Also known as the ‘Water Great Wall’ (水长城), thanks to the reservoir that interrupts and submerges it at several points, Huanghuacheng gives exceptional views into the surrounding valleys. Visitors also have the choice between restored comfort and one of the wall’s best wild hikes.
Like many of its contemporaries, the Huanghuacheng section was a labour of love, taking 188 years to complete, with construction having first begun in 1404, forming part of the inner Great Wall that guarded the capital.
The construction of the Xishuiyu Dam here in 1974 created a reservoir that flooded the valley that the wall stands over, submerging several lower-lying portions, and creating one of the Great Wall’s most intriguing sights.
In a word: water. It might not be the highest, longest or most challenging stretch of wall, but Huanghuacheng’s water features create a variety of scenery unlike any other section.
It also hosts a perhaps unrivalled choice of activities, aquatic or otherwise. Besides walks on the rather tastefully restored portion (easily accessed via the tourist centre), there’s also a unique range of boat trips, including sightseeing cruises, rowing boats and pedalos upon the Haoming Lake that the wall encircles.
Despite the wealth of activities available, Huanghuacheng surprisingly seems to remain largely uncrowded.
Fun fact Following this section’s completion, a general named Cai Kai, who had overseen the latter stages of the wall’s construction, was summoned to Beijing to explain the build’s delays and overspending before the Wanli Emperor, who had also heard rumours of a shoddy end product. Cai Kai was swiftly beheaded.
The emperor would later personally visit Huanghuacheng, only to realise that Cai had in fact produced a stellar bit of wall, both steep and sturdy. He declared it to be jintang (金汤), a byword for an impregnable fortress, and had these two characters inscribed at the foot of the wall to commemorate his mistakenly slain general. Huanghuacheng is now sometimes referred to as the Jintang Great Wall.
Be warned As always, be extra careful when scaling unrestored sections of the Huanghuacheng wall; the steep passage towards the tower at its highest point (accessed from the car park above the tourist centre at the eastern entrance) has some particularly rocky moments, though there is a safer, milder and better-trodden track running through the woods beside it that also finishes at the summit.
Hikers say ‘Getting onto the wall can be quite easy, but for the best views and some great photos over mountains, reservoirs and more wall, you’ll have to climb steep stretches that can get tricky. If you choose your trail carefully you’ll be able to see both restored and wild wall within a short distance. Also, on a side note, for some reason we’re not sure of yet, the countryside restaurants in this area are amazing.’
Distance from the city 70km
Getting there By bus: Take the 916 Express service from Dongzhimen Bus Terminal out to Huairou Station (12RMB; around 1 hour, traffic depending; runs 5.50am-7.50pm; last bus back to the city is 6.50pm); from there, take the H21 local bus service (7RMB; around 70 minutes; runs 5.40am-6.20pm) to its terminus – the Huanghuacheng car park. The last bus back to Huairou leaves at 7.20pm.
As a general rule, H buses are infrequent and can be unreliable, so taking a car from Huairou is a fair option; you will receive a flurry offers on exiting the bus at Huairou station, but do not pay more than 100RMB for a round trip.
Opening hours and tickets
Peak season (April 1-October 31): 8am-5pm. Open until 6pm on weekends.
Off-peak (November 1-March 31): 8am-4.30pm.
Entrance: 45RMB; 22RMB (concessions).
Unrestored sections: Always open, always free.