No tickets. No parking. No crowds.
We agreed we likely enjoyed the isolated waterway more than we would have appreciated the built-up tourist destination.
We similarly weren't able to visit the Grassland on the Air - so named because of its high elevation - near Hebei's border with Shanxi province. Authorities had declared a high fire risk due to dry weather and set up road blocks to keep outsiders from entering the site.
So, we found a wild patch of prairie just outside the tourism attraction, where our children played with grazing piglets that trotted along the desolate landscape.
Again, we perhaps had just as much fun as we would have if we'd paid for admission to the adjacent attraction.
We later stopped at a quarry for another picnic.
The kids scuttled over a large sand pile and watched the diggers, dump trucks and sifters reconfigure the terrain.
Throughout our trip, we ate and slept in farmers' houses and stopped along such spots as small mountaintop temples.
At one remote shrine, I was marveling that nobody had stolen the offerings, including cash, left for statues of deities when my 3-year-old tried to eat some of the pears.
"No, Sagan! That food belongs to the gods," I told him.
We bought him fruit meant for mortals afterward.
At one point, we decided to drive over 60 kilometers along a single-lane road connecting several villages in the forests - for no reason, other than to do it.
It truly was a case in which the adventures were more about the journey than the destination, considering we didn't even know where the motorway led.
Indeed, the trip showed us that Hebei has many lesser-known locations worth exploring that are far from the beaten path but still along the open road.