If fountains and pools just aren’t cutting it, head to Huairou, Miyun, and beyond to cool off in a river, lake, or natural pool. Some locations are suitable for family camping, so make it a weekend trip and wake up to the gentle sounds of rushing water.
Baihe River Valley 白河峡谷
Located around 100km from Beijing, Baihe River Valley is named after the serpentine river that stretches between the Miyun and Baihe reservoirs. The extensive karst formations attract many rock climbers, who can be spotted practicing handholds along the Bai River.
Many stretches of river have flat, sheltered spots ideal for setting up camp in. Cross one of the foot bridges and stay on the other side to minimize the chances of hikers strolling up to your tent at 6am and conversing loudly with each other about how only laowai would sleep outdoors (true story). The many flat rocky outcroppings make good surfaces for picnicking and barbecuing.
The lack of public bathrooms and other amenities makes camping less than ideal for families with babies and young children, but there are plenty of guesthouses in the communities bordering the river, such as Shatuozi Village (沙坨子村). Occupancy rates were still low in mid-June, but call ahead if you’d rather not chance it; get a Chinese speaker to help if you’re not functional in Mandarin.
If you’re camping, have the driver drop you off at Henglinggen (横岭根) from Liuxin Lu (琉辛路) and leave your equipment in the car. Head north and walk along the Bai River until you reach Shatuozi Village, around 5km. There’s a narrow road in Shatuozi that ends near the main trail; have the driver meet you in the village, grab the tents, and go set up camp. You may need to do 5-10 minutes of walking along the river bank, but you’ll find a good spot before too long.
The Bai River isn’t very deep on average, but some sections have fast-moving currents and slippery rocks and can be very dangerous. Be careful and always keep an eye on the kids. That being said, many parts are sufficiently calm to swim or splash around in; there are even sandy stretches of beach with tadpoles and minnows clearly visible in the clean, cool water.
Best time to go: The best months to go camping are May and early June, though tourists visit the area throughout the summer. Baihe River Valley can get quite hot and muggy from late June to August, with flash thunderstorms likely in mid-June and July. Take rain gear with you and make sure to bring a tarp for the tent.
Address and opening hours: There are no “opening hours” to speak of. Baihe River Valley Scenic Area, Miyun County 密云县白河峡谷自然风景区
Yunmeng Gorge 云蒙峡
Located only an hour from Baihe River Valley, Yunmeng Gorge (not to be confused with Yunmengshan) is a scenic area with pristine freshwater pools. A wide, easy hiking trail bisects the gorge in two, with towering 30m to 40m cliffs on either side. The walk to the top takes around 1.5 hours; there’s a modest restaurant at the end of the path that serves simple, home-style Chinese food. The water level isn’t as high as it used to be, but Yunmeng Gorge still makes for a tranquil weekend getaway.
The pools are deep and still enough to swim in, but brace yourself – they’re chilly. Even the bravest among us could only stay in the water for 15 minutes. However, there’s also a shallow creek that runs through the park and smaller pools for kids to wade in. There’s lots of interesting fauna and flora, as well as strange rock formations bearing vague resemblances to animals and people.
Yunmeng Gorge is also suitable for camping; just pay the admission fee and set up anywhere you want. There’s flatter ground and more tree cover a bit further away from the main trail. The best part? You get the place to yourself as soon as all the tourists leave. During our visit, we saw a group of two or three expat families busily preparing food in their campsite while the kids ran around playing in the water. There are garbage cans and a few public bathrooms, but not much else; you’ll need to bring enough food, drinks, and other necessities.
Best time to go: The freshwater pools are chilly year-round. Day trippers don’t have much to fear from the weather; just be sure to pack towels, rain gear, a change of clothes, bug spray, sunscreen, hats, good hiking shoes, and extra layers just in case. For campers, it’s best to go earlier in the summer since the region is prone to flash thunderstorms in July and August (not to mention bugs). Much of the topography is made up of wide open spaces with relatively little plant cover; it’s dangerous to be the highest point in a given area when there’s lightning overhead.
Cost: RMB 20
Address and opening hours: Daily 8am-6.30pm. 175 Shuiku Xixian Gonglu, Shicheng Township, Miyun County 密云县石城乡水库西线公路175号
Located in southwestern Fangshan District, Shidu Scenic Area stretches across the towns of Shidu and Zhangfang. Like Baihe, the area is a valley with a river – in this case, the Juma River. The region’s biggest draws are its 30m to 50m karst formations, which lend themselves well to the Chinese propensity for identifying and naming mythological figures in the rocks. These geological curiosities include the Flying Rock, Five Fingers Mountain, Penholder Hill, and the rather exciting Rock in a Rock.
There’s a surprising variety of adventure sports to try, including bungee jumping, rock climbing, hang-gliding, jet-skiing, parachuting, and ziplining. If you do decide to rock climb, be sure to check the bolts in advance since some routes might not be as secure as others. More laid-back visitors can simply kick back and go swimming or lie on the beach. The area in front of the Green Wave Resort near the sixth ferry crossing is particularly good for swimmers.
This is probably the most touristy destination on the list; avoid going on weekends and holidays if you value your sanity (and hearing). That being said, the surrounding villages offer pockets of calm and homestays for those who want to take their time in Shidu. There are easy trails around the town that can also be explored on horseback. There’s also a cable car that costs RMB 55 per person.
Best time to go: Shidu can be visited year-round, but the peak season is from June to October.
Cost: Shidu Scenic Area itself doesn’t cost anything, but several attractions charge their own admission fees, such as Fairy Peak Valley (RMB 22), Gushan Village (RMB 40+), and East Lake Port (RMB 50). In addition, activities like rafting (RMB 30 per hour) and bungee jumping (RMB 205) cost extra.
Address and opening hours: Daily 8am-6pm. Zhangfang Town, Fangshan District 房山区张坊镇
Most of the pictures in this article were contributed by Beijing Hikers, a family-run business started by hikers for hikers in 2001. This month, the group is organizing hikes to a couple of the places mentioned in this article. The White River hike (Bai River) takes place on July 5 and 19 while the Great Flood hike (which passes through Yunmeng Gorge) takes place on July 12. The hikes cost RMB 380 for non-members. For more info, visit www.beijinghikers.com, call 6432 2786 (Mon-Fri 9am-6pm), or email email@example.com.
Photos: Courtesy of Beijing Hikers, Wikimedia Commons, and Russel Neches (Flickr)
This article originally appeared on pages 56-59 of the beijingkids July 2015 issue. Click here to read the issue for free on Issuu.com. To find out how you can get your own copy, email firstname.lastname@example.org.