After a winter trapped in the grey, chilly metropolis of Beijing, cabin fever and lethargy are common late winter woes. Now that spring has ousted winter, it’s time to get reacquainted with the color green, outdoor activities, and trips to the outskirts of the city. April is the ideal time to get in a few hiking trips before the intense summer heat sets in, and with two national holidays on the calendar, there’s no better month to plan a few out-of-city excursions – you may find yourself surprised that the Beijing area boasts so much natural beauty.
Shidu Nature Park 十渡风景区
Located on the banks of the Juma River, Shidu Nature Park is referred to as the “Guilin of the North” for its karst limestone features. Approximately 90km southwest of the city, Shidu has a number of mountains and trails to climb, and even provides boat rides and rafting down the Juma River. The area has forests with numerous kinds of birds, trees, grasses, and even wild grapes. Throughout the parks, there are ten du, or ports. Du 7, which is a popular spot, has a 1.5km path of stairs to ascend up the mountain and is known for its scenery. There’s also a 10km loop around the whole of Shidu park, but if you want to do the loop trail, go with someone with a good sense of direction, as the path isn’t clearly marked.
RMB 75. Daily 8am-5pm. Shidu Zhen, Fangshan District (6134 0009) 房山区十渡镇
Miaofeng Shan 妙峰山
If you don’t want to go too far to enjoy your nature trails, Miaofeng Shan is one of the closest mountains to Beijing. Only 55km west of the city, this scenic area in Mentougou District is famous for pilgrimage paths, which date back to the 17th century and lead to a mountaintop temple. In the Ming and Qing dynasties, the 1,300m summit was one of the holiest locales in the region. There are four paths that lead up to Niangniang Miao, or the Goddess temple, and many come here to burn incense and pray for good fortune or wish for a son. The fourth month of the lunar calendar (April to May) is an ideal time to visit Miaofeng Shan, because that’s when the area holds its traditional temple fair, which features scores of traditional folk festivities. Another highlight, which occurs in May, is when Miaofeng Shan’s 10,000sqm rose plantations erupt in blooms. Be sure to bring a few extra layers, as Miaofeng Mountain is routinely 8℃ cooler than the city.
RMB 40. Daily 7am-5.30pm. Dajian Lu, Mentougou District (6188 2936) 门头沟区担涧路妙峰山风景名胜区
Bolster your Chinese history with a hike at Changyucheng, a famous military city from the Ming Dynasty. Five hundred years ago, the walled city was established for those manning the nearby Great Wall and one of its highest towers. Located in Changping District, Changyucheng is about 100km northwest of Beijing, and in addition to the old city walls, the old city itself has a shrine that is said to stymie cameras, and an enormous tree guarding a closed-but-renovated temple. The trailhead is at the base of the mountain, about 1.5km north of the village. Along the trail, there’s a reservoir, a section of the path called the Jungle Corridor, stone steps, a meadow, and a round stone mound, from which you can see the Great Wall. The path isn’t too arduous, but it can be a good four-hour roundtrip hike. If the family still has energy, it’s only a half hour more up to the watch tour, which reaches an altitude of about 1,400m.
Free. Daily 7am-7pm. Changyucheng Village, Changping District (8019 2955) 昌平区长峪城村
Though Lingshan is on the border of Hebei Province, a good 130km west of Beijing, it’s the highest peak in the Beijing area at 2,303m tall, and is renowned for its natural scenery, which includes an alpine meadow and a grand view of Baihua Shan. If you make a long day trip or weekend out of Lingshan, keep in mind that this is a hike for older kids and experienced hikers, because it can get pretty steep. Because of the altitude, the higher you are on the mountain, the chillier it gets, no matter how hot it is in downtown Beijing. Head back in the summer during July and August for the Tibetan folklore festival with traditional Tibetan foods, drinks, dances, and activities.
RMB 35. Daily 7.30am-6.30pm. Northwest part of Mentougou District (6182 7994) 京西门头沟西北部
Yunmengshan National Forest Park云蒙山国家森林公园
Ninety kilometers north of Beijing, where the counties of Huairou and Miyun meet, is Yunmengshan National Forest Park: a gorgeous, mist-cloaked national park that spans 2,200 hectares. The park has high peaks reaching 1,414m, deep valleys, streams, trees, flowers, misty clouds, and bizarre rocks. The park is so renowned for its beauty that it’s often referred to as the “tiny Huangshan.” April to May is the best time to spot all the flowers, and the park stays between 20 and 24℃, which is refreshingly cool in the summer months. It will be hard to resist going back when the inevitable summer heat waves hit.
RMB 35, RMB 17 (students). Daily 7am-7pm. Yunmengshan National Forest Park, Northwest part of Miyun County (6162 2481/2381) www.yunmengshan.net 密云县西北部
Songshan Nature Reserve 松山自然保护区
The first national nature reserve near Beijing, this is the idyllic place for hikers, bird watchers, and animal enthusiasts. In addition to boasting hundreds of animal species, Songshan is the home of four nationally protected species: the golden leopard, the imperial eagle, the golden eagle, and the black stork. Hiking trails range from easy to moderate. Wander through streams, rock cliffs, gorges, trees, and historic pine forests. The park’s highest peak has an altitude of 2,199m, but there are plenty of scenic attractions like Hundred-Waterfall Spring, Flying Dragon Cliff, and Eight Immortals Cave. Songshan does see a fairly high number of visitors each year, so plan a visit on an off-peak day to beat the crowds, if you can.
RMB 30. Daily 6am-6pm. Zhangshanying Zhen, Yanqing County (6911 2634) 延庆县张山营镇
Been to Badaling and Mutianyu? It’s time to enjoy the Great Wall in all its unrestored glory at the Gubeikou section of the wall. Hikers with some experience will love climbing the steep paths over dilapidated sections of the wall. About 100km from Beijing in Miyun County, Gubeikou is divided by the Chaohe River, splitting it into Wohushan to the west and Panlongshan to the east. Wohushan is wilder, but not officially open to the public, unlike Panlongshan. It’s possible to hike from Gubeikou Panlongshan to the Jinshanling section of the wall, but the hike is about six hours, and if you don’t plan to turn around, you’ll need some transportation waiting for you at the end or a place to stay at Jinshanling. Trails might be poorly marked in some places, so if you opt for this, you may need help from someone who knows the way.
RMB 25 (entrance ticket). Daily 8am-5pm. Gubeikou Changcheng, Gubeikou Village, Miyun County (8855 0488) 密云县古北口镇古北口长城
Mangshan National Forest Park 蟒山国家森林公园
Just east of the Ming Tombs Reservoir is this national forest park, which was named after a python because of its undulating peaks. The highest peak is 659m, but the whole park covers 8,000 hectares, making it the largest in Beijing. A whopping 96 percent of the park is covered in evergreens, pines, peach, jasmine apricot, almond, and clove trees. Mangshan boasts a number of attractions, including Mangshan Pagoda, a 9.9m high laughing Buddha Maitreya statue, and a panoramic view of the Ming Tombs. Going in April means you’ll catch flower season, but if you go back between June to October, you can partake in mountain fruit picking. Family members who aren’t fond of hiking can find distraction at the drive-in cinema or the sports plaza.
RMB 20 (entrance ticket). Daily 8am-5pm. 2 Mangshan Road, ChangpingDistrict (6071 1866, email@example.com) www.msforestpark.com 昌平区蟒山路2号
Jiufeng National Forest Park 鹫峰国家森林公园
If you don’t want to spend half your day getting to your hike, Jiufeng National Forest Park is one of the closest national parks to the metropolitan area. Located in Haidian District only 18km from the Summer Palace, Jiufeng is a popular place for a nature escape. There are three scenic areas in the park, which incorporate both scenic and historic sights. While you can certainly get your legs working while hiking the 1,153m peak, this park is more developed for tourists, so it has plenty of facilities like restaurants, karaoke, and even a billiards room. But that doesn’t mean there’s no nature to be found: Jiufeng is home to pheasants, deer, birds, and insects. Apricot, oak, and pine trees account for about 96 percent of the forest coverage, and the park claims to have more than 300 trees that are over a 1,000 years old.
RMB 10. Daily 8am-5pm. West of Beianhe Village, Beianhe County, Haidian District (6245 5816/5825) 海淀区北安河县北安河镇西
Photo by Gill_Penny via Flickr