Jiankou to Mutianyu – The Great Wall of China, Part 3

If you are just joining us on this journey of hiking from Jiankou to Mutianyu, you can catch up on either of the previous two posts here: Jiankou Part 1 or Jiankou Part 2.

Skipping the Potential Death of Day 2—Jiankou to Mutianyu:

The view of the dangerous but beautiful Jiankou section of the Great Wall.
The view from Zhengbeilou Tower is what many who attempt this trail come to see

So if at the end of Part 2 you were thinking to yourself, “You’d have to be nuts to do this,” but you still want to check out an unrestored section of The Great Wall, I have good news. Zhengbeilou to Mutianyu is a much easier section of the trail that, with a little caution, could be attempted by almost anyone and you can get here without following the extreme path that we took from Jiankou to Mutianyu.

Jiankou Map

Alternative for Hiking to the Zhengbeilou Tower

There is a blue route on the map above that will take you up to the wall from Xizhazi Village just beyond Zhengbeilou Tower. With a slight jaunt back up the Wall to Zhengbeilou you will be able to experience the views there before continuing the journey towards Mutianyu. We obviously didn’t take the blue route, but from everything I have read, it is a moderate climb up to the Wall.

From Zhengbeilou to Mutianyu

Zhengbeilou Tower
Zhengbeilou Tower is still in pretty good shape with no renovations.

Upon leaving Zhengbeilou Tower the terrain flattens out. It is still mountainous, but it rolls a bit instead of the rocky jagged peaks that we had taken thus far. The Great Wall snakes across this tree-covered terrain, emerging from the branches like a snake.

Ox Horn Edge (sometimes called Ox Horn Bend)

The next major tower is that of Ox Horn Edge. The Great Wall climbs up a ridge to the tower and then does a hairpin turn and heads back down the same hill. There are several smaller towers along the way from Zhengbeilou Tower to Ox Horn Edge (I think four). They are small and the views aren’t spectacular which is why they don’t show up on most maps.

Shortcut Around the Ox Horn Edge

A deliapidated tower along the Jiankou section of the Great Wall of China
One of the smaller dilapidated towers between Zhengbeilou Tower and Ox Horn Edge.

There is a trail that basically leads from one of the towers (I think it is the 2nd one) across the side of the hill to a tower on the other side. This could save some time and you wouldn’t have to climb up to Ox Horn Edge, but you’re here so why not do it all. If you do want to take the shortcut just keep an eye out for a dirt path heading across. We saw it and didn’t even know it was there prior to going so it is pretty easy to spot.

On Ox Horn Edge

Ox Horn Edge curve in the Great Wall of China
Ox Horn Edge Tower is perched at the top of the hill.

We chose to go up to Ox Horn Edge and I find it to be one of the more memorable towers from our trip. Its dilapidation and the viewpoints for both sides of the Wall coming up to it are stunning.

The Fall

The trail on the Great Wall coming down the Ox Horn Edge area.
The terrain on the ancient wall is loose rubble. Jennifer slid on some of this loose rock near this spot below Ox Horn Edge.

Once leaving Ox Horn Edge we made our way down what is a moderately steep section of the Wall. This section has very little to hold onto and the stones on top of the wall look like they are in decent shape, but have loose pebbles sitting on top of them. This is the one place where Jennifer actually lost her footing and slid a ways down the stone path. If you have to fall somewhere, this is one of the safer spots to do it, but she did have a nice bruise on her backside to show for it. If you decide to take on this section just make sure your shoes have good tread on them and take it slow.

The last of Jiankou

A hiker sits on the unrestored section of the Great Wall of China
Jennifer resting in the doorway of one of the smaller towers at the bottom of the Ox Horn Edge hill.

Once we reached the bottom we made our way through a few more smaller towers on our way up to a small hill and then the Wall hooks to the left. This is all a fairly easily navigated area.

Tower 23

The last of the Jiankou section before reaching Mutianyu
The last of Jiankou. Mutianyu is at the top of this hill.

Once we made the turn and passed through several more towers, less memorable than those that came before, we arrived at Tower Number 23—the westernmost tower in the Mutianyu section of The Great Wall. Here we found an exorbitant amount of tourist who all looked as if they have sweated their way along the steep Mutianyu section. It does have a really steep area, but it has actual stairs so really they had it easy…

If you decide to make the trek, do take a moment here on the edge of civilization and take pride in the fact that you have survived Jiankou, but don’t rest too long as there are still several miles of hiking before the journey from Jiankou to Mutianyu is complete.

The tower dividing Jiankou from Mutianyu
Tower Number 23 is where hikers cross over to Mutianyu from Jiankou.


A hiker on the Great Wall of China
Jennifer looks up at me as she drops down one of the steepest sections of Mutianyu.

Mutianyu is an amazing restored area. I would highly recommend coming here even if you don’t attempt the Jiankou section. From Tower Number 23 it is a steep descent down through several towers before the Wall levels off in an undulating manner. At one point the terrain is so steep that steps on the Wall double back on themselves and you end up walking under the stairs you just came down. It is a very unique spot.

Six Flags over The Great Wall

As we approached Tower Number 15 the crowds got thicker and what I refer to as the “Six Flags over The Great Wall” effect goes into full swing. There is a cableway at tower Number 15 that provides better accessibility to the young and old. Between Tower 10 and 6 there are several walking paths to exit the Wall. Also located at Tower 6 is the luge. We opted for the luge since we were hungry and wanted to get to some food… the granola we had been eating all day on out Jiankou to Mutianyu adventure wasn’t cutting it anymore. We thought the luge would be the quickest way down and, let’s be honest, who doesn’t love speeding down a concrete luge.

The Luge

The luge was the end of our journey from Jiankou to Mutianyu
The Mutianyu Luge.

Sadly, the luge was a disappointing way to finish our Jiankou to Mutianyu adventure. The people who run the luge don’t regulate it in a way that keeps terrified people off of it. About a fourth of a mile down the track, we got stuck behind a lady who would not let off the brake and so we SLOWLY crept down. Seriously, by the time we finally got to the bottom there was a line of about 60 people lined up behind this lady. What a waste.

Lunch at the Base of the Great Wall of China

A Chinese Red Sauce Pork Dish
The red sauce pork dish we had Zhao’s Hostel the night before was so good I decided to try it at the restaurant in Mutianyu as well. Zhao’s was better, but this was still pretty good.

We stopped for lunch and then proceeded to try and figure out how to get back to Beijing. This part of our journey was flawed on my part and we ended up walking an unnecessary extra couple of miles so hopefully, I can help you not make the same mistake.

Getting Back to Beijing

Apparently, there is a shuttle bus that takes you from the base of The Great Wall to the entrance area. The entrance area has shops and you can get tickets to visit Mutianyu there, but if you come over from Jiankou you don’t need a ticket. The entrance area is about 3-miles away from the shuttle stop (we walked it, which isn’t ideal). Once you are at the entrance area you will have to make your way past all the shops and then through the parking lot and across the street to the local bus stop. Hop on either the H23 or H24 local bus (5 RMB/person). It is about 18km back to the town of Huairou where you will catch the 916 Express bus back to the Dongzhimen Bus Station in Beijing. The last bus to leave Huairou is at 6:00 PM so don’t miss it.


A hiker celebrates their arrival in Mutianyu
Jennifer celebrating our arrival in Mutianyu.

Jiankou to Mutianyu is a very hard hike with lots of complexity to get where you are going, but if you are able to do it, it will reward you with some of the most spectacular views of one of mankind’s greatest wonders. I look back on these two days as perhaps the craziest adventure of our lives and if I had to do it again I wouldn’t hesitate to give it another go, but I might plan for a 3-day trip so I could attempt the sections we missed.

Things to Know about Hiking from Jiankou to Mutianyu

A brick tower along the trail from Jiankou to Mutianyu
A look at one of the many un-named towers along the Jiankou route.
  • It is basically illegal for the locals to do the Jiankou section of the wall, but they have no problem with tourists risking their lives on this amazing dilapidated structure.
  • Camping on the wall is illegal, but some do risk it. I have read that the Chinese police are cracking down on the camping though.
  • Carry lots of water as there is obviously no access on the Great Wall.
A hiker on the trail from Jiankou to Mutianyu
Jennifer looks back at Zhengbeilou Tower from the bottom of the Ox Horn Edge Hill.
  • Carry a headlamp… always! This is for really anytime you do any hike, in my opinion.
  • We left most of our luggage at the concierge desk of the hotel in Beijing. This saved us a lot of weight that would have otherwise made the expedition all but impossible.
  • Google Maps doesn’t work in China, but Apple Maps does.
  • Find the Mandarin name for a place, print that on a card and put the English translation on the backside of the card. This will allow you to show people on the street where you want to go. I would also suggest checking the Mandarin translations with someone fluent. The front desk in your Beijing hotel can most likely help with this.
A hiker from Jiankou to Mutianyu wears a mask because of the pollution in the area.
We wore masks for the pollution throughout much of our trip to China. At first, Jennifer thought this might be offensive, but it really isn’t as a large portion of the Chinese population wears them as well.
  • While you are at the front desk grab the hotel’s business card. If all else fails you can hand a taxi driver the card and they will be able to get you back.
  • Zhao’s Hostel phone number: +86-10-6161-1762
  • Pollution! Unfortunately, like most of the areas in and around China’s major cities, this area can be shrouded in dense pollution. I would suggest wearing a mask while visiting. Don’t worry, you’ll fit right in with the locals.

If you enjoyed this adventure from Jiankou to Mutianyu please share it on your social networks. Thanks!

A few more photos from the last part of our adventure—Jiankou to Mutianyu.

Zhengbeilou Tower
A look back at Zhengbeilou Tower as we make our way towards Ox Horn Edge.
Structure of the Great Wall of China
A section of the Wall. Notice the spout channeling water away from the base of the ancient structure.
The Mountains of Jiankou
Another view of Zhengbeilou Tower. The mountain peaks beyond peek out above the clouds.
Tower on the Ox Horn Edge
Looking back up at Ox Horn Edge from the bottom of the hill.
The tower and Ox Horn Edge
Looking back at Ox Horn Edge just before we cross into Mutianyu.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Grammy Talbott says:

    What a beautiful, dangerous trip you and Jennifer took. You must be proud. I am.


Let us know what you think about this moment.