This autumn don’t just drive up to the north land to watch the leaves turn, how about climbing atop turrets in the Great Wall and watching the trees shed their chlorophyll-hues with an amazing panoramic view of the Great Wall and the nature that surrounds it? What better way to usher in the new season than with a million other people on a structure that has stood for so long that trillions have tramped across it? Exactly. Nothing compares to that.
The best sections for watching the leaves turn on the Great Wall are Mutianyu and Semitai, both are beautiful locations that provide ample peak views of the lowland areas and no views of parking lots or highways. Badaling is perhaps the worst possible section of the Great Wall for enjoying the structure’s integrity or checking out nature. Badaling, which is more amusement park than historical monument, has become to clustered with crap lately that even the locals avoid the place.
A cooler option still is to sign up with one of the city’s top hiking groups and trek out into the forest with great guides to see un-restored sections of the Great Wall that are overgrown with plants and trees, and sometimes hidden beneath piles of brush or the bricks stolen for local’s homes. Still, the wall survives in one way or another- as door stops all over Northern Beijing in some cases or as a Wall, in others.
Some of the best hiking groups include the Beijing Hikers, Dandelion Hiking, The Hutong Hikers and Culture Yard Hikers. You’ll find reasonably priced hikes from there groups to sections of the wall that include tours of local villages or hikes amid orchards or even overnight camping “on the Great Wall” which is usually a sales pitch for what turns out to be camping new the Great Wall, or camping on a pile of rocks that some local says his great, great grandfather told him was a part of the wall. Still, it’s fun to get out in the woods with a machete and hack away at the thick, polluted foliage as you search for sections of the wall like some lost Indiana Jones character.
If you don’t want to go up there with a tour group we’d understand perfectly. Some of the smaller hiking groups limit the number of people in a group to under ten. This is great because you meet a few new people, you get to establish a decent group dynamic, and yet you aren’t a single small character in an otherwise giant throng of people. These smaller group tours still allow you to see things only locals usually see, especially in relation to secluded, un-restored sections of the wall. From here, you’ll have the best views in China, and possibly the world, for watching the trees change color.