Switchback Great Wall | Hikers following the unrestored Great Wall in Yanqing District
Hiking on the 'wild' Great Wall in Yanqing District.

Switchback Great Wall

A tough Great Wall hike over tricky terrain in a remote area of northwest Beijing, with a lot of ups and downs on the way to the end. Note: this route features steep descents on loose footing—if you’re not good with heights and balancing, you will not enjoy this hike.

Level 4
Some tricky descents on loose footing. 4–5 hours start to finish over 8.5km. (Can I do it?)

This hike is not currently scheduled

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Midway through this tough hike the wall doubles back on itself in a sharp switchback, and that’s not the only interesting feature in this section of the Great Wall. We will also see the difference in style of the embrasures produced during original construction by the different villages close by to this section of the wall, and take some steep climbs up and down the swooping stretches of the wall as it climbs and descends steep ridgelines.

We’ll begin in a valley at the literal end of the road, and soon start the climbing: a steep scramble over rocks and bricks towards the first tower. After following the wall up further we’ll take a detour along the ridgeline to reach a very skinny and tall tower with no obvious point of entry.

From there we’ll inch down a narrow and difficult trail, before heading up again along a steep path to continue along the Great Wall.

After more climbing up and down we’ll get to the repaired ‘switchback’ part of the wall, and continue a little further before stopping for a quick lunch break at the highest point on the walk.

From the lunch spot we’ll continue to follow the wall, making some extended descents and ascents, and one off-wall detour, as we head for a more accessible stretch of this section of the Great Wall.

Approaching the General's Tower
Approaching the General's Tower. (Click for larger image)

After a steep stair climb we’ll reach the “General’s Tower”, one of the biggest towers in the area, and likely the location of the commander in the area back in the Ming Dynasty. From here we’ll be able to see why it made such a good command post – the views are amazing!

From the General’s Tower the hike gets much easier, as the wall starts to follow a ridgeline instead of running up and down the sides of valleys. We’ll do some hillside detours around the steep and slippery parts until we reach the trail that will lead us back down to the village where we’ll find our bus.

COVID-19 and participation precautions

The current precautions are minimal. Please read in full here: Operating hikes under COVID-19 precautions

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Photos and trip reports: Switchback Great Wall

  1. Switchback Great Wall, 2023/10/28

    Switchback Great Wall, 2023/10/28

    See a set of 16 shots from a mid-autumn hike up to the ‘switchback’, a special spot where the wall makes a hairpin turn on a bluff.
  2. Switchback Great Wall, 2023/09/30

    Switchback Great Wall, 2023/09/30

    We saw the start of the autumn colours high up in the hills on this walk along ‘wild’ Great Wall—see nineteen photos from the hike.
  3. Switchback Great Wall, 2021/06/02

    Switchback Great Wall, 2021/06/02

    On this hike we did the Stone Valley Great Wall trail and then added on a serious amount of stairclimbing to get up to the top section of the Great Wall here—see 23 photos from the Great Wall surrounded by green.
  4. Switchback Great Wall, 2020/11/21

    Switchback Great Wall, 2020/11/21

    Snow was falling as we started this hike, and it was still falling as we finished a fun – but tricky! – hike up to the Switchback Great Wall—see 22 photos.
  5. Switchback Great Wall, 2016/06/18

    Switchback Great Wall, 2016/06/18

    Photos from a long hike along a rough but pretty line of Great Wall in Beijing’s northwest—half recently repaired, the other half unrestored and wild.

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