Although a heavily restored section of the Great Wall, Jiǎo Shān nevertheless offers an excellent opportunity to hike up the Wall’s first high peak – a telling vantage point over the narrow tongue of land below and one-time invasion route for northern armies. It’s a steep 30-minute clamber from the base, or else the old chairlift (索道; suǒdào) can haul you up.
To leave behind the crowds, continue beyond the cable-car station to Qīxián Monastery (栖贤寺; Qīxián Sì) or even further to Sweet Nectar Pavilion (甘露亭; Gānlù Tíng). Better yet, climb up onto the closed section (accessed from paths on the side) and you'll be able to follow the crumbling Wall all the way up past several peaks. Explorers won't be able to resist – but use caution and don't go it alone.
To get here take tourist bus 5 from Shānhǎiguān station (high season) or hail a taxi (¥20 flat rate), but it's an easy 3km walk (or cycle) north of town. Just follow the road straight on from Shānhǎiguān's North Gate.
More fun than just following the road, though, is to approach Jiǎo Shān on an original, overgrown stretch of Great Wall, which still creeps its way through farmland from Shānhǎiguān to Jiǎo Shān. Most of its Ming brickwork has long since been pillaged, but there's still a scattering of bricks, including a couple of collapsed watchtowers. To take this route, walk straight on from North Gate and then take the first right on the main road to the Wall (you can't miss it). Turn left up the pathway beside the iron bridge and clamber up. You can walk on this earthen Wall all the way to Jiǎo Shān (it takes about an hour; you'll need to climb over onto a restored section across the highway); at the end, walk down to the ticket office to enter Jiǎo Shān.