Hiking in China – What to know
Touring China does not have to be all ancient temples, museums and big cities. When you’re traveling in the world’s most populous country, it takes a bit of effort to avoid the crowds – why not add a little adventure to the effort and a day or two hiking to your travel itinerary?
We’ve outlined two hikes here that can be done as day or overnight trips from both Shanghai and Beijing, where the vast majority of international travelers fly in to and out of on a visit to the mainland. If you’re in decent shape and time allows, don’t hesitate to get off the tourist trail and sweat it out on a hiking path.
Beijing: Overnight on the Great Wall at Gubeikou
Nearly everyone who visits the wall goes to three main sections at Simatai, Mutianyu or Badaling – that includes Chinese tourists, meaning you’re going to be fighting for a selfie spot that doesn’t have a scrum of other people in it.
If you arrive early enough in the day, you’ll have time to add on to your hike. You can head back down into town, stop for a quick bite and reload your water supplies, then head east up the hill, past the ancient Buddhist temple, and to the main entry gate of Gubeikou Great Wall section. If you want to spend the night on the wall (it’s not technically allowed, but many still do), you’re going to have to get creative and start looking for spots for your tent that are not too near to town and that are also flat enough. Check the watch towers that dot the wall every 300 yards for flat roofs or level insides that are protected from the wind. There’s a few places where you’ll have to do some guessing on which trail or junction meets back up with the main trail on the wall, but that’s all part of the adventure, right?
We’ve been using Patrick for years as a Beijing driver service – he speaks English, but his drivers don’t (firstname.lastname@example.org), so let Patrick know the plan. Expect to pay about US$175 for a full day driver at your disposal. If you’d like a guide for a trip (not a bad idea if you’re feeling nervous and/or lack Chinese skills), check out Beijing Hikers for trips with like-minded adventurers, organized by difficulty level. There’s also plenty of companies offering more commercial experiences on TripAdvisor.
Hangzhou Tea Terraces: Day hike leaving from Shanghai
United Airlines started a non-stop flight to Hangzhou from San Francisco last year, a sign of the city’s growing business and cultural importance (Alibaba – the world’s largest retailer, largest IPO ever, etc. – is headquartered here). More international carriers are following suit, but even if you find yourself in neighboring Shanghai (about an hour away via high-speed train), you can still wake up early and spend a day hiking and enjoying Hangzhou’s peaceful tea terraces. Renown for its Longjing (dragon well) green tea, Hangzhou is a city of nearly nine million, but still boasts amazingly accessible hiking routes not far from the city center.
For a more concrete plan, start at the China National Tea Museum and follow the path up the hill. Add in the village of Longjing as a stop (also makes a great lunch break with lots of homestyle village restaurants), and then continue on following signs for a path called “Nine Creeks Meandering Through a Misty Forest.” The path is almost as gorgeous as the name implies, but it’s a little more well-known, so you will be able to join other hikers until the path’s terminus at a main road with plenty of taxis to head back into town. We’ve done a version of this as a huge 31 km, one-day loop to and from our hotel located lakeside, but even if you’re not up for that much walking, you can pick and choose a portion of this to do with ease and flexibility.
The best part about hiking in and around big cities in China? If you’re feeling tired, or get a bit lost, you can always go back down to the nearest main road and hail a taxi – and no one else will be the wiser!
Have a question about booking a food tour or hiking in China? Email us, we’d love to help.