During the first week of April, my children were off from school for spring break. I had recently made my Beijing Bucket List for spring and was eager to start checking things off that list, especially because I wanted to see those places while the spring flowers were in bloom.
Beijing air quality has been dramatically improving in the last three years, and this year, the air has been phenomenal . . . that is, it was until spring break rolled around. It was pretty frustrating to have my kids with the week off of school, the temperatures perfect, the flowers in bloom, but have air so bad that I didn’t want to leave the house, let alone take my kids hiking.
As luck would have it, though, the cold air started blowing from the north and cleared out the smog. Yes, it was really cold, but I’d take cold clean air over polluted warm air any day. My family took advantage of the clean air and day off school to go to the Great Wall. Finally. After almost three years of living here and listening to my son ask questions and spout facts about this famous landmark, he finally got to walk on it himself.
I’ve taken several trips to the Great Wall myself, mostly at Huangyaguan. In taking the kids, though, I wanted to visit a section of the Great Wall that was fully restored and that had more than just hiking, which narrowed it down to either Badaling or Mutianyu. Mutianyu is known to have smaller crowds than Badaling, so that was where we decided to go.
At Mutianyu, I knew that, besides the hiking on the Wall, the kids would enjoy the cable cars, toboggan, and ropeway. The climbing is always hard on the Wall. The steps are huge (sometimes) and short (at other times), so going up or down a stairway, you always need to be aware that the depth of the next step isn’t necessarily going to be the same as the one before it. But Mutianyu is also a fully restored section of the Wall, so even if the climbing is difficult, you can at least expect the steps to be stable (no lose bricks) and for there to always be a wall between your kids and any cliff or sharp drop-off.
Go Early to Beat the Crowds
Even though Mutianyu has smaller crowds than Badaling, there are still crowds. If you want to avoid the people and get some pictures of the wall without hundreds of heads, then you’ll need to go early. We left our house a little after 7:00 and got there at little after 8:00 and were among the first to arrive. We had no lines to wait in for the shuttle and were the first on the cable cars. Later, when we were leaving the park we passed several tour busses that were just arriving. We were glad we went early.
We spent a couple hours enjoying ourselves—taking the cable cars, hiking, snapping photos, and simply enjoying the view—and then came back down using the ropeway. We wanted to take the toboggan down, but the toboggan stops running in wet weather, and it started to hail while we were hiking, so the toboggan was no longer an option. We used the toboggan tickets we had purchased to take the ropeway down instead.
I always pack healthy snacks for the family whenever we go on outings because I never know what we are going to find. My kids are always happy to have some familiar snacks (and I’m always happy to know that I’ll have a few healthy food items no matter what), but at Mutianyu there is a lot to choose from—everything from Burger King to Lakers to Coffee shops to small Chinese restaurants with noodles or dumplings. I’m sure even the families with the pickiest eaters will be able to find something to eat there.
At Mutianyu, there are separate tickets sold for everything. It’s not that you pay an entrance to the park which includes the cable car, ropeway, and toboggan. Each of those is a separate ticket. When we went to the ticket counter on arrival and paid the fees for the activities we wanted, it felt like we had a stack of tickets an inch thick—tickets for the shuttle bus to take us to the entrance, tickets to go through the entrance, tickets for the cable car, and tickets for the toboggan.
Did the kids enjoy it?
Yes, they did . . . sort of. The air was crystal clear (AQI for that day was below 30), but it was also very cold . . . so much so that we got caught in the hail while we were hiking. Much of the time we were there, the kids were complaining about the cold. All of us should have dressed differently—winter coats, mittens, layers underneath our clothes. Yes, I should have known. I’ve been to the wall several times, and I know that if it’s cold and windy in Beijing, then the wind is really going to howl and be especially cold on the Wall. I guess, I was deceived by all the cherry blossoms on the trees. Yes, it was spring, but the weather that day was behaving like winter. But I learned my lesson . . . a few days later we went to Fenghuangling Nature Park to do some hiking. We were prepared for the cold then and they had a better time.
The kids were also disappointed they didn’t get to try the toboggan. This was beyond our control, though, since it shuts down for safety reasons during wet weather. I guess it just gives us a reason to go back again on a different day (maybe when it’s not so cold).
If you’d like to read more about the Mutianyu section of the wall, China Highlights has a really informative post here.
If you’d like to read more about the other adventures my family is doing for Spring 2018, check out my bucket list where I’ll add active links as I post about each trip.