In general, the farther away from Beijing you travel, the less crowded and reconstructed the Wall. Here are the most popular sections:
- Juyongguan (Closest to Beijing, most crowded and less interesting)
- Badaling (Close to Beijing, tends to be crowded)
- Mutianyu (Further from Beijing, less crowded and has gorgeous mountains)
- Jinshanling and Simatai (Less reconstructed, not crowded)
Laolongtou (Hours away from Beijing, meets the ocean)
- Remote Sections (Good for camping with a tour)
All About Camping On The Great Wall
- Can I do it on my own?
What to look for in a tour
- How much will it cost?
- Things to pack
- What to expect
- What about weather?
Can I Do It On My Own?
Nope — if you're an ILP volunteer, it's against ILP policy to go camping without a guide while you're on a semester with us. But besides that, it's also illegal to camp on the Great Wall without a guide, according to the Chinese government. There are certain sections that are allowed for this kind of activity, so best to go with someone who knows all of those rules and regulations. Plus, you'd need to track down all of your gear, plan for food, and figure out a way to actually get up on the wall ... Yikes.
It's a good thing it's not an option to do it yourself because there are awesome tour companies who figure it all out for you.
Who Should I Go With?
In the past, volunteers have had awesome adventures with China Travellers, and even have a favorite guide, Kellie. She's living in Beijing and has some awesome Instagram posts — check her out at @kel_koo.
I also went with China Travellers and got the chance to have lunch at a local farmer's home (it seriously was the best food I had in China) before hiking up to the wall. Then, after the sunrise and a morning hike on the Wall, my group had breakfast at the same home. It was crazy fun and so delicious, plus the chance to peek at local life in this more remote part of China. We had Sonia as our guide and loved her.
Another ILP group went with the same group (they are our number one recommendation, can't you tell?) China Travellers has a few different packages: one group mentions the "Yellow Flower Lakeside" option if that's helpful.
Here's what Kelsie had to say about her China Travellers experience: "Chinatravellers.com is the way to go! The website looks rough but it’s totally legit. We had someone reach out to us via WeChat right away and helped plan everything. They even provided lunch for us and honestly it was our favorite Chinese food we had our whole semester.
We were so impressed with the company that my husband and I went AGAIN when his parents and aunt came to visit us. That was especially spectacular because we didn’t see another person on the Wall that whole hike. So amazing!! Definitely worth the money, I would never go to the crowded touristy parts when you can do this ^^"
Great Wall Adventure Club
Other groups have loved the Great Wall Adventure Club! According to Melly, "It was only $99 and included camping gear, dinner, breakfast, pick up and drop off at hotel, and our tour guide spoke English. Really really fun" Get more information about their tour packages here.
What To Look For In A Tour
There are many tours out there that will help you camp on the Great Wall if you decide not to go with China Travellers. Make sure you do your research though; look for groups that will pick you up in Beijing and arrange transportation to the wall. The Great Wall is actually a drive outside of the city, so even the tourists have to travel a bit to get to it. Having transportation from Beijing is actually pretty important.
You'll also want to make sure your company provides all the necessary gear:
- Food (dinner that night, and breakfast in the morning)
- Hiking Backpacks
Sleeping Bag + Mat
- A Guide (you'll hike up and down with this guide who'll give you a little history)
How Much Will It Cost?
The prices vary on who you decide to book with but China Travellers' tour will cost you around $160 (but they do offer a student discount) and that will include your transportation, food, water, flashlights, English tour guide and all your camping gear. Make sure you know what your tour includes and be prepared. Other options were in the $100 range if that helps you ballpark things.
Things To Pack
Your tour company should set you up with all the camping basics but you'll still want to bring along a few things. Remember, you'll be hiking up on day, spending the night, then hiking back down. I liked hiking in leggings and a t-shirt, so I wore that on day one, and packed a change of clothes for the way back. I'd also recommend the following:
- Hammock (for a bomb shot like this one)
- Toothbrush, toothpaste, face wash etc
- Hiking sandals + tennis shoes (plus socks)
- Phone/Camera (plus an external battery to charge your phone if you have one)
What To Expect
All the tours are essentially the same, but here's a rough outline just so you know what to expect. I went to China Travellers and were told to meet our guide at a metro station in Beijing. We all hopped into a minibus to drive a couple of hours to an unrestored section of the wall. First we stopped off at a little village on the outskirts for lunch which was so amazingly delicious.
After eating, we got our bags situated (they had backpacking backpacks set up with all of our gear so I just put my little Fjallraven Kanken at the top) and up we hiked. It was under an hour but extremely steep. We went slow and took lots of pictures, then made it up to the top! We had time before dark to set up our tent, get a little history lesson, then had time to hike to nearby guard towers. Once it got dark, we set up dinner, watched the stars, then headed to bed.
We woke up early (early!) to watch the sunrise over the mountains, packed up our stuff, and hiked back down. The minibus was waiting to take us to the village for breakfast, then we drove back to the same metro station we had met the day previous.
What About Weather?
Camping overnight isn't an option that's available year round, just when the weather is warm enough. During the winter it gets quite cold and often snows!
Weather in this part of China is pretty similar to what you'd find somewhere like Utah. The coldest part of the year is over the winter, November-March and the warmest months are during the summer. However spring and fall are my favorite times. During the fall you'll get the leaves changing colors and it's gorgeous.
If you're in China for the Fall semester, go towards the beginning of your semester (August, September, and possibly early October). If you're there during the Spring, go towards the end (April, May, and June).
It's travel time!
Looking for more inspiration to fill your passport? We set up semester abroad trips for volunteers to live all over the world and are constantly posting about all of the amazing adventures they find on our Instagram.