The Great Wall, known to the Chinese as Wanli Changcheng, stretches almost 4,000 miles and was built between the 7th and 17th centuries to repel Mongols and Turkic tribes. Today’s invasions of the tourist variety center around a stretch of fortress closest to Beijing called Badaling—so forge on 30 minutes further to the less crowded Mutianyu, a 90-minute drive north from the hotel. Not to state the obvious, but be sure to wear walking shoes with a good grip. While we’re at it, go on weekdays, and never when it snows (these old stones get slippery), and try to arrive by 7:30 a.m. to grab some (almost) alone time with this massive monument. Buy the two-hour ticket at the park entrance, then board the designated shuttle bus that brings you to the four-person cable car (which we prefer to the shakier two-person chairlift) to the top. The cable car deposits you close to Tower 14 of Mutianyu’s 23 watchtowers; from there, walk east for the Wall’s most made-for-social-media landscapes. Have kids in tow? Walk in the other direction to Tower 6, then ride the speed-controlled toboggan down. We’ve also learned to bring our own water and snacks, rather than pay tourist prices. Beijing Hikers organizes stellar outings for the fittest of travelers to the Wall’s most obscure but scenic reaches.
Great for a day trip into the wild and luxuriously green mountains of China, Mutianyu is around a 90 minute drive from the Conrad. Take the S11 Jingcheng Expressway heading out of Beijing to pass the small towns of Gaoliyingzhen, Beishicaozhen and Qiaozizhen. As you head north, the crowded city soon transforms into a lush, verdant landscape.
BEIJING HIKERS: 86-(0)10-6432-2786; beijinghikers.com