The hike from Jinshanling to Simatai is one of the best hikes on the entire Great Wall, especially for people with little or no prior Great Wall hiking experience.
There are many possible variations on this hike but the route we describe provides the opportunity so see the most interesting scenery and features yet it can be completed within one day at a relatively leisurely pace allowing time for breaks and photgraphy.
When you arrive at Jinshanling, you walk from the ticket booths down a path past first a restaurant and then a hotel on your right side. Next is a gate where your tickets are checked. Just past this gate on the left is the lower cable car station. Continue down the road to its end and you will reach Zhuanduokou pass, which is considered the main pass at Jinshanling and is certainly the lowest point. Zhuandoukou features a large tower known as the Guard Tower.
Zhuanduokou viewed from the west
From here, walk to the west (to the right). You will pass one platform, and beyond it you will reach a tower, called Xiliang Tower or West Second Tower. After this tower is the end of the restoration to the west. Go on down a short hill and then up to the following tower. This is the Xiwuyanlou or West Five-Eye (or five-window) tower. This tower has five windows when viewed from the side. When viewed from the wall as you approach, you only see the narrow end, which has one door and one window.
West Five-Eye Tower
From this point, if you turn around and look behind you, you will see a fantastic scene that has made it to thousands of books, magazines, postcards, and so forth. The wall seems to lead in all directions. If the weather is clear, you can see a great view of the entire Simatai ridge. Because this is one of the first places I sought out the first time I ever visited the Great Wall, and because I have been there many times, it's one of my very favorite spots on the entire Great Wall.
View of Jinshanling and Simatai from West Five-Eye Tower
Xiwuyanlou also marks the end of Jinshanling and the beginning of the Gubeikou Great Wall. Continue from here to the west and in several hours you will reach Gubeikou. See the following Gubeikou Panlongshan description for more details on this section of the wall.
This marks the end of your short detour to the west and after taking some time enjoying the view, turn around and retrace your steps to Zhuanduokou where you first reached the Great Wall.
Continuing to the east from the Zhuanduokou Tower, you will climb up to a T-junction where you must turn left or right. To the left is the Leopard Wall. The wall continues for a short distance and stops. You can explore this branch if you have the time. You have to climb through the window of a tower to access this short wall. It's an interesting place to look at and it gives the best available view of the Jinshanling village. If instead you turn to the right at the junction, you go up a short hill and reach Kufanglou, the Storehouse Tower or Warehouse Tower. This tower is named for the large building next to it which is thought to have been a storehouse for supplies such as food and weapons.
Kufanglou warehouse tower viewed from the east
Proceeding to the east from this point, you will reach Shalingkou, another Jinshanling pass. Pass another tower and you will then reach the Black Tower, a rare 3-story tower.
Pass the Black Tower and two more towers and you will reach the Lesser Jinshan Tower and then the Greater Jinshan Tower. These are named for their heights rather than their sizes as the Lesser Jinshan Tower is the larger of the two.
Lesser Jinshan Tower
Shortly after the Greater Jinshan Tower, you will reach the end of the Jinshanling restoration project. After this point, the wall is restored only in a couple of spots where it was previously dangerous to pass.
Another important tower you will soon reach is called General Tower or General's Tower. This large and high tower had a good strategic position and a good view or enemy territory to the north. This tower sits at the top of a steep incline that has exactly 100 steps. This is the highest point you will reach on your way to Simatai.
From the General Tower and the area just past it, if you turn around and look back where you came from, the view of the Jinshanling Great Wall is excellent. On a clear day you can see all the way to the Wohushan Great Wall on the far side of Gubeikou.
Jinshanling overview from just past the General Tower
Further to the east, after you pass a few more towers, you will reach a tower known as the small fox head tower (Xiaohudinglou). What makes this tower very special is a Kylin screen carving on its upper, western, inner wall. The carving was made using six large tiles and is still in relatively good condition today. However, one of the reasons that it's still in good condition is that it's not accessible to the public. There is no simple way to reach the top of the tower as there are no stairs leading to the top of the tower from its interior. If you're a good climber, there is a way to climb to the roof from one corner on the inside of the tower, or you may be able to scale the outside of the tower, but most people will have to be satisfied looking at photos of the sculpture.
The unique Kylin screen at Xiaohuding tower
Beyond Xiaohudinglou, you will pass several more towers in a generally downhill direction towards the Simatai Reservoir.
There are a couple of places where the wall is difficult to follow and there are well-defined paths alongside.
High doorway at the exit of the last tower before the reservoir
Once you reach the Simatai Reservoir you will cross it on a cable bridge. Once across the bridge and the reservoir, you can easily get onto the wall on the other side, which goes uphill and eastward. You can exit here and go to the right to the Simatai village, or you can continue up the Simatai Ridge if you have the time and the energy to continue.