Living in the second biggest city in China need not mean sacrificing an escape to nature. Families with young children can find plenty of ideal spots for easy hiking within a two-hour drive of Beijing. With some planning, you can organize your own trip to the woods, but it may be easier to connect with other families with hiking experience or to contact Beijing Hikers (www.beijinghikers.com), whose group tours include pick-up and drop-off, English-speaking guides, and lunch and refreshments. Huijie Sun, a hike leader with the organization since 2003, recommends traveling less than two hours for hikes so that young ones don’t become too antsy.
Autumn and spring are the best seasons for hiking, but many hikers happily trek through rainstorms and chilly days with just a few more layers of clothing. If you’re taking small children along, stay away from bushy trails; the hiking parks detailed below are always a good bet. For families who want to hit the trail independently, research directions carefully and take a knowledgeable guide, as trailheads can be hard to find. Families can contact Beijing Hikers to find an experienced driver or consult the organization’s forthcoming Hiking in Beijing, scheduled for publication later this year.
Yellow Flower Water Great Wall
Just slightly farther from Beijing than Silver Pagoda mountain, the Yellow Flower Water Great Wall, or Huanghuacheng Shuichangcheng, plunges into a small lake at the foot of the hill. The area takes about two hours by car to reach and is easy to
locate; it has many streams, reservoirs and pleasant paths with views of the Great Wall (15 minutes from the main road). Start from the nearby village to avoid the park, as it’s full of tourists. The three-hour uphill hike is best for children at least 14 years of age; one portion with temples located at over 1,000 meters in elevation is
recommended only for older teenagers.
Silver Pagoda Mountain
This hike in the north of Beijing contains steps but is slightly more challenging and higher than Yajishan temple, with a summit at 780 meters above sea level. Beijing Hikers’ Sun suggests families picnic near the foot of the mountain in the springtime. Hikers will enjoy long walks through the countryside, passing quarries and a local shrine before exploring the five pagodas built 300 years ago. Trek halfway up the mountain and ring a large bell hanging in a pavilion; monks used to leave their laundry at this halfway point and ring the bell to alert nuns to come and do their laundry. At the top, catch a glimpse of the Huanghuacheng portion of the Great Wall. An artificial spring runs down this mountain and provides solace from the heat while hiking. The roundtrip takes three hours. A Ming dynasty emperor chose this as the location for his tomb, but in an effort to prevent a tomb from being built in their vicinity, the residents renamed their villages with dark names such as Ghost and Blood to scare the emperor away.
Located in Miyun District northeast of Beijing, Immortal Valley is merely one-and-half hours from Beijing by car. During the rainy season, a spring rushes down from the mountain, cooling the hot air as hikers journey through the valley. Sun
recommends this hike for kids because they love stopping and putting their feet in the small pools of fresh water. Some steps can be steep, but families don’t have to head all the way to the top. It takes about two hours to reach the 800 meter peak, where hikers are rewarded with great views of the surrounding hills and valleys. The roundtrip loop of 16 kilometers takes four to five hours. The water in the valley is great for paddling or spotting small fish.
Yajishan Temple in east of Beijing
This hike is now only an hour’s drive away, thanks to the opening of the new Jing Chang highway. This hike ascends to 400 meters above sea level and has steps that are shallow enough for children. At the top of the hill, families will find two temples, one built in the Han dynasty and one in the Qing dynasty. The temple’s name is derived from the appearance of the two temples sitting on top of the hill – like pigtails on the top of a young girl’s head. Older kids can climb another summit. A number of small temples line the trail, and hikers can wander inside for a glimpse. It takes about two hours to complete the hike, including the return.
• Be aware that hiking trails around Beijing may be unavailable until after the Paralympics at the end of September.
• Carry passports or Chinese IDs in case of security checks.
• Check weather and trail conditions before making the trek – they can affect the difficulty and safety of a hike (recent rain can cause muddy slopes).
• Always pack snacks and carry at least two liters of water while hiking.
• Dress in layers – when you work up a sweat, you can peel off layers without risking being cold later.
• All hikers should stay with their group for safety.