The first step in visiting the Great Wall is to decide WHERE on the wall you’re going to go.  The agency that coordinated my whole tour, China Highlights, had a detailed overview of each section (near Beijing at least), but I’ll summarize for you.  Your choices are:

  • An easy hike, but a moving wall of people (Examples: Badaling & Juyongguan)
  • Medium difficulty, aka you may need some level of physical fitness for the many stairs and steep slopes, with a tolerable amount of tourists (Examples: Mutianyu, Jinshanling)
  • Serious hiking on unrestored sections (Examples: Jiankou, Gubeikou & Simatai).  The wild sections typically have few services and no cable car, so you hike/climb up to the wall before hiking ON the wall.
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I believe I read this section (Mutianyu) was wheelchair accessible . . by which they mean that local villagers will carry you/pull you in a cart up the steep slope and stairs to the cable car, then carry you along the wall.  There are numerous uneven steps here and two people fell trying to climb into a tower just while I was there (not serious falls, but down a few steps).  The slopes are also quite steep and this isn’t even the worst one!
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 Having said that, it was incredible and certainly worth pushing my fitness level!  This is the view of the wall ahead from the tower, although the clouds are a bit deceptive!
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When the clouds cleared, I suddenly realized what I’d really signed up for!  Really, this is medium level?!?  To whom?  Look at that climb!  The photo below is a few towers later at the end of what you could see before the clouds above.  As it turned out, we stopped at the base  of the large climb because my knee was giving me too much trouble for stairs (and it was clearly going to be a late lunch already since you have to return the way you came).
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While it is completely stunning, this section doesn’t have a lot of variation, at least on a rainy day – lots of green, lots of wall.  I would highly recommend seeing the Great Wall when you’re in decent physical health though.  Delaying my China trip for work turned out to be a tiny problem since I suffered a knee injury between those two dates and that was definitely an impediment.
And, being a creature of habit, I returned to the same restaurant and ordered steamed dumplings, which were also delicious!  Just 12 renminbi (about $2) for them and my bottled green tea!  The noodles with tea are 21 (a little over $3).  Total bargain meals, but the place was clean, food served hot and I’m still in good health after two days eating there!
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Closing Note: my guide pointed out that this huge wall still didn’t keep the Mongols from invading China and suggested the US could save a lot of money by considering that.  I suggested that we simply want our own tourist attraction for a few centuries from now!