The Jinshanling section (Gubeikou, Miyun County, 10/8402-4628, daily 8 a.m.-5 p.m., ¥50 Mar.15-Nov.15, ¥40 Nov. 16-Mar.14) as it stands today dates from A.D. 1567 when Ming generals Tan Lun and Qi Jiguang were commanded to build fortifications against enemy attacks. General Qi worked for 15 years on 1,200 kilometers (746 mi) of the Wall, including the Jinshanling portion.
Jinshangling is your best bet if you want to see the Wall without hoards of other visitors. It is located 140 kilometers (87 mi) northeast of Beijing on the border of Miyun County and Luanping in Hebei Province. It’s a longer journey from downtown, but it’s well worth the extra trek.
The Wall is very steep in parts and isn’t so well preserved as Badaling  and Mutianyu , but is manageable as long as you watch your step and are in good health. Visitors who aren’t so good on their feet or suffer poor health should not be dissuaded from visiting Jinshanling, as the Wall can be reached by cable car (¥50 adults, ¥30 students) and once you arrive on it, there is no obligation to hike the full length.
Jinshanling means “gold mountain ridge” in Mandarin; it sits between two peaks, Big Jinshan and Small Jinshan. The Wall here lies 10 kilometers (6.2 mi) north of Gubeikou (Old Northern Pass), which was used by the Qing royal family to get to their summer palace at Chengde. It runs for about 10 kilometers (6.2 mi) between the Wangjing Tower in the east and Longyukou in the west, crossing rugged terrain.
The Wall is studded with watchtowers along its length, many with two floors that were used as soldiers’ barracks. Jinshanling was part of the Gubeikou defense line protecting Beijing in the south, with the Wangjinglou watchtower as its highest point. This tower is said to have been built from blocks of stone carried by Er Lang Shan, the nephew of the mythical Jade Emperor.
The structure of the Wall here is slightly different from Badaling  and Mutianyu , as it is narrower and has an extra fortification along the parapet. Among the many watchtowers are the Black Tower and the Taochun Tower, named after two girls who were involved with the construction of the Wall. The General Tower was built in memory of Wu Guihua, a Ming-era woman who sacrificed herself to guard the Wall against invaders from the north.
The walk from Jinshanling to Simatai takes around four hours. Before the closure of the Simatai site in summer 2010, one of the best ways to see the Wall was to hike along it from Simatai to Jinshanling. The two sections are joined and there was a fee of ¥5 to cross from one to the other. This is a wonderful way to explore the Wall; check with local tour groups to see if the Simatai site has reopened upon your visit to Beijing.
Another option for hiking is the six-hour trek in the opposite direction to Gubeikou. The terrain around the Wall at Jinshanling is bleaker than other parts and is more barren than the verdant Badaling and Mutianyu. It is particularly attractive in wintertime, though, when the scrub is dusted with frost.
Lying 120 kilometers (75 mi) outside of Beijing, the Great Wall at Simatai (Gubeikou, Miyun County, 10/6903-1051) has 35 watchtowers in varying degrees of ruination dotted along its winding, often vertiginous path. The Wall connects to Jinshanling and traversing from one site to the other was a popular hiking choice.
The Wall at Simatai is famous for the density of its watchtowers. It has the most towers of any individual section of the Wall. The Wall is split into eastern and western sections by the Mandarin Duck Lake that is fed by hot and cold springs. The section to the west has the most watchtowers, but the most famous ones are on the eastern part. The most famous tower is the Wangjing Tower that rises 986 meters (3,235 ft.) and overlooks the lights of the capital in the distance (its name means “watching Beijing”).
Also notable is the Fairy Tower (Xiannulou), named after the legend of an antelope that turned into an angel and fell in love with a shepherd. The story comes from a myth about a lotus flower fairy, which explains the lotus flowers carved above the tower’s doorways. Xiannulou is reached by a narrow 80-degree path known as the Heavenly Ladder and connects to Wangjing Tower by the equally vertigo-inducing Stairway to Heaven.
Like most sections of the Wall in this part of China, Simatai was constructed at several points during the Ming Dynasty, most notable under General Qi Jiguang, using primitive foundations laid in the Northern Qi period. Many of the bricks that make up the Wall are inscribed with dates and the names of the work units that laid them. Before Simatai closed, the terrain was extremely rocky and often dangerous, but renovations will most likely shore up the Wall and make future hiking easier.
It is unclear what sort of renovations are taking place at Simatai, although rumors have circulated that a luxury golf club and resort are being built nearby, much to the horror of conservationists. According to official information from the Administration Office of Simatai Great Wall Scenic Area, the project will take at least two years. Check www.simataigreatwall.org  to get the latest information available on the renovations at Simatai.
The modest but comfortable Jinshan Hotel (Great Wall at Jinshanling, Gubeikou, Miyun County, 10/8402-4628, ¥320), a 2-star guesthouse, is your best bet for accommodations if you want to stay close to the Great Wall at Jinshanling. The hotel is split into three sections. In the main complex, the standard rooms with courtyards are the cheapest and the rooms around the quadrangle are the newest. The apartment suites (complete with separate lounges) lie behind a gray wall topped with an elaborate red-roofed gate. Rooms are modestly decorated and although the amenities are basic, the hotel is clean and comfortable. Decent food is available on site.
Before the closure of Simatai, the Simatai Great Wall Youth Hostel (10/8188-9323, ¥320) was a popular spot, thanks to its outdoor patio overlooking the lake and the Wall, courtyard setting, and clean, cozy rooms. It is not known whether the hostel will reopen, but it’s worth calling to check.
A three-hour journey on the 980 bus from Dongzhimen Long Distance Bus Station (45 Dongzhimenwai Ave., 10/6467-1346, ¥15) gets you to Miyun County; from the Miyun County stop, take a waiting cab to the foot of the Wall.
The L671 tourist train goes between Beijing’s North Railway Station (A1 Beibinhe Rd., Xizhimenwai Ave., 10/5186-6223) and the town of Gubeikou daily mid-April-October. The train departs from Beijing at 7:25 a.m. The journey takes 2.5 hours and costs ¥20 each way. Outside of peak season, the L815 train leaves from Beijing at 8 a.m. (returning to the city at 3:05 p.m. and 4:15 p.m.) and costs ¥10 per ticket. From the Gubeikou station, you’ll take a half-hour trip to the Wall in a comfortable minibus, which costs an additional ¥20.
A taxi will cost around ¥800 round-trip, if the driver waits for you as you explore the Wall. Otherwise, you can expect to pay ¥400-500 each way.