Categories
Hiking in Israel National parks & natural places

Ein Prat: A Beautiful Walk in a Desert Oasis

I’ve always wanted to go to Ein Prat Nature Reserve but heard that it’s hard to get there by public transportation. It’s located in the Judean Desert, below the Jewish settlement of Almon. “To get there,” my friend once told me, “You will need to hike all the way down a steep curvy road, and then you’ll need to climb it all back.” I was almost tempted to take up the challenge, but then my friend asked if I’d like to join her by car. Maybe I’ll try to hike down there another time. But if you have a car, that’s easier.

Ein Prat, also known as Wadi Welt, is one of the most beautiful places I’ve been to. We went there at the end of summer, so maybe it’s even prettier after rainfall. When we were there, there was flowing water, charming pools, and even some green plants growing on the riverbeds. There are several trails you can take. We hiked about one hour to the small and beautiful gorge and then retraced our tracks back to the starting point.

Here is my experience from the beautiful desert oasis of Ein Prat Nature Reserve.

Beautiful, isn’t it? There are more photos inside.

Table of contents:

Important to note

How to get to Ein Prat Nature Reserve?

Some hiking details

The hike to the gorge

A short walk to the pools

Conclusion

More day trips from Jerusalem

Important to note:

  • The hike is under your full responsibility, so be careful while hiking.
  • Since it is a nature reserve, you will need to pay at the entrance. There are also opening hours. Find all the details here.
  • You can fill drinking water at the old pumping house, next to the start of the trail. Make sure to take enough water for your hike, depending on the trail you want to go. It’s recommended to take at least 3 liters of water for any long hike.
  • Many parts of the trail are exposed to the sun, so make sure to bring a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen.
  • Many parts of the trail don’t have an internet connection.
  • There are places where the trail crosses water, so bringing sandals or waterproof shoes is recommended.
  • The rangers won’t give you a good hiking map at the entrance, so if you want one, bring one yourselves. You can also use my favorite hiking app – Israel Hiking Map. But remember there are parts with no internet connection. Also, it seems like the trail marks have changed and it isn’t compatible with the online map.
  • The nature reserve is in the Judea and Samaria area, also referred to as the Palestinian Territories. Some trails pass through areas that require security coordination. The trail which we did doesn’t require that, so if you’ll follow us, there’s no problem. Just keep in mind that other trails might be a different story. Ask at the park’s entrance for more information.  

How to get to Ein Prat Nature Reserve?

We got there by car, which is the easiest way. From Jerusalem, take road number 1 to the east. Continue for about 30 km and then turn left onto road 437. Drive on this road until the right turn to Almon (in Hebrew: עלמון). Drive through the settlement until you see the right turn to the reserve. There’s a sign. Then, proceed to the park’s cashier, pay the entrance fee, and drive all the way down to the water. Overall, it takes about 30 minutes to reach Ein Prat from Jerusalem.

If you don’t have a car or don’t want to rent one, you can also reach the place by public transport. Though, take in mind that you will need to walk a lot to reach the water spring. The bus to Almon – line 149 – leaves from the Hazme Barricade, at the entrance to the Pisgat Ze’ev neighborhood. Get off at Morad Nahal Prat station (in Hebrew: מורד נחל פרת). Then, you will need to walk down the curvy road to the reserve. On the way, you’ll pass by the cashier, where you’ll need to pay. Then, you can walk down the curvy road for about 30 minutes. Alternatively, I think there’s also a hiking trail down. Ask the cashier (and let me know in the comments).   

The hike to the gorge:

The hike to the gorge is about 1.8-km long (one-way). The difficulty level is moderate.

We started our hike at the old pumping house, which is today a souvenir shop. About 100 years ago, it was used by the British to pump water out of Ein Prat spring. From here, they led the water to East Jerusalem. In 1969, when the water system of West Jerusalem got linked with East Jerusalem’s water system, the pumping house stopped operating.

Some park rangers were sitting at the entrance of the pumping house. We decided to ask them what trail we should take. “We’re short on time,” we told one of them, “Is there a trail we can do in two hours?” He recommended hiking to the gorge.

We filled drinking water at the pumping house and then started walking east on the road. Very soon, we left the road and turned left onto a green-marked trail. In the past, it looks like it was a red-marked trail because the old trail mark is still visible but fading.

The story of “the smallest settlement in the world”:

The first part of the green-marked trail goes on a gravel trail. Very soon, we passed by a lone building with white window shutters. Later I tried to find information about it. In one source, it said that it’s the “smallest settlement in the world.” It was the home of Yael Yisrael. She moved to the reserve with her family in protest of the murder of six Israelis by Palestinians in the 1990s. Those young Israelis were murdered, each on a different date, while hiking or bathing in the reserve.

Many nature lovers didn’t like the fact that Yael Yisrael stayed in the reserve after closing hours. They claimed that the family’s presence disturbs the animals who come to drink from the water springs. So, they turned to the High Court of Justice, which decided the family must leave the house.

The building which housed the Yisrael family was built by the British and used to guard the nearby pumping house.

The “smallest settlement in the world”

Walking along Nahal Prat:

After we passed Yael Yisrael’s former home, we reached the banks of Nahal Prat. The stream makes its way from Jerusalem to the Jordan Valley, spanning over 30 km. We walked beside and above the water and were amazed by the beauty of the place. There were several gorgeous waterfalls. And here and there we got to see some animals coming to drink from the water, including a stunning gazelle.

One of the waterfalls along Nahal Prat
The beautiful gazelle after drinking from the water

After about 530 meters, we reached a trail junction. We continued straight on the blue-marked trail. It says that it’s the way to Ein Mabo’a, a water spring that “beats” rhythmically. But we didn’t go to Ein Mabo’a. If you’d like to see it, you’ll need to walk a bit farther than us.

We went on the blue marked trail and the trail became a bit more challenging. We needed to climb some rocks on the way. There were even some hand and leg bars to grab. There was also a place where we had to pass through the water, and it was challenging because I didn’t have waterproof shoes.

At some point, we also spotted the remains of an ancient water aqueduct, dating from the 1st century BCE. According to recent studies, it seems that the aqueduct carried water from the springs to the Kiprus Fortress.

Climbing up the rocks
Looks like the remains of an aqueduct, right?

To the gorge of Nahal Prat:

About 800 meters from the trail junction, we reached another trail junction. There, we continued on the blue-marked trail, to the left.  We had to cross the stream again. I found a rock which I could use to pass without getting wet.

Then, we continued a short while to the gorge. There was a short and steep climb down, which included a hand railing. And then we were there. BEAUTIFUL. There’s a waterfall at the front, and the stream goes through a short and narrow gorge. I’ve read somewhere that it can get to a depth of 4 meters, which is quite deep!

We sat above the stream for a while, taking advantage of the shade, and ate a small breakfast. Then, we made our way back to the pumping house on the same trail as before.

The beautiful gorge

A short walk to the pools:

We came back to the pumping house. Then, we continued on a blue-marked trail to the west. This trail is very short. It takes you to several natural pools, where you can wade. If you don’t want to walk too much and just get refreshed, these pools are perfect for that.

There’s also a possibility to take the short but steep trail up to Paran Monastery. Built around 330 CE, it was the first Christian monastery in the Judean Desert. It was established by Saint Chariton the Confessor, the founder of monasticism in the Judean Desert. To enter the monastery, you must talk to the monk (phone: +972-52-5399075), and he doesn’t always let people in.

Just one of the gorgeous water pools
Zoom-in on the Paran Monastery

Conclusion:

Ein Prat Nature Reserve is one of the best water trails near Jerusalem. It’s amazing to see the contrast between the yellowish color of the cliffs and the greenish color of the water. Though, if you want to enjoy the place at its most beautiful time, I think it’s best to come in spring, around February-April. I have a feeling everything is even more beautiful then.

Save this post for later:

More day trips from Jerusalem:

Looking for more day trips from Jerusalem? Here are some of my favorites:

Hiking to Lifta: An Abandoned Village Near Jerusalem

Beit Guvrin National Park: A Beautiful Day Trip from Jerusalem

Hiking Near the Dead Sea: Lower Nahal Og

Sataf: Beautiful Hiking Trails Just Outside Jerusalem


Visited the reserve in October 2021.

If you liked this post or found it useful, would really appreciate a like, a share, and a comment (:

If you need any help with planning your trip to Israel, feel free to contact me at lior@backpackisrael.com.

Also, feel free to follow this blog and like my Facebook page – Backpack Israel.

Yours,

Lior.

Categories
Free things to do Hiking in Israel National parks & natural places

4-Days Hike on the Ramot Menashe Regional Trail

Many claim that Ramot Menashe, known in English as the Menashe Heights, is one of the most beautiful regions in Israel. Spread between Mount Carmel and Mount Amir, this area is full of flowers and endless meadows, natural water springs, and streams. Just before Passover, at the peak of springtime, my friends and I decided to go hiking on the Ramot Menashe Regional Trail. This trail is quite young, as it was marked only in 2013. Maybe that is why it’s not so established. It’s not always clear where you can set up your camp, and water is a big problem if you don’t have water purifying equipment. But nevertheless, it’s a stunning trail at springtime. I would recommend hiking it only in springtime.

The trail stretches to a length of about 65 km, from Ofer to Binyamina. which means you can complete it within 3 to 4 days if you keep a good pace. We took the 4-days option, but added a few kilometers of the Israel National Trail, which connects to the trail from the north. So, at the end of the day, we didn’t really reduce the number of kilometers we had to hike each day. In this post, I’m going to break the trail down into days, so you can understand how it goes. You can divide the days differently, according to your hiking pace.

Before I begin, here are some important things to note:

*The hike is under your full responsibility, so please be careful while hiking.

*Drinking water taps are limited along the trail. You can bring water purifying equipment or pack more water bottles on your back. Take into account that many grocery stores are closed during Shabbat, from Friday eve to Saturday eve, so there’s no way to buy water at that time.

*There aren’t many designated camping areas along the trail. In general, you can camp anywhere as long as it isn’t a nature reserve or a military training zone. Just keep in mind that Jeep, ATVs, and motorcycles might drive on the trails during the night, so keep away.

*There’s a military training zone south of Bat Shlomo, on Mount Horshan. Usually, there’s no problem hiking there on the weekend (Friday-Saturday), but it’s always best to get in touch with the headquarters and ask them if it’s safe to hike. Their phone number is – (+972) 04-9538506.

*Many parts of the trail go along or nearby bike singles, so be careful not to get ran over by an extremely fast biker.

*Not all areas of the trail have good network connection. For example, when we camped near HaShofet Stream, we had no connection at all and couldn’t talk with anyone on the phone. Keep that in mind.

*Make sure you hike with good hiking shoes, have at least 3 liters of water for each day (and 5 on hot days), and wear a hat. Also, make sure to bring a garbage bag as well and take your garbage with you, including toilet papers.

*Don’t go on the hike when it is too hot (over 30 degrees Celsius), because it’s not enjoyable and can end with a heatstroke. Many parts of the trail are completely exposed to the sun. Also, it’s not recommended to hike after rainfall, because the trail could be muddy and slippery. There are some places where there are very steep climbs and descends.

*Pay attention to sunset hours (in Summer around 6-7 PM, in Winter around 4-5 PM). Try to begin each day hike before 6 AM so you will have time to rest a bit during the hot hours of the afternoon and still get it to the end of the trail.

*Before you begin the hike, make sure you have a good trail map. Many parts of the trail are poorly marked. In springtime, the vegetation grows a lot and hides the trail marks. If you have a good mobile battery for your phone, it might be best to use a navigation app such as the Israel Hiking Map or Amud Anan. With GPS, you can see where you are exactly. Though, remember that wherever you do see a trail mark – this trail mark is superior to what’s shown on your map. The apps and maps are not always updated.

*The Ramot Menashe Regional Trail is marked by an orange stripe or an orange dot (if it overlaps another trail color).

*If you need any further help with planning your hike, you are welcome to contact me through lior@backpackisrael.com.

How to get to the head of the trail?

The official starting point of the trail is moshav Ofer. To get there, you need to get to Ofer Junction and from there, get on bus number 693, which will take you directly to the moshav. From the bus station in Ofer, you will need to walk about 1.2 km to the trail, located south of Ofer.

We didn’t start from moshav Ofer. We started from Ofer Junction. From there, we walked about 1.5 km, along road number 7021, to the Israel National Trail (1).

The hike:

Day 1 – From Ofer Junction to Bat Shlomo:

Short overview: On this day we hiked half on the Israel National Trail and half on the Ramot Menashe Regional Trail. It was a pleasant and beautiful hike, which passed by lots of flowers, trees, and cows.  

Trail length: About 10.5 km, including the 5 km from Ofer Junction to the start of the Ramot Menashe Regional Trail. You can also hike it from the other direction.

Trail duration: About 5-7 hours, depending on your pace.

Difficulty level: Easy.

Water along the way: You can get water at the Ofer Junction gas station, and some people say there’s drinking water at the Forestry Offices of Carmel Alonim (about 1.6 km from Ofer Junction). Next, if you really need water, you can get off the trail and go to the grocery store at moshav Ofer (it’s about a 1.5 km detour from the trail, near the start of the Ramon Menashe Regional Trail). You can also get water at the end of the segment, at Bat Shlomo.

Stay options at the end of the trail: We stayed at Bat Shlomo.

Map of the first day of our hike, taken from israelhiking.osm.org.il
Map of the first day of our hike, taken from israelhiking.osm.org.il
Map of the first day of our hike, taken from israelhiking.osm.org.il
Elevation chart for Day 1, from israelhiking.osm.org.il

We started our day around 10:30 AM, from the gas station at Ofer Junction (1). Here, we used the restroom, bought some bread and spreads, and sat down next to one of the picnic tables to eat a late breakfast.

Then, about an hour later, we started making our way to the head of the trail, which was located about 1.5 km away. We had to walk along the side of the road until we reached the right turn to the Israel National Trail (2). Yeah, we had to hike a bit on the Israel National Trail to reach the Ramot Menashe Regional Trail. The wooden sign pointing to the right said: “The Forestry Offices Carmel-Alonim”.

The right turn to the trail

A few steps after the turn, we reached a site connected to the Fire on the Carmel in 2010. It seems like the Christians for Israel community in the Netherlands donated money for the rehabilitation of a forest park after the fire, and their names are honored here.

Honoring the donors

We continued and passed by the forestry offices (3). People say there are some drinking water taps next to them, but we didn’t look.

We continued about 250 meters until we reached a memorial site for Staff Sergeant Gal Bason (4), who fell in battle during Operation Protective Edge in Gaza in 2014. Gal loved exploring Israel’s nature, so his family decided to build the memorial site here, on the Israel National Trail, which Gal hiked before his recruitment. Unfortunately, the buttons which are supposed to play the soundtracks weren’t working.

The speakers at the memorial – weren’t working
The climb after the memorial

From this point, the trail turns right and starts climbing up huge boulders through the charming forest. It was quite a challenging climb, which required some hand climbing, but it was over after a very short while.

Then, the trail became mild and quite easy. We could see the tall trees all around us, and started seeing the beautiful bloom of flowers, which were at that point mainly yellow mustard flowers.

At some point, there was a weird sign, which we probably didn’t understand, because we accidentally shifted off the Israel National Trail. When we didn’t find any new trail marks, we opened Amud Anan and saw that we’ve strayed a bit, so we made our way back on track. Soon enough, we started seeing the Mediterranean Sea in the distance, a stripe of beautiful blue in the horizon. There was also a grove of impressive olive trees.

Olive trees and a stripe of sea

A lone man was walking toward us from the other direction, with a small backpack on his back. “Hello,” he greeted us with a smile, “Doing the Israel National Trail?”

“No, we’re doing the Ramot Menashe Regional Trail,” we replied, “What about you?”

“I’m on the Israel National Trail, came all the way from Eilat,” he replied, “Just left my big backpack at my friends’ house. In this area you don’t need to carry so much.”

“Wow, that’s really impressive!” we told him, talked a bit more, and continued on our way.

A short while later we reached the access road to moshav Ofer (5), crossed it, and opened the gate that led to the continuance of the trail. There was a barcode next to it, saying “Ofer Forest – Junction between the Israel National Trail and the road to moshav Ofer”. But we decided not to scan it. Let me know if you do! (;

From the access road, we continued on quite an easy trail. We stopped after about 10 minutes in a grove of olive trees, made coffee, and ate some snacks. Then, we started making our way down on an easy to moderate descend. After a short while it became easy and mild again.

We hiked for a while more and then met our first cows on the trail. Cows are almost everywhere on the trails of northern Israel, so we weren’t surprised to see them. Nitai made some cow noises, and one of them replied to us, which kind of made us nervous. It even started walking after us. So, if you don’t want to mess around with the cows, don’t make any noises and just walk past them with confidence. We’ve never had a cow harm us.

About 1.8 km from the access road to Ofer, we finally reached the left turn to the Ramot Menashe Regional Trail (6). The sign next to the turn says “Ofer” and there’s a green mark on it, although it’s marked in red on the map. The Ramot Menashe Trail is marked by an orange dot or stripe, but at this point overlaps the red-marked trail.  

Pointing to Ofer and the Ramot Menashe Regional Trail

We turned left and hiked on the wide, open dirt trail for a while until we stopped for shade under a tree. Then we understood that we’ve gone too far, and that we missed the right turn onto the trail. We retraced our steps and found the trail mark, about 870 meters from the start of the Ramot Menashe Trail (7). You can barely see it, because the color is faded, and there’s a lot of vegetation. So, make sure to look closely to the right to find it.

See the trail mark?

Now, the trail starts going through the green fields and colorful flowers. It’s a celebration for the eyes. It goes on an easy and pleasant path for about 2.4 km. Just make sure to keep an eye out for the trail markers. Then, we arrived at an area full of yellow mustard flowers, that overlooks the moshava of Bat Shlomo (8).

Bat Shlomo was one of the first Jewish residents in the Land of Israel, established in 1889, during the Ottoman Empire. It was funded by the Baron Rothschild, a Jewish philanthropist, who funded many Jewish residents these days. It is named after Rothschild’s mother, who was the daughter of Shlomo (“Bat Shlomo” means “the daughter of Shlomo”).

Overlooking Bat Shlomo in a field of yellow flowers

From there, we continued down the trail to the outskirts of Bat Shlomo (9), turned right and then right again, and started walking through its streets. We stopped by the local grocery store, which is situated on the trail, to get some fresh bread and supplies. Then, we crossed the main road to the other side of Bat Shlomo, which is the older side, and made our way to the organic farm at the outskirts of the moshava (10). We have already been to the farm when hiking the Israel National Trail, so we decided to stop there for the day. But please note that it’s possible to stay there only if you make pre-arrangement.

A short while after Bat Shlomo is a nature reserve and military training zone, so if you plan to stay overnight in the area, try camping a bit before Bat Shlomo.

If you want to leave the trail after this segment, there is a bust station at Bat Shlomo Junction. Use Google Maps or Moovit to find the best route for you.

Day 2 – From Bat Shlomo to Nahal HaShofet

Short overview: It was a long hike. We passed through a few forests, but mostly was exposed to the sun. There were many points along the way, where we could see the beautiful surroundings from above, and we also got to cross some streams.  

Trail length: About 21 km. You can also hike it from the other direction.

Trail duration: About 8-11 hours, depending on your pace.

Difficulty level: Easy.

Water along the way: You can get water at Bat Shlomo. The next point is the compound of the Regional Council of Megiddo (about 15 km from the start of the trail). There’s a drinking water tap next to the offices. Next, some people said that you can fill water in Emek HaShalom Farm (about 18.5 km from the start of the trail). That’s the last point for filling water on this segment.

Stay options at the end of the trail: We stayed near Nahal HaShofet. There are all kinds of options here – you can camp near Ein Faror or further on, in the Haruvim Parking Site. If you want to stop after 15 km, you can camp outside the compound of the Regional Council of Megiddo.

Map of the second day of our hike, taken from israelhiking.osm.org.il
Map of the second day of our hike, taken from israelhiking.osm.org.il
Map of the second day of our hike, taken from israelhiking.osm.org.il
Map of the second day of our hike, taken from israelhiking.osm.org.il
Map of the second day of our hike, taken from israelhiking.osm.org.il
Map of the second day of our hike, taken from israelhiking.osm.org.il
Elevation chart for Day 2, from israelhiking.osm.org.il

We started our day early and made our way towards Mount Horshan, which is a nature reserve and a military training zone. We called the army a day before to make sure that it is ok to hike there on Friday, and after nagging them a bit, they replied that there is no problem.   

A few steps from the organic farm of Bat Shlomo (1), we reached a water crossing of Nahal Tut, the “Strawberry Stream”. The whole path was flooded, and we didn’t want to get our shoes wet or to take them off, so we used the pipeline at the side of the path and grabbed it as we passed over some stones to the other side of the stream. A short while later, we reached another water crossing, this time of Nahal Dalia, the Dalia Stream (2). This is one of the main streams, that take the water of Ramot Menashe to the Mediterranean Sea. There was no pipeline here, so we prayed that the water won’t penetrate our shoes and ran through the shallow water to the other side of the stream.

Crossing Nahal Tut

From the Dalia Stream, the trail takes a slight turn left and makes its way into Park Alona. In the distance, we could see the impressive Mount Horshan, which we were to climb soon. After a short while, we reached a junction of the red, blue, and green marked trails. Here, we continued on the green-marked trail, which also had the orange Ramot Menashe trail dot above it. This led us very soon to a sign about the Mount Horshan Nature Reserve and a huge concrete block saying “Danger. Firing Zone. Entrance is forbidden.” Because we had already coordinated with the army, we continued into the firing zone.

Mount Horshan from a distance
Danger! Entering the military training zone

About 100 meters after the trail junction, there’s a right turn up to Mount Horshan (3). The marking isn’t so visible, so just make sure to keep your eyes to the right. The climb up also doesn’t look so sympathetic, but don’t worry – after about 80 meters of steep climbing, you turn right onto a much milder trail, marked in blue color. This trail makes its way through the charming forest of Mount Horshan and occasionally, there’s an opening in the forest and you can gaze down on the landscape below. We could see Bat Shlomo again, this time from the south.

The climb up to Mount Horshan
View of Bat Shlomo from Mount Horshan

After about 1 km, we reached another trail junction, and turned left onto the red-marked trail (4). From here, there’s a mild climb to the peak of Mount Khorshan, and then the trail starts mildly descending until it reaches another trail junction (5). The red-marked trail led to the right, and the orange-marked trail led to the left, so we continued on the orange-marked trail.

We continued on the trail for about 390 meters. On the way, we passed by some beautiful cows. Then, we reached a junction with a black-marked trail (6), where we stopped to make coffee and eat breakfast. Afterward, we turned left onto the black-marked trail and tried to follow it through the lush vegetation, but the trail marks were no where to be found. I opened the Amud Anan app and saw that we have strayed off the trail and that we were extremely near the red-marked trail, which also went in the direction that we needed. “We can get on the red-marked trail and then rejoin the Ramot Menashe Trail later,” I told the group. At the end, we decided to split up. Some of us decided to try and find the right track, and some of us decided to go on the red-marked trail. I went on the red-marked trail, which led to another trail junction of the red, green, black, and orange trails (7). There, we waited for the other part of the group. They arrived about 10 minutes after us and claimed that the trail was charming.

Some cows on the trail

From this point, the trail continues through a beautiful forest and after crossing the black-marked trail, starts mildly descending for about 550 meters, until it reaches a dirt road (8). Beyond the dirt road, there’s a lone tree and next to it, a cattle gate. We crossed the cattle gate and then started ascending upwards. Everything around us was green. The vegetation was so high. There was also no shade at all. And then, we reached a point where we could see the whole surroundings beneath us.

See that tree? You need to get there to continue the trail

We continued on the trail, which wasn’t so clear, jumped over a gate, and started descending through the greenery. A short while after passing a lone Alon tree, we reached another cattle gate and turned left onto the trail, which at this point overlaps a green-marked trail (9).

We stopped for late breakfast about 200 meters later, at the crossroad between the green and the blue marked trails. From this point, the trail overlaps the blue-marked trail and the whole trail is exposed to the sun. We hiked on for about 650 meters and then reached a cattle crossing, which is supposed to block entrance to cows. Here, there was a weird mark on a pole, which seemed to be pointing into the lush vegetation. We thought that it made no sense, so we continued straight on the blue-marked trail. Looking back, we were supposed to turn into the lush vegetation. But it didn’t really matter, as the blue-marked trail reconnected to the Ramot Menashe Trail later (10).

We arrived at a sign talking about the “Ramot Menashe Biosphere Park”. Next to it, a huge group of motorcycles were getting ready for their Friday motorcycle ride. We waited for them to start driving away, and then hiked below the bridge of road number 6 (11). From down below, it didn’t seem too impressive, although it’s one of the most famous roads in Israel. It is the longest highway in Israel, stretching to a length of over 200 km.

Road number 6 – crossing underneath

There are tons of yellow mustard flowers over here. We hiked on the flat trail for about 820 meters, and then turned left (12) and started climbing upwards. On the way, we saw a cute crab, that somehow got here. We continued for about 1.3 km until we reached a water crossing (13). Looking back, we weren’t supposed to cross it, because the trail bypasses it, but we were so tired and yearning for a piece of shade, that we crossed it without thinking twice. At the other side of the stream was a pleasant area with trees, which gave lots of shade. We sat down on the ground, ate an apple, and relaxed for a while. Behind us, we could here the croaking of the toads or frogs in the stream. After a while, a group of children and their parents arrived. Their tour guide told us that they were on a plant-picking tour. There are a lot of edible plants in the region of Ramot Menashe, amongst them mustard flowers, asparagus, and malva, what makes the region a paradise for plant gatherers.

The stream which we crossed

We continued right on a blue-marked trail for about 200 meters, turned right with the trail, and then reunited with the Ramot Menashe Trail. Then, there’s a long 3-km hike on a segment that overlaps the blue-marked trail. There were a few times that we had to leave the main route, because Jeeps were driving there, and then we walked next to the lovely cyclamen that grew along the right side of the route. There are supposed to be two water springs near the end of the 3-km, but we didn’t see them.

At the end of the 3-km, we reached road number 672 (14). Carefully, we crossed to the other side of the road, where there was a long asphalt path that went northward. We continued with the path for about 1.3 km and then crossed another road (15) to the compound of the Regional Council of Megiddo.

The road we had to cross

It was afternoon when we got there, and after walking for so long under the sun, we had to stop for an afternoon nap. Since it was Friday, there was no one at the regional council offices, so we used the opportunity to nap on their lawn. Afterward, we filled our bottles from a drinking water tap, that was in the inner yard of the offices and continued our way.

We exited the compound from its northeastern edge and descended for about 1 km, until we reached a right turn onto a blue-marked trail (16). From there, the trail is very wide, easy, and exposed to the sun. After about 1.2 km, we climbed a few meters to the left, and then turned left, and continued on the trail for another 1 km, until we reached the right turn towards a red-marked trail (17). Don’t expect to see the Ramot Menashe trail mark over here, because we didn’t find it. If you don’t turn right and continue a few steps ahead, you’ll reach the Emek HaShalom Farm, where some people say you can fill water.

The way down from the Regional Council of Megiddo

We continued on the red-marked trail for about 580 meters, with lots of stinging nettles all around us. To the right, you can see the trees next to Ein Faror, if you plan to camp there. After 580 meters, we reached a place where lots of families were doing BBQ and picnics, next to the flow of Nahal HaShofet (“the Stream of the Judge”) (18). The stream is called after the United States Circuit Judge, Julian William Mack, who also happened to be Jewish and served three years as the head of the Zionist Organization of America.

We went on for about 1 km, with fields of crops and the HaShofet Stream flowing to the right and tall trees growing to the left. Then, we decided to stop in a place that seemed suitable for camping, right next to the stream (19). Because it was Friday evening, we figured that the nearby Haruvim Parking Site (“Carobs Parking Site”), which was less than a kilometer away, might be crowded and noisy. Was it legal camping where we camped? I’m not sure. It’s not so clear if the specific spot is part of the nature reserve of HaShofet Stream. I recommend being on the safe side and camping at Haruvim Parking Site. It’s a picnic area, but I guess you can also camp there (and correct me if I’m wrong!)

On our way to the camping site

If you want to leave the trail after this segment, you can only do it by hiking another 2 km to Hazorea and taking a bus from there.

Day 3 – From Nahal HaShofet to Joop Westerweel Parking Site:

Short overview: It was also a long hike, but it felt a bit more shaded, at least at the beginning. We began our hike along HaShofet Stream, with its charming waterfalls and pools, and then hiked through a beautiful forest, where there were some steeps climbs and descends. Actually, there were several steep climbs along this segment, and that’s why I rated it as an easy-moderate trail.  Most of it is easy, but there are some challenging parts. The most interesting place, in my view, is the Mishmar HaEmek Monument, which also has a fantastic viewpoint over the Jezreel Valley.

Trail length: About 19 km. You can also hike it from the other direction.

Trail duration: About 8-11 hours, depending on your pace.

Difficulty level: Easy-moderate.

Water along the way: If you really need water, you can try to buy some from the grocery store at HaZorea (about 2 km from the start of the trail). The next option to fill water is at the cemetery of Mishmar HaEmek (about 8.5 km from the start of the trail). Finally, there should be water at Ein HaShofet (about 14.5 km from the start of the trail). You’ll need to make a 700-meters detour into the kibbutz. We couldn’t find a water tap, but we asked some foreign workers for water and they gave us.  

Stay options at the end of the trail: We camped at Joop Westerweel Parking Site. I’ve also heard of people who camped near the Raz Reservoir, about 1.5 km away from our parking site.

Map of the third day of our hike, taken from israelhiking.osm.org.il
Map of the third day of our hike, taken from israelhiking.osm.org.il
Map of the third day of our hike, taken from israelhiking.osm.org.il
Map of the third day of our hike, taken from israelhiking.osm.org.il
Map of the third day of our hike, taken from israelhiking.osm.org.il
Elevation chart for Day 3, from israelhiking.osm.org.il

We started early from our camp site (1) and hiked for about 600 meters until we reached the entrance to Nahal HaShofet Trail (2), an established paved route that goes along HaShofet Stream. It was fairly dark,but we were still able to see the small and charming waterfalls, hear the flow of water, and stand next to the beautiful pools that formed here and there. “Too bad it’s not hot,” we said, because if it was, we might have dipped a bit.

One of the waterfalls of HaShofet Stream

After about 720 meters, we left the side of the stream and started ascending upwards (3). We could see the houses of Hazorea in front of us. After another 600 meters, we were already on the road of the kibbutz. A few steps afterward, we returned to a dirt path and stopped there for coffee and snacks. When we were done, we had to climb down some rocks to reach the road again, because the trail overlapped it. They were super slippery, and I accidently slipped down them. So, be careful, especially after rain!

Hazorea from above

We continued about 500 meters on the road, passed by a horse range, and arrived at the entry gate to the kibbutz (4). There, we met an early jogger, exchanged a few words, and turned right onto the trail, that continues down an asphalt route, aligned by yellow mustard flowers and trees with yellow flowers, which my friends suggested were orange wattles.

After about 450 meters, we turned right and started climbing upwards on a curvy trail (5). At some point, the trail turns extremely steep, but it doesn’t go on for too long. At the top, we got to appreciate the fantastic view of the Jezreel Valley. From there, the trail is extremely beautiful. It passes through the forest, with a large variation of trees and flowers, crosses a few asphalt roads and a stream, includes some descends and ascends, and after about 3.8 km it reaches road number 6953 (6). Not all the trail marks on the way are visible and clear, so make sure to keep your eyes out for marks and keep your map at handy.  

The first steep climb up
Beautiful blossom on the trail
Walking between pine trees
Cyclamens on the trail

We crossed the road towards Mishmar HaEmek, another kibbutz in Ramot Menashe. At the entry gate, we turned right and continued on an easy, shaded dirt path along Mishmar HaEmek Stream. After about 420 meters, we turned left (7) and started climbing a very steep climb up through the forest. A few meters after the steep climb, we reached the Mishmar HaEmek Cemetery and a memorial site to Irma Lindheim (8), who was an American Zionist fund-raiser and educator, who moved to kibbutz Mishmar HaEmek at the late stages of her life. At this point, we found a water tap, where we were able to fill water.

Memorial site to Irma Lindheim

The trail continued upwards through the forest, but there weren’t any major climbs. After about 1 km, we got out of the forest, although there were still some trees in the area, and hiked alongside a road. We hiked for about 400 meters more and then turned left and continued hiking on the road all the way to the Mishmar HaEmek Kibbutzim Memorial (9).

To get to the Mishmar HaEmek Kibbutzim Memorial, you need to stray a bit off the trail, but it’s worth it. This memorial was built in memory of the kibbutz members who fell in the battles of Israel. It is made of a concrete tower, overlooking the kibbutz of Mishmar HaEmek and the Jezreel Valley. Though, you don’t have to climb up the tower to enjoy the view. In the distance, you can even see Mount Tabor!

The view from the Mishmar HaEmek Kibbutzim Memorial

After appreciating the memorial, we continued on quite an easy trail, that overlaps a black-marked trail, for about 1.2 km. Then, there was another steep climb up to Hurvat Ha-Ras (10). This site sits on the top of a high hill, which was used as a strategic point by the Israeli forces during the Independence War, when there was a need to protect Mishmar HaEmek. There are supposed to be some archeological remnants over there, but we only saw a lot of vegetation. We circled the top of Hurvat Ha-Ras and then started descending downwards on a moderate descend, which later turned into a flat Jeep route.

About 2.5 km from Hurvat Ha-Ras, we reached the back entrance to kibbutz Ein HaShofet (11). At this point we already needed water, although we still had some water till the end of the day. According to our research and the map, there was supposed to be water in Ein HaShofet, but to get there we had to walk at least 700 meters forth and back. Because we weren’t sure that there was water and because we were already quite tired, we decided to send only one of us, Ayelet, to check if there was water over there.

The back entrance to Ein Hashofet

She went and after about 15 minutes called us on the phone: “There wasn’t a water tap where we thought, but there was a hut with a few foreign Thai workers. I told them I need water, so they let me fill from their water tap. I told them you might come, too.”  

We decided that we didn’t want to waste time, as the sunset was close. Instead, we asked Paz if she could ask her parents to bring us some water to the camping site. They live in the north, and they planned to pick her up anyway. After they approved that they would bring us some bottles and jerricans of water, we continued on our way.

From Ein HaShofet, the trail continues straight to the west. For some reason, we turned left and continued to the south. Only after a few minutes, we realized that we left the trail completely, and had to cut through the fields of vegetation to get back on track. The trail is fully exposed to the sun, but it’s extremely easy, so we were able to hike it very fast. About 3.8 km from Ein HaShofet, we reached road number 672 (12) and turned left. Then, we walked along it in a woody area for about 700 meters until we saw the Joop Westerweel Parking Site in front of us (13). It’s a bit off the trail, but very close by.

Joop Westerweel was a schoolteacher, who became a Dutch World War II resistance leader and helped save hundreds of Jews during the Holocaust by organizing an escape route for them. He was caught by the Nazis, who executed him. For his actions, he was named Righteous Among the Nations. The place where we camped was a memorial site for him and other Dutch people, who helped save Jews during the Holocaust. It’s actually a picnic area, but we found a quiet spot to place our sleeping bags for the night. Just make sure not to camp under one of the Eucalyptus trees over there.

The Joop Westerweel Parking Site

If you want to leave the trail after this segment, you need to walk about 2.5 km northward to Dalia Junction and catch a bus from there.

Day 4 – From Joop Westerweel Parking Site to Binyamina:

Short overview: This day was full of water and was overall super easy! Though, it was almost always exposed to the sun, which was hard, especially near the end of the segment, when it was already afternoon.

Trail length: About 17.5 km. You can also hike it from the other direction.

Trail duration: About 6-8 hours, depending on your pace.

Difficulty level: Easy.

Water along the way: The only place where you can fill water is at the Alona Cemetery (about 10 km from the start of the trail).

Stay options at the end of the trail: The trail ends at Binyamina.

Map of the fourth day of our hike, taken from israelhiking.osm.org.il
Map of the fourth day of our hike, taken from israelhiking.osm.org.il
Map of the fourth day of our hike, taken from israelhiking.osm.org.il
Map of the fourth day of our hike, taken from israelhiking.osm.org.il
Map of the fourth day of our hike, taken from israelhiking.osm.org.il
Map of the fourth day of our hike, taken from israelhiking.osm.org.il
Elevation chart for Day 4, from israelhiking.osm.org.il

We woke up super early because we really wanted to reach Binyamina this day. We left the Joop Westerweel Parking Site (1) and carefully crossed road number 672. We walked in the darkness for a while, but luckily the trail was very flat and easy. After about 1.4 km, we decided to stop above the Raz Reservoir (2) for coffee and sunrise. This beautiful reservoir is a natural one, that fills up every winter.

We stopped for coffe and sunrise in front of Raz Reservoir

When the sun rose, we continued on the easy trail through breathtaking landscapes, that included sweeping fields of green, hills, and agricultural crops. After about 1.4 km, we reached the water crossing of Nahal Taninim (“the crocodile stream”) (3). Then, we climbed up about 400 meters to a fenced station, turned around to appreciate the view of the fields below, and continued right along the station and right onto an asphalt route.

Down from the reservoir
At the top of the climb and towards the right turn

We continued another 330 km until we turned left (4) onto a dirt path and started making our way downwards. After about 750 km, we reached Ein Nili (5). This amazing water spring is a great place to rest and enjoy some refreshing water. We stayed there for a while before heading on.

The trail continues through an agricultural area for about 1.3 km, until it turns right back into the wilderness (6). After about 300 meters, we turned left, passed a cattle gate, and started climbing upwards to the top of a hill that overlooks the surroundings. We rested up there for a few minutes and then started climbing down, towards the crossing underneath road number 6 (7).  

Going underneath road number 6

The trail continues through lush vegetation, trees, and flowers for about 3.6 km, with some easy climbs and descends. and then comes out of the forest and arrives at the banks of the Nahal Taninim (8). There were a lot of people splashing around over there. We turned left, passed by the Alona Cemetery, where it is possible to fill water, and walked all the way to road number 6533 (9). There, we turned right, crossed a small bridge above the stream, and turned left back to the trail, which continued along the stream, now on its other bank.

Nahal Taninim, by the way, is called after the crocodiles, that were spotted in its waters until 1912. It seems that the crocodiles were present here from the 5th-4th century BCE. A local legend says that they were brought here by the ancient Egyptians. According to the legend, two Egyptian brothers wanted to rule over Caesarea. One of them brough the crocodiles in hope that they will eat his brother, who had to wash in the waters of the stream regularly because of his medical condition.

The bridge over Nahal Taninim

It was quite a hot day and we were starting to melt from the heat. The path was completely unshaded, because all the shade from the trees was going to the other direction. We knew that there should be a water spring soon, so that motivated us to continue. We hiked on for about 1.4 km until we finally reached it – Ein Aviel (10). We were amazed from how stunning it was. The spring was partly shaded by the trees and reeds around it, there were all kinds of small hideaways where you can sit and chill out, and there was plenty of room in the water. When we arrived, it was full of kids, who were enjoying their early Passover break. But they left after a while.

Ayelet decided to cut off from the trail at Ein Aviel. There’s a passage, that connects the water spring to moshav Aviel. It’s a short walk to the nearest bus station. So, if you’re tired of the trail or your short on time, you can stop here. A lot of people do it. Actually, the rest of the trail till Binyamina is quite boring.

Ein Aviel

Although we’ve heard that the rest of the trail is boring, we decided to do it anyway, because if we’re already there, why not see if the reviews are accurate? After splashing around in Ein Aviel, we got back onto the unshaded trail and walked for about 5.3 km until the first spot of shade (11). These 5 kilometers are devastating, especially when it’s hot. You just walk and walk next to the stream, hear the buzz of the insects, see some agricultural fields to your right, and yearn to reach Binyamina, which can be clearly seen up ahead.

The first spot of shade on these 5 kilometers were two massive trees, which provided plenty of shade next to what seemed to be a horse farm. We sat there for a while, gathered our last drops of energy, and then set off to Binyamina. We crossed the small bridge over the stream, turned right and continued for about 1 km till the access road to Binyamina (12). All the way, we sang the song of the acclaimed Israeli poet, Ehud Manor, “The Days of Binyamina“. This song depicts Manor’s yearning to his childhood in Binyamina. Binyamina was another settlement funded by the Baron Rothschild back in the Ottoman days.

We turned left, entered the moshava of Binyamina, and made our way to one of its fantastic restaurants, to finish the hike with a good taste.

Save this post for later!


Hiked the trail on March 2021.

If you liked this post or found it useful, would really appreciate a like, a share and a comment (:

If you need any help with planning this hike, feel free to contact me at lior@backpackisrael.com. I also offer guided hiking tours in Israel.

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Yours,

Lior

Categories
Free things to do Hiking in Israel Israel National Trail National parks & natural places

Hiking Mount Carmel on the Israel National Trail

After a weird night in Yagur, we had to decide – should we hike today or not. The rain had stopped a few hours before, but Ayelet, Nitai, and I were lacking hours of sleep. After thinking about it for a while, we decided to hike up Mount Carmel. “If we’ll get tired, we can always catch a bus from Isfiya,” we said.

This segment is without a doubt one of the most beautiful – and most challenging – of the Israel National Trail. Most of the segment makes it way through the magical forest of the Mount Carmel Range, a UNESCO biosphere reserve. It begins with an easy-moderate climb up Mount Carmel, passes through the Druze town of Isfiya, where you can have delicious Druze pitas, and continues through the amazing wild. There are some places where you’ll need to climb down huge boulders, especially at the end of the trail. On the way, you’ll also see some ancient caves, beautiful rock formations, and a first glimpse of the Mediterranean Sea.  

Trail length: About 17 km. You can also hike it from the other direction.

Trail duration: About 10 hours, depending on your pace.

Difficulty level: Challenging. The climb up Mount Carmel is easy-moderate, but there’s a very steep climb at the middle of the segment and a very challenging descend at the end.  

Best season: Fall (October-November) and Spring (February-April).

Water along the way: There’s water at the beginning of the trail and at the end of the trail. You can also purchase water at Isfiya (6 km from the start of the trail) and fill water at the Rakit Campground (12.5 km from the start of the trail).

Stay options at the end of the trail: There’s a campground at the end of the segment called Pitchat Nahal Oren Campground, but we didn’t stay there because it was supposed to rain that night and we didn’t have tents. There are many Trail Angels in the area, in Ein Hod and other places, a short bus ride away.

Before we begin, let’s go over some safety instructions and general notes:

· The hike is under your responsibility, so please be careful.

· Make sure you hike with good hiking shoes, have at least 3 liters of water (and 5 on hot days), and wear a hat. Pack food and snacks for the whole day, BUT make sure to bring a garbage bag as well and take your garbage with you, including toilet papers.

· Don’t go on the hike when it is too hot (over 30 degrees Celsius), because it’s not enjoyable and can end with a heatstroke, although many parts of the trail are shaded. Also, it’s not recommended to hike after rainfall, as the trail could be muddy and slippery.

· Pay attention to sunset hours (in Summer around 6-7 PM, in Winter around 4-5 PM). Try to begin the hike before 6 AM so you will have time to rest a bit during the hot hours of the afternoon and still get it to the end of the trail. 

· The phone signal is good throughout most of the trail.

· Before you begin the hike, make sure you have a good trail map. The trail isn’t always well marked, so it’s good to have a map. You can also use a navigation app such as the Israel Hiking Map. With GPS, you can also see where you are exactly. Though, remember that wherever you do see a trail mark – this trail mark is superior than what’s shown on your map. You can also download the trail map in English (created by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel). This map is very basic, but gives you a general sense of the trail.

· The trail is marked with the Israel National Trail colors, orange-blue-white.

· If you need any further help with planning your trail, I recommend posting on the Israel National Trail forum on Tapatalk. Of course, you can also talk to me through lior@backpackisrael.com.

How to get to the head of the trail?

To reach the head of the trail, you will need to reach Kibbutz Yagur. If you’re coming from Haifa, you can get on a bus (75, 301, 331 or 358) from Merkazit Hamifrats Central Station and get off at “Yagur/ Kfar Hasidim” station. From there, you will need to walk about 10 minutes to the campground at the head of the trail, located on Derech HaPardes Street, next to the kibbutz’s riding center. It takes about 20 minutes. From Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, it will take about 1.5 hours to arrive. It’s best to use a navigation app like Google Maps or Moovit to find the best route for you.

The hike:

Map of the trail, taken from https://israelhiking.osm.org.il/
Map of the trail, taken from https://israelhiking.osm.org.il/
Map of the trail, taken from https://israelhiking.osm.org.il/
Map of the trail, taken from https://israelhiking.osm.org.il/

We left the campground (1) quite late, around 6:30 AM in the morning. The sun had already risen, so we could see the dampness of the ground. We could also feel it under our feet, so we tried to climb the mountain slow and steady, afraid that we might slip.

At the foothills of Mount Carmel

Mount Carmel is one of the most impressive mountain ranges in Israel, rising to a height of around 525 meters, with its western slope gliding down to the Mediterranean Sea. It is also a UNESCO biosphere reserve. It has a variety of vegetation, including the Kermes Oak, the Mount Tabor Oak, and the native Aleppo pine, as well as diverse geology, mainly made up of limestone, dolomite, and chalk. Beyond its natural beauty, it is also an important place for Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, as the mountain is associated with the prophet Elijah. In the biblical story, Elijah challenges 450 prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. The challenge was meant to determine who is the one and only God, which the Israelites should be worshipping. Of course, Elijah won the challenge.

So, we climbed slow and steady up the mountain. It wasn’t too difficult, because the trail was a huge zigzag. Unlike other trails, that go straight up the mountain, this trail goes a bit to the left and then to the right, to the left and then to the right, like a huge snake. It makes the climb much more gradual. We passed through the beautiful forest, which was even more beautiful due to the rain that refreshed it during the night, and saw some beautiful views of the landscape that spreads beyond the eastern slope of the mountain.

The view from Mount Carmel

Compared to Mount Meron, climbing up Mount Carmel was quite easy, but a bit long. It took us about two hours to reach the first flat area on the mountain, about 4 km from the start of the trail (2). At this point, we have already climbed about 300 meters. There were a lot of picnic tables there and there was also a restroom building, but it was closed due to coronavirus. We sat down next to one of the picnic tables, sliced some apples for refreshment and then continued on our way.

The first picnic area on the segment

The trail continues up through the picnic area and then up through the forest. After a few hundred meters, it turns to a wide dirt path, that also zigzags up the mountain. There are trees from both sides of the path, but there was no shade. Lucky for us that it was still morning. About 1.2 km from the picnic area, we reached an impressive memorial site, called David Eisen Viewpoint (3). This monument was built in memory of David Eisen and seven more soldiers, who died in battle on the banks of the Suez Canal during the War of Attrition, which took place between 1967 to 1970. This is the only place in Israel that focuses on the Suez Canal front in the War of Attrition. Next to the memorial is an impressive aluminum relief that shows the “map” of the war.

About 420 meters from the monument, we reached the back entrance to the Druze town of Isfiya (4). It is situated almost on the highest part of Mount Carmel, at an approximate height of 470 meters. The Druze first settled here about 400 years ago, when the Druze prince of Mount Lebanon decided to rebel against the Ottoman Empire and establish a principality in the Lower Galilee. He established 17 villages on Mount Carmel, which were meant to fortify the southern border of his principality. The only ones that remained are Isfiya and Daliyat al-Karmel. The Druze people of Isfiya were the first ones to volunteer in favor of the Israelis during the Independence War of 1948.

We turned left onto one of the streets and continued through the town for about 700 meters until we reached road 672, which runs through the town (5). We were all dreaming of a Druze pita, so we turned left towards a bakery. I think it was called Rushdi Bakery. It had a wooden pergola facing the road, with a few tables. Inside, they had a lot of sweet pastries, buns, and Druze pitas with different toppings – zaatar, onion, and pizza topping. We bought all the topping types and sat down next to one of the tables outside.

Ayelet announced that she will not continue from this point on and that she will meet us at the end of the trail. That was not surprising, as she had been lingering behind since the start of the segment. Nitai also said that he will not continue, mainly because his ankle was hurting due to unsuitable hiking shoes. Our original plan was to camp at the Pitchat Nahal Oren Campground at the end of the segment, but because the weather forecast said that it will rain that night, we decided to search for a trail angel. After a few phone calls, we found a place in Ein Hod as well as another place for the following night. So, we decided to meet at the trail angel’s place in the evening and broke off. Ayelet and Nitai stayed at the bakery, and the rest of us started our way back to the trail. The pitas with toppings were delicious, by the way.

We crossed to the other side of road number 672 and started mildly descending on the Israel National Trail. We hiked on the wide dirt path for a while, and then stumbled upon a group of men who were hiking together. “We do a segment each month,” they told us and after a few moments of chat, passed us and continued on their way.

We followed their tracks. About 1.7 km from Isfiya, starts a more challenging descend (6). There’s a long railing, which you can hold on to as you make your way down a steep decline. Then, there are several more spots where you need to climb down some hand and leg bars, deep into the Mount Carmel Forest. It’s a really fun section of the trail. One of the men that hiked in front of us pointed towards the ground at one point and told us: “Look! There’s a Salamandra over here.” The Salamandra, with yellow and black spots, was laying next to a tree trunk. That was also quite exciting.

Down into the forest
A close up on the salamandra. Isn’t it pretty?

About 780 meters from the long railing, we were out of the forest (7), but not for too long. In front of us, we could see the green and beautifully round Mount Shokef, which rises to a height of 497 meters above sea level and is the highest point on the middle part of the Mount Carmel Range. We knew that Mount Shokef was the last ascend on this segment, so we decided to rest for a while underneath a large tree, that stood next to the trail, and gain some energy for the last climb.

Looking towards Mount Shokef

Afterward, we continued on the green-marked trail, that curves to the right, and after 390 km turned left onto a black marked trail (8). Here, we got a bit messed up, because we followed a small group of bikers. Afterward we understood that they weren’t biking on the Israel National Trail, so we had to retrace our tracks to the right trail, which was very close by. We started the climb up Mount Shokef. The first 120 meters are extremely strenuous, because the climb through the forest is super steep. Then, after 620 meters, we reached a wide path (9) which had a stone wall next to it. Sapir and I sat down to wait for Paz. The view was fantastic.

When Paz arrived, we continued up the wide path, which quickly turned to a red-marked trail. It led us to the Mount Shokef Viewpoint (10). The group of men, which we had met beforehand, were seating on the stone bench over there, making coffee and eating muffins.

“Come, sit with us,” they welcomed us.

In front of us, I saw a huge stripe of blue. “What is that?” I wondered out loud.

“What is what?” someone asked.

“That big blue thing. Is that the sky?”

They laughed. “That’s the Mediterranean Sea!”

“Wow!” I looked at it once more and saw that it really is the sea. I totally forgot that we were on Mount Carmel, and that the sea was on the other side. We had finally reached the sea, after hiking for so many days! “We’re getting nearer and nearer to Jerusalem,” I said.

Our first glimpse of the Mediterranean Sea

The sun was already high in the sky, so we weren’t too excited about sitting with the group of men, as there was no shade over the stone bench. But they were really nice and offered us their muffins. It was even non-dairy, so Paz could eat it as well.

“Who made the muffins?” we asked them, and one of them replied that he made them. They also told us that two of them were in the Israeli tour guide course, which was also refreshing, to meet some people, who will maybe someday join the tour guide circle.

After chatting with them for a bit, they already packed up and continued on their way. We stayed for a while to appreciate the view of the Coastal Plain. There was an excellent breeze. Then, we started the climb down Mount Shokef, down the red-marked trail.

About 1.5 km from Mount Shokef Viewpoint, we reached an ancient burial cave (11). According to Wikipedia, it’s from the Second Temple period. It has some nice rock carvings from all sides, and you can also peek inside, although it’s very dark. Use a flashlight. This cave was most probably part of an ancient village which existed here and is called today Horvat Rakit. About 250 meters from the cave, on a green-marked trail, there’s a large picnic area called Rakit Campground (12). We sat there for lunch and filled our water bottles.

The burial cave of Rakit

From the Rakit Campground, we continued straight on the green-marked trail, crossed a narrow asphalt road and continued on the green-marked trail. The sign that pointed towards the green-marked trail said “מערות ישח” (“Yishakh Caves”). About 950 meters from the asphalt road, we reached the caves (13). You can recognize the location thanks to the remains of an ancient building next to the caves. The Yishakh Cave is the biggest of the caves along the cliff, about four meters high and 12 meters deep. We peeked inside and then continued on our way.

The sign pointing towards the caves
The ancient ruins next to the caves

From this point on, the trail becomes even prettier than before. The trail climbs down and passes next to beautiful rock formations along the cliff of the Carmel. At some point, we also started seeing the Mediterranean Sea in the horizon. It was stunning.

Some of the beautiful rock formations along the cliff
A beautiful wall of natural stone

After a while, we left the edge of the cliff and started hiking on a wider, dirt path, that took us upwards, to a better viewpoint over the Mediterranean Sea. The sun was starting to make its way down to the water, so we knew that we had to hurry up. We just didn’t know what awaited us a few minutes away.

About 2.2 km from Yishakh Caves, we turned right from the trail, continuing with the green-marked trail (14). From this point, the trail was marked with small dots on our map, and we wondered what these small dots might mean. We started descending downwards. At first, the trail was quite easy, just a few small and flat stones here and there.

Beginning the climb down the small dotted route

This section, marked with small dots on the map, is only one km long, but it took us an hour to complete. A short while from the right turn, the stones start becoming bigger and bigger until they turn to enormous boulders. Unlike other places along the Israel National Trail, here you don’t have hand and leg bars, which can help you climb down those boulders. You need to climb it on your own, using your hands and legs against the walls. After a long day of hiking, it certainly was the last straw that broke the camel’s back, and in this case, the camel’s back was our legs. At the beginning of the descend, the boulders were fun, but then came another boulder and another boulder and we got totally exhausted. At some point I started wondering how do people hike it in the other direction.

I completed the descend quite quickly and lay down to rest at the end. I was feeling my feet badly, the sunset was only a few minutes away, and I wondered if we’ll be able to do what we planned, which was to hike all the way up to Ein Hod. But when I saw the other two girls, I understood that there’s no way we could hike up to Ein Hod. “I feel that my whole body is shaking,” one of them said.

We continued on rather flat ground for about 280 meters until we reached the Pitchat Nahal Oren Campground (15), laid down on one of the picnic tables and started searching for transport options. Maybe one day we’ll come back to that point, complete that part of the Israel National Trail, and climb up the cliff to Ein Hod. But this time we were exhausted and the night was falling on us. Hiking during darkness is dangerous, no matter at what state you are in.

Pitchat Nahal Oren Campground

About 600 meters from the Pitchat Nahal Oren Campground there’s a bus station, with frequent buses that stop at the junction of Ein Hod. We took the short drive to Ein Hod Junction, carefully crossed the road and started walking up the road to our trail angel’s place, which was a beautiful wooden studio. On the way, we also passed by Yotam’s Wayside Inn, which is very popular among INT hikers. It was full, so we couldn’t stay there.

That’s all for now. I wish you a fantastic hike on the Israel National Trail!

If you want to leave the trail after this segment, you can catch relevant buses from the bus station near Pitchat Nahal Oren Campground. The station is called “Oren Junction”. There is a direct bus from there to Tel Aviv (bus number 921) as well as to Haifa (bus number 921 or 221).

Get ready for the trail by reading my post – The Israel National Trail: Ultimate Preparation Guide.

And check out previous segments of the Israel National Trail.

Save this post for later!


Hiked the trail on November 2020.

If you liked this post or found it useful, would really appreciate a like, a share and a comment (:

If you need any help with planning this hike, feel free to contact me at lior@backpackisrael.com. I also offer guided hiking tours on several segments of the Israel National Trail.

Also, feel free to follow this blog and like my Facebook Page – Backpack Israel.

And plan a great trip to Israel using my app – Travel Israel by Travelkosh for Android and iOS

Yours,

Lior

Categories
Free things to do Galilee Hiking in Israel Israel National Trail National parks & natural places

Hiking the Israel National Trail: From Mashad to the Hermits Mill

The alarm clock rang, and we didn’t get up. After hiking from the Jordan River to Kfar Kisch, we were completely exhausted and our bodies just couldn’t rise from the mattresses. I looked to my left and right and murmured: “Do you want to skip today?”

“Yes, yes,” they mumbled back.

So, our plans changed. Instead of hiking up Mount Tabor, we woke up around 6 AM and got ready to take a bus to Afula. From there, we planned to take another bus to one of my friend’s house. It was Friday, so we wanted to have a decent Shabbat meal with her family, and luckily, they lived quite close to the trail. In retrospect, it was good that we skipped Mount Tabor that day. There was horrible mist, that blocked the entire view, and the church at the top of the mountain was closed because of the coronavirus.

The following day, we were already ready to continue the trail. Our feet felt much better, and our spirit was a bit higher. Yes, we skipped the segment that includes Mount Tabor, but we had to flow with the circumstances. My friend’s parents gave us a lift to Mashad, which is also on the trail, and we began our day.

The segment from Mashad to the Hermits Mill is calm and pleasant. We enjoyed the views, the variety of trees, and the view of the water along Zippori Stream. On the way, we even got to taste some honey and ended the day with wonderful Bedouin accommodation in the middle of the beautiful landscape!

Trail length: About 21 km. You can also hike it from the other direction.

Trail duration: About 10 hours.

Difficulty level: Easy to moderate. There are some short and moderate ascends along the way and some sections of the trail are exposed to the sun.

Best season: Fall (October-November) and Spring (February-April).

Water along the way: There’s a water tap next to the tomb of Rabbi Judah Nesi’ah (about 5.3 km from start of trail) and inside the backyard of Yiftah’el Winery (about 12 km from start of trail). I don’t know if they let everyone enter the winery. We politely asked and they let us fill water. The trail also passes through Ka’abiyye, where you can purchase water in one of the stores.

Stay options at the end of the trail: I couldn’t find a camping area near the end of the trail. If you know one – let me know ? There are Trail Angels in the nearby community settlement of Nofit. There’s also an option at a reasonable cost in Harduf. We stayed at Abu Atef’s agricultural Hospitality, which offers Bedouin hospitality at a good price for INT hikers.

Before we begin, let’s go over some safety instructions and general notes:

· The hike is under your responsibility, so please be careful.

· Make sure you hike with good hiking shoes, have at least 3 liters of water, and wear a hat. Pack food and snacks for the whole day, BUT make sure to bring a garbage bag as well and take your garbage with you, including toilet papers.

· Don’t go on the hike when it is too hot (over 30 degrees Celsius), because it’s not enjoyable and can end with a heatstroke.

· Pay attention to sunset hours (in Summer around 6-7 PM, in Winter around 4-5 PM). Try to begin the hike before 6 AM so you will have time to rest a bit during the hot hours of the afternoon and still get it to the end of the trail. 

· The phone signal is good throughout most of the trail.

· Before you begin the hike, make sure you have a good trail map. The trail isn’t always well marked, so it’s good to have a map. You can also use a navigation app such as the Israel Hiking Map. With GPS, you can also see where you are exactly. Though, remember that wherever you do see a trail mark – this trail mark is superior than what’s shown on your map.

· The trail is marked with the Israel National Trail colors, orange-blue-white.

· If you need any further help with planning your trail, I recommend posting on the Israel National Trail forum on Tapatalk.

How to get to the head of the trail?

To reach the head of the trail, you need to get to Mashad and find your way to the Tomb of Jonah the Prophet. To reach Mashad from the central cities, you will need to change several buses, so it’s best to use a navigation app like Google Maps or Moovit to find the best route for you.

The hike:

We started from Mashad, an Arab town populated mostly by Muslims. Specifically, we began the hike next to the tomb of Jonah the Prophet (1), traditionally located inside a mosque in the center of the town. It is believed that Mashad was established on the ruins of the Biblical town, Gath-hepher, which was the town of Jonah.

The mosque of Jonah’s tomb

We continued left (west) from the mosque and walked through the town. After a few steps, we saw to the left a gate leading into a cemetery. A car stopped by and the man sitting inside pointed towards the direction of the trail and said: “The trail is that way.”

“Thanks,” we told him and continued on our way, along the road that went to the right. About 270 meters from Jonah’s Tomb, we turned left and continued on the road towards the woods outside of Mashad. There were some interesting houses along the way, with unique architecture, and all kinds of decorations. Near the end of the town, we started walking in a construction area of new houses. The beautiful view of the Galilee was now visible to our right.

Decorations in Mashad

Around 1.2 km from the center of Mashad, we arrived at the outskirts of the town and left the asphalt road onto a dirt trail (2). We walked into a wood of pine trees. There was also a lot of garbage here, thrown on the ground. It was the first time we saw so much garbage on the trail. But it’s a typical sight, to see garbage thrown at the outskirts of Arab settlements. We saw it later also in other places.

One of the large piles of garbage – standing in our way
Walking through the woods

After passing the garbage piles, the trail was quite pleasant and continued through the woods. At first, you have some shade, but a short while later you’re already walking in an area exposed to the sun, with the view of the Galilee to the right. After about 1.5 km, we reached a right turn (3) with a cattle passage.

After turning right, the trail starts a slight descend. We continued on the trail, that quickly turns left and descends a bit more into the low area between Zippori and Hoshaya. While descending, we could see the houses of the national-religious community settlement of Hoshaya in front of us. Later, when Hoshaya was to our right, we could see the fortress of Zippori National Park to our left. Zippori National Park is a beautiful archeological site, housing the remains of the ancient Jewish town of Zippori. There’s a lot of amazing mosaics there, including the “Mona Lisa of the Galilee”. And most importantly – it was the place where Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi completed the Mishnah, one of Judaism’s most fundamental books. So, if you haven’t been to Zippori National Park, maybe it’s worth doing a detour. The detour isn’t possible from this point, but it’s possible from the point where we’ve turned right and started descending. If you don’t turn right and instead continue straight ahead, you’re supposed to reach the national park. Entry is at a fee.

Zippori National Park – on the hill in the distance

Anyway, we continued from the right turn for about 1.5 km until we reached the access road to Hoshaya (4). A group of bikers passed by us and greeted us with “good morning”. We turned left from this point and started a slight ascend along a narrow asphalt road. About 890 km afterward, we reached a right turn (5). Next to the turn stood a wooden sign that said “Tomb of Rabbi Yehuda Nesia”. Immediately after this turn comes another turn, to the left.

Hoshaya from the trail
The signs to the tomb of Rabbi Yehuda Nesia

We continued about 190 meters on a black-marked trail and then reached the Tomb of Rabbi Judah Nesi’ah (6). It’s hard to understand who exactly is buried here, because some say it is Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi while others say it is his grandson. There’s another, stronger tradition, that considers the tomb to be in Beit She’arim. Inside the tomb there’s a lot of holy books, a request to not light candles inside the tomb, and on the black garment – a quote referenced to the Rabbi: “Look at three things and you will not come to sin. Know what is above you. Eye sees and ear hears and all your actions are written” (my translation from Hebrew). It seems like a family tomb, because it looks like there are several tomb niches on both sides of the place. Outside, to the right of the building, there’s a water tap.

The Tomb of Rabbi Judah Nesi’ah

We passed the building from its left side and turned left onto the trail. After a short while, we reached an area with lots of tall piles of pruned branches. They were so tall and huge, that they blocked the sight of the trail. So, if they’re still there when you hike here, don’t be afraid to walk between them – the trail crosses there.

Crossing through the pruned branches…

We continued another 860 meters or so on the black-marked trail and then slightly turned left, towards a big sign that was hidden in the shrubs (7). We have arrived to the Solelim Forest Nature Reserve. The most common trees here are Mount Tabor oaks. From the sign, we began an easy-moderate climb, which went on for about 320 meters. Then, we turned left and continued on a flat dirt route for a while before starting to descend. On the way, there’s a spot with an opening in the forest, with a view towards the Eshkol Reservoir (8). We sat there for a while to appreciate the view and eat something for breakfast.

The Eshkol Reservoir, also called the Eshkol Water Filtiratartion Plant, is part of the National Water Carrier of Israel and is used to regulate and filter Israel’s drinking water. It is called after Israel’s third prime minister, Levi Eshkol, who was also one of the founders of “Mekorot”, the national water company of Israel.

The Eshkol Reservoir in the distance. It looks much better in reality!

We continued down the hill on a very easy black-marked trail for about 3.3 km. On the way, we met beautiful trees, amongst them many olive trees. There were some places where the trail mark was not so clear or not so visible, so make sure to look at the map once in a while and open your eyes for trail marks. It took us about an hour to reach the tunnel beneath road number 77 (9).

The tunnel beneath the road

We crossed through the tunnel and then turned left and continued on the trail, which at this point is only marked with the Israel National Trail colors, for about 800 meters. Then, it crosses another road – road number 79 (10). But this time there’s a traffic light and a zebra crossing.

We crossed to the other side of the road and then climbed over the railing and found shade under some trees. After resting for a while, we continued on the trail, which goes beside some agricultural field and then turns right and goes parallel to road 7915. Eventually, the trail arrives at a small junction, with a small gas station. There are several signs with arrows pointing to the same direction. One of them says “Yiftah’el Winery” and another says “Alon HaGalil Field Center”.

The trail continues straight and goes to the direction of the arrows. After a short while, it turns left and reaches Yiftah’el Winery (11). From the moment we entered the place, we felt good and uplifted. Pleasant music was played through the speakers, at the entrance there’s a pergola that offers shade, and in the backyard, there are lots of picnic tables, which make you want to have a picnic there. A man from inside the visitor center stepped out to greet us and said: “You’re free to fill water and use the restrooms”.

After filling water and using the restroom – because you don’t get to use a restroom every day on the trail – I came back to the front of the place and found my friends around one of the picnic tables under the pergola. They were holding teaspoons and chatting cheerfully.

“What’s that?” I asked them, pointing at the teaspoons.

“They let us taste their honey,” they replied, “You should try, too.”

It turns out that Yiftah’el Winery not only offers wine, but also houses products from the Ofir Beehive. Actually, the family began with the beehive and only afterward started with the vineyards and wine-making. Inside the small visitor center there’s a row of honey jars and teaspoons, which you can use to taste the different types of honey. There are many types, including carob honey, jujube honey, citrus honey, and even avocado honey!

Honey tasting at the Yiftah’el Winery visitor center

After tasting some of the honey, I came back to the picnic table. Initially, we planned to stay at the Alon HaGalil Field Center (also known as Alon HaGalil Biking Center), because they offer free camping for INT hikers. But, because we reached this point so early, around noon, and because the trail was fairly easy – we decided to keep on going.

We rested for a long time at Yiftah’el Winery, and then continued on the trail, that goes along the narrow asphalt road to the north-west of the winery. From this point, the trail overlaps a green-marked trail, that goes through Kira Ata Forest, part of the Zippori Forests. After about 770 meters, the trail leaves the green-marked trail and turns right, deeper into the forest, but still on a route suitable for cars. About 620 meters afterward, the trail starts descending through the forest and eventually reaches a more open area, where it turns right and continues straight for a while before turning left and ascending again.

One of the roads we walked on through the forest

We continued on the trail for about 660 meters and then stopped to rest under the trees. To the right of the trail, we saw some kind of settlement (12), which didn’t look too serious – a couple of houses, a car or two, and some children running around. It’s not clear what settlement it is, because it doesn’t appear on the maps I’ve looked at.

Part of the small mysterious settlement which we saw

After resting, we continued descending on the trail. The Amudanan app alerted us about a “dangerous point on the trail”, where there could be a group of five vicious dogs, who have attacked hikers in the past. Just in case, we huddled together and kept our eyes out for the dogs, but they didn’t come. We continued on the trail, beside groves of olive trees for around 1.4 km until we reached the Arab village of Ka’abiyye (13).

Into Ka’abiyye

We turned right onto one of the village’s roads and continued up the road for a while, until we saw a small supermarket to our left. So, we stopped to buy some popsicles and ice cream bars. It has already turned to a tradition – wherever we could buy something sweet, we did it. Paz was amazed to discover that her popsicle cost only one shekel.

After finishing our popsicles and ice cream bars, we continued through the village until we reached a roundabout, where we turned to the left (14). This route took us outside of the village, to a very narrow trail that bypassed the village from the south. It was a tricky path to walk on, because it wasn’t completely flat – it was slanted aside. To the left of the trail, we could see the buildings of Ka’abiyye-Tabbash-Hajajre and their agricultural fields.

Hiking on slanted ground

After about 650 meters, we reached another road and turned right, onto it (15). About 220 meters afterward, the trail leaves the road and turns left onto a white, gravel path, that descends from the village. On the way, there were high piles of garbage, so be ready for it. There’s also a pen with lots of cows.

We continued for about 850 meters down the trail, until we reached a place with lots of noisy ATVs, Jeeps, and motorcycles. We guessed that they were there because it was the weekend, and the weekend is the perfect time to get on some vehicle and drive through the nature. Anyway, the place was full of people, who came to Ein Yivka (16), also known as Ein Susim (“Horse’s Spring”). It’s a huge natural water pool, created by one of three water springs that feeds the Zippori Stream. In normal circumstances, we would have stopped here to dip in the water, but because of all the people – we decided to pass and continue on our way.

A rare moment when no one was in the water of Ein Yivka

From Ein Yivka, the trail ascends to a route, that goes above the wadi of the Zippori Stream. We tried to shorten the way and hike on the blue-marked trail, but very quickly we reached to a point where the stream entirely flooded the path and so, we returned to the Israel National Trail and climbed up to the higher trail. Above the trail, there’s Kibbutz Harduf. In Harduf there’s also a place where you can stay for a symbolic cost, called Sha’ar LaAdam – an Ecological Center for Coexistence. You can find the contact details here under “Harduf”.

You see the upper trail below the trees?

We continued along the trail, which goes on a wide, gravel road, for about 1.7 km. Then, it turned left (17) and made its way by the agricultural fields near the Zippori Stream. About 370 meters later it turns left again and shortly arrives at the banks of the Zippori Stream. It’s a bit tricky walking along the stream, because the path is very narrow and you need to really stick to the fence in order to not step in the water, but this tricky part is over in no time.

Some views from the trail
The Zippori Stream

We walked through a wide-open space, crossed the stream with the help of three wooden rafts that someone placed there, and then arrived at the Hermits’ Mill (18), called in Hebrew “Tachanat Hanezirim”. The Hermits’ Mill is a beautiful building, that was established here in the Ottoman era and operated until the beginning of the 20th century. The mill worked thanks to the water, that was transferred by an aqueduct from Ein Yivka. It is owned by the Carmelite Order, but is today rented to the Kishon Drainage and Streams Authority, who plan to turn it into a visitor center.

The Hermits’ Mill

We turned left and continued straight for about 200 meters until we reached our destination – Abu Atef’s Agricultural Hospitality (in Hebrew: אירוח חקלאי אבו עאטף). Adel, the owner, greeted us the moment we arrived. We had contacted him in the afternoon and asked if we can stay at his place.

The place, which offers Bedouin hospitality, is beautifully designed, with lots of cushions and chairs in different bright colors, a large piece of green synthetic lawn, and many agricultural tools scattered around the compound. They arranged us a place to sleep with super comfortable mattresses, under a cloth cover that was supposed to resemble a Bedouin tent. And, for an extra cost, they also made Bedouin-style dinner for us, which was a great treat after a long day of walking. When we were waiting for the food, a fox came over, and Adel showed up and said: “Don’t be afraid of him. He’s a regular guest in our place. Just don’t touch him.” When the food arrived, we felt like kings and queens. So many options, so much good food.

We got to talk a bit with the owner and his wife. It turns out that the place was established only two years ago, on the land that belonged to Adel’s father. Adel’s father used to work in agriculture, so he wanted to preserve that through establishing this accommodation place, which also runs agricultural tours and activities in the area. We really enjoyed talking to them. They are friendly and charming people.

After the feast, we went to sleep. In the middle of the night, I heard Paz shouting “Go away, go away.” I woke up and looked over at her mattress. A fox was standing beside her backpack. I gestured at it to go away, too, and it did. Later, when we woke up in the morning, one of Paz’s sandals was gone. We looked all over for it, and after a few minutes found it in the fields near the accommodation. It seems like foxes like to play around with sandals, so keep an eye on your sandals!  

If you want to stay at Abu Atef’s Agricultural Hospitality, you can find the owner’s contact details in the following link, under “Hanezirim Mill”.

Abu Atef’s Agricultural Hospitality – from our tent

That’s all for now. I wish you a fantastic hike on the Israel National Trail!

Continue to the next segment – Hiking the Israel National Trail: From the Hermits’ Mill to Yagur.

If you want to leave the trail after this segment, you will need to walk about 1 km to the entrance of Ras Ali and catch bus number 74 from there to HaMifrats Central Station in Haifa, from where you will be able to catch many buses to various destinations. If you want to get to Jerusalem, you can also get off at the Yagur Interchange and catch a bus from there.  

Get ready for the trail by reading my post – The Israel National Trail: Ultimate Preparation Guide.

And check out previous segments of the Israel National Trail.

Pin this post for later!


Hiked the trail on October 2020.

If you liked this post or found it useful, would really appreciate a like, a share and a comment (:

If you need any help with planning this hike, feel free to contact me at lior@backpackisrael.com. I also offer guided hiking tours on several segments of the Israel National Trail.

Also, feel free to follow this blog and like my Facebook Page – Backpack Israel.

And plan a great trip to Israel using my app – Travel Israel by Travelkosh for Android and iOS

Yours,

Lior

Categories
Free things to do Hiking in Israel Israel National Trail National parks & natural places

Hiking the Israel National Trail: From Gesher Alma to Horvat Hamama

After completing the segment from Nabi Yusha to Gesher Alma, we were quite tired and broken. We were all girls, and it isn’t so easy to carry about 12 kilos along a 14-km trail. But we didn’t want to give up after a day, so we woke up early in the morning and continued to the next segment. This time, our destination was Horvat Hamama.

The segment from Gesher Alma to Horvat Hamama is about 17-km long. It takes you through the outstanding Dishon Wadi, brings you to a beautiful water spring, passes through the enchanting Bar’am Forest, and ends with a glimpse of Mount Meron. The hike is quite easy. The challenging part comes at the end, with a steep climb towards Horvat Hamama. For us, it took about 10 hours to complete.

Before we begin, let’s go over some safety instructions and general notes:

· The hike is under your responsibility, so please be careful.

· Make sure you hike with good hiking shoes, have at least 3 liters of water (and at least 5 liters on hot days), and wear a hat. Pack food and snacks for the whole day, BUT make sure to bring a garbage bag as well and take your garbage with you, including toilet papers.

· Don’t go on the hike when it is too hot (over 30 degrees Celsius), as there are many places that are exposed to the sun.

· Pay attention to sunset hours (in Summer around 6-7 PM, in Winter around 4-5 PM). Try to begin the hike before 6 AM so you will have time to rest a bit during the hot hours of the afternoon and still get it to the end of the trail. 

· The phone signal is good throughout most of the trail. The signal in the Dishon Wadi is a bit problematic.

· Before you begin the hike, make sure you have a good trail map. The trail isn’t always well marked, so it’s good to have a map. You can also use a navigation app such as Amud Anan which shows you the trail (in orange) or the Israel Hiking Map. With GPS, you can also see where you are exactly. We got lost a bit, because we weren’t paying attention to the map.

· The trail is marked with the Israel National Trail colors, orange-blue-white. Most of it is also merged with the red-marked trail.

· If you need any further help with planning your trail, I recommend posting on the Israel National Trail forum on Tapatalk.

How to get to the head of the trail?

If you just want to hike this segment without hiking the previous one, you can get on bus number 34 from Kiryat Shemona and get off at the “Dishon Junction” bus station. From Kiryat Shemona, the ride takes about 30 minutes. From the junction, you will need to walk along road number 886 for about 30 minutes until you reach Gesher Alma. It is located south of Dishon.

The hike:

The trail map, taken from israelhiking.osm.org.il

We woke around 5:30 AM and walked up to road number 886. No cars were driving at this hour of the day, so we could cross the road quite safely (1). The trail continues from the other side of the road, on a path full of white riverbed stones. We walked with a head flashlight for a while, until we met a group of day hikers. They were two men and a lot of small children.

“Wow! Impressive that you got the kids up so early,” one of my friends told them.

“Yeah,” they smiled and added, “You don’t need a flashlight, you know. There’s enough light from the sky, and you can adapt your eyes to the darkness.”

So, we turned off our flashlight and continued in the darkness. The cliffs on both sides of the wadi were outstanding, especially in the light of twilight. Slowly-slowly the shadows left the stones and their colors were uncovered. The Dishon Wadi is the largest river in the Eastern Upper Galilee. Until 1948, it still had water flowing through it all year round. But since 1948, the river flows only during winter, after severe rainfall. There were supposed to be several water springs along the way, but we didn’t notice them. The most popular spring is called Ein Aviv and is supposed to be located about 3 km from road number 886. Maybe it is most visible in winter, when the water flow is stronger.

The Dishon Wadi at twilight
Inside the Dishon Wadi, when the sun was up

We continued on the wide Jeep road for about 6 km until we reached another road, this time road number 899 (2). Just before the road, we found two weird spiral booths, a few plastic chairs, a wooden platform, and rifle bullets, which were still full. We guessed that there was some sort of fire range there. The whole scene reminded me of something I saw a few weeks back, in a documentary about a Hasidic Jewish branch called Breslov. In that documentary, they said that one of the things that Breslov people do is go out to the forest on their own, sit on a chair and connect to GOD. The plastic chairs, with all the trees around them, looked like perfect chairs for the Breslovs.

One of the plastic chairs in the forest

We crossed road number 899 carefully and continued on the wide path, that crosses through Dishon Wadi. There were more and more trees, because we were also entering the borders of the Bar’am Forest. Beside trees, there were also a lot of cows that were freely roaming around.

About 2.2 km from the road, there’s a fork in the trail (3). The right turn leads to a challenging trail in Nahal Aviv, while the left turn continues on the Israel National Trail. We continued on the Israel National Trail and walked for about 1 km until we reached a point where you can accidentally turn left to the road (4). Of course, we accidentally took the turn to the road, but very quickly understood that the Israel National Trail wasn’t continuing from there. So, we went back to the trail and saw the mark straight ahead. It took us through the thicket of trees and bushes, over some huge stones, straight to Ein Aravot.

Hiking through the thicket

Ein Aravot is a large and beautiful spring, which isn’t so natural. It is fed by the waters of “Mekorot”, the national water company of Israel, that is trying to revive the Dishon stream. Just before we came, there was a group of Ultra-Orthodox Jews bathing in the spring. According to Jewish belief, a water spring is the highest spiritual form of a mikveh. After they left, my friends got into the water, which reached a bit above their knees. We were alone for a little while, and then came a huge group of INT hikers. They were all in their mid-20s, boys and girls, who had joined together during the hike. We met them a lot during our trip, so stay tuned for more.

The Ultra Orthodox man looking at Ein Aravot

We didn’t like all the noise, so we continued on our way through the tunnel, that passes below the road, which seems to be located a bit above Ein Aravot. From there, we continued on a wide dirt route, on a very easy trail, which is mostly exposed to the sun. There was a point where we saw a huge ascent ahead, that looked SO steep, and there were no trail marks in sight. We said: “It couldn’t be that we have to climb THIS.” So, we turned left on the more normal-looking trail and after a while saw a trail mark.

On the wide trail

Then, about 2.5 from Ein Aravot, we reached the entrance to the Bar’am Forest Reserve (5). We lied down to rest under the shade of the trees and then entered the forest. The trail turned narrower and there were huge stones once in a while, which we had to pass by. It also started to slowly ascend, and again, we started feeling the weight on our shoulders and thought about leaving the trail the moment we could. Well, not all of us. One of my friends looked at us astonished and said: “Are you really thinking about giving up after two days? You need time to adapt to the weight.”

The Bar’am Forest Reserve

We left the forest after about 900 meters and turned right onto a wide Jeep route (6), that was also exposed to the sun. After a while, we found a large tree on the way and rested beneath it for about two hours, because the heat was unbearable and we were tired. We made coffee and ate some bread with raw tahini. Then, we talked about why each one of us decided to hike the Israel National Trail. One said that she feels that the Israel National Trail is over-rated, because there are so many other beautiful trails in Israel, and the fact that you’ve hiked the Israel National Trail doesn’t mean you’ve seen the best of the country. One said she sees the trail as something Zionistic and that she wants to discover more of the country by hiking. One said that it’s a challenge, and she wants to see how much she can do. I also said that it’s a challenge, and that I’m always seeking new ways to challenge myself. And that beside that, I also want to explore more of Israel by hiking this trail.

The trail meets road number 89 about 1.8 km from the start of the Jeep route (7). Here, we had to carefully cross to the other side, where we saw a faded sign telling about the Israel National Trail. We continued on the trail for a while and saw a “Trail Library”, where people can leave books for hikers, and hikers can borrow books for the trail.

This is where we crossed on road number 89
The Trail Library is that orange-blue-white box

Then, we continued through the forest on the trail, that was slowly ascending. At some point, the trail turns left and then becomes very steep (8). It was so steep, that I could barely raise my head to look upwards. The trail passes by the Mount Meron Booster, which increases the water pressure of “Mekorot”, and continues in a very steep way to a dirt road. We crossed the dirt road to the other side and continued on a milder ascend, which eventually led us to a beautiful viewpoint of Mount Meron’s summit.

Just before the full view of Mount Meron’s summit is revealed

From here, we continued downwards to the Horvat Hamama Campground, which is a huge campground with water faucets and places for bonfires (9). Next to the campground, there are supposed to be the ruins of Hamama, a settlement from the Byzantine period, but it was too dark for us to see.

We arrived on a weekend, so the place was full of people with cars. It took us some time to find an empty space for our sleeping bags. It was on a slope, underneath some pine cone trees. Soon after we’ve settled down, one of my friends said that her brother was coming to make us vegetarian Potjiekos. It was warm and delicious, and filled us with new energy for the following day.  

When we woke up the other day, we discovered that we had slipped down during the night and that we were surrounded by fallen pine cones. Luckily, they didn’t hit us. If you decide to camp here, make sure to camp away from the trees. Another close-by stay option is the Mount Meron Field School, which offers a place for tents at a small fee. For more information, check out their website – Mount Meron Field School.

Continue to the next segment – Climbing Mount Meron, from Horvat Homama to HaPitul Campground.

How much time does the trail take? About 10-11 hour, depending on your pace and fitness level.

Difficulty: Easy to moderate, because of the length and the fact that it’s mostly exposed to the sun.

It is about 17 km long. You can also hike it from the other direction.

When is the best time to hike? We hiked in mid-October, but I think it would be much nicer to hike this tail in the spring, around March. Just make sure it didn’t rain before you start the hike, because then it would probably be very muddy.

I wish you a fantastic hike on the Israel National Trail!

If you want to leave the trail after this segment, you can take bus number 367 from the Mount Meron Field School to Safed Central Station and continue from there, according to your final destination.

Get ready for the trail by reading my post – The Israel National Trail: Ultimate Preparation Guide.

And check out previous segments of the Israel National Trail:

Hiking the Israel National Trail: From Dan to Kfar Giladi

Hiking the Israel National Trail: From Kfar Giladi to Nahal Kedesh

Hiking the Israel National Trail: From Nabi Yusha to Gesher Alma

Pin this post for later:


Hiked the trail on October 2020.

If you liked this post or found it useful, would really appreciate a like, a share and a comment (:

If you need any help with planning this hike, feel free to contact me at lior@backpackisrael.com. I also offer guided hiking tours on several segments of the Israel National Trail.

Also, feel free to follow this blog and like my Facebook Page – Backpack Israel.

And plan a great trip to Israel using my app – Travel Israel by Travelkosh for Android and iOS

Yours,

Lior

Categories
Free things to do Galilee Hiking in Israel National parks & natural places

Hiking the Israel National Trail: From Nabi Yusha to Gesher Alma

Four months have passed since my last hike on the Israel National Trail. Last time, I completed the second segment from Kfar Giladi to Nahal Kedesh. It was summer back then, so it was too hot to continue. This time, my friends and I decided to start hiking from mid-October, which was quite ideal. We started from the third segment and aimed to reach Jerusalem. It took us about one month. In this post, I’ll share our experiences from the third segment of the Israel National Trail, from Nabi Yusha to Gesher Alma.

What I learned from this month on the trail is that the experience changes from one person to the other. Some people run the trail, and some people take it easy. We were in the middle. That’s why you might see different segments in different places on the web or in books. You decide how to divide the trail. The segment from Nabi Yusha to Gesher Alma is about 14 km long, offers some beautiful views over the Hula Valley, passes by impressive agricultural fields, and takes you down to the Dishon Wadi.    

It took us about 11 hours to complete and was rather tough, but maybe because it was our first day with heavy backpacks on our backs we felt it was harder than it really was. It is a mid to hard level trail, with two major ascends and one very steep descent into the Dishon Wadi.

Before we begin, let’s go over some safety instructions and general notes:

  • The hike is under your responsibility, so please be careful.
  • Make sure you hike with good hiking shoes, have at least 3 liters of water, and wear a hat. Pack food and snacks for the whole day, BUT make sure to bring a garbage bag as well and take your garbage with you, including toilet papers.
  • Don’t go on the hike when it is too hot (over 30 degrees Celsius). Also, don’t go after rain, because the steep descent to Dishon Wadi could be slippery.
  • Pay attention to sunset hours (in Summer around 6-7 PM, in Winter around 4-5 PM). Try to begin the hike before 6 AM so you will have time to rest a bit during the hot hours of the afternoon and still get it to the end of the trail. 
  • The phone signal is good throughout most of the trail. When hiking in the Dishon Wadi, there was no signal.  
  • Before you begin the hike, make sure you have a good trail map. The trail isn’t always well marked, so it’s good to have a map. You can also use a navigation app such as Amud Anan which shows you the trail (in orange) or the Israel Hiking Map. With GPS, you can also see where you are exactly. We lost the trail about three times and had to go back.
  • The trail is marked by the Israel National Trail colors, orange-blue-white.
  • If you need any further help with planning your trail, I recommend posting on the Israel National Trail forum on Tapatalk.

How to get to the head of the trail?

We arrived at the head of the trail a day before the hike. From Jerusalem, we took three buses, and it took us about 3.5 hours to reach the place. You can use Google Maps or Moovit to find the best route for you. The starting point is called “Yesha Junction” (in Hebrew: צומת ישע). In general, you’ll need to reach Kiryat Shemona and from there, take bus number 34 to Yesha Junction. The trail starts right next to the junction. If you stand on the northern side of the road, you’ll see a bus station on the other side of the road. The trail begins to the left of the station.

The hike:

Segment map, taken from israelhiking.osm.org.il/map/
Segment map, taken from israelhiking.osm.org.il/map/

We started our day just before sunrise, from the campground of HaElot Parking Lot (1). We arrived at the campground a day before, so that we would be able to start hiking early. The campground is about one kilometer from the start of the trail, right next to the road, and has a water faucet and places for bonfires. There are no restrooms. It’s also full of ancient Pistacia trees, which makes it a very beautiful place for camping. If you want to camp closer to the trail, there should be a camping area below Metzudat Koach, the Yesha Fortress, near the junction.

HaElot Parking Lot and one of the ancient Pasticia trees

We continued eastward, along road number 899, to the start of the trail. To the north, we could spot the building of Metzudat Koach, also known as Yesha Fortress. The British wanted to defend the northern borders of Palestine (the Land of Israel) during the Arab revolt of 1936-39, so they built a number of police forts. One of them is Metzudat Koach, which was built in 1937. The fort was conquered by the Israeli forces in the 1948 Independence War and today, it is used by the Israel Border Police.

Medzudat Koach in the distance

We reached the junction, crossed the road eastward and continued beyond the bus station. After a few steps, the trail begins to the right, and we started walking on a dirt path (2). From here, you can get a first glimpse of the Hula Valley. We got to see it with the sunrise over the Golan Heights.

We continued down the path, that started making its way southward, and within a few steps reached the grand shrine complex of Nabi Yusha. Nabi Yusha was a small Palestinian village, that was depopulated during the 1948 Independence War. The place was believed to be the burial grounds of the prophet Yusha, Nabi Yusha. Later, there were some who recognized the place as the burial place of Joshua from the Hebrew Bible.  The abandoned shrine that we see today was established in the 18th century and is still quite impressive, with its huge stones and dome. We took a short detour into the complex and peeked into the different rooms. One of them looked like a mosque, with a mihrab and Arabic inscriptions on its walls.  

Inside the Nabi Yusha complex

From the shrine complex, we continued on the path, which goes through the forest. To the left, we could see the beautiful views of the Hula Valley. 800 meters afterwards, we reached a cattle gate, that led us to a wonderful viewpoint over Agamon Hula, the Hula lake (3). There was a bit of morning fog, so we couldn’t see it very well, but I’m sure that on clear days it’s an amazing sight.  

Walking in the forest…

From there, we continued on the dirt path for about 1.5 km until we reached a small ascend of about 40 meters. At the end of that, we reached a dirt road and merged with a green-marked trail (4).

We continued eastward on the road until we spotted a nice tree close by and decided to stop underneath it for breakfast. It turned out that no one wanted the chocolate spread that I was carrying, so we stopped someone who was day hiking on the trail and asked him if he wants to take our chocolate spread for free. It was just way too heavy – 500 grams!

Keren Naftali. You can recognize it by the tall antenna at the top

After breakfast, we started hiking towards Keren Naftali, the mountain in the distance. On the way, we passed by the Keren Naftali Vineyard, that belongs to the Golan Heights Winery, and also got to see an onion field. The mountain of Keren Naftali rises to a height of 510 meters above sea level, but we just had to ascend about 70 meters, which wasn’t too bad. At the top of the mountain (5), there’s a beautiful viewpoint over the Hula Valley and an archeological site from the Roman period. But what interested us were the three metal poles, that joined together to create a triangular shape, with an iron triangular at the top. If you’ll also wonder what is it, then I’ll tell you – It’s called triangulation point 510. There are many triangulation points throughout the country, which were established here by the British in order to perform topographical measurements. Keren Naftali is the highest point in the area.

Looking back at the climb….
Triangulation Point 510

We started climbing down the mountain on a moderate-level trail and reached a place with lots of cows. We hiked past them and started walking in a barren area, with almost no trees or bushes. From the bottom of the mountain, we continued for about half a kilometer until we spotted some packing factory in the distance (6). After a while we also found a big tree and rested underneath its shade. According to several resources, there’s supposed to be a water faucet at the western side of the factory, but we didn’t check it.

Hiking in barren land…
The packing factory in the distance

When we got close to the factory, we couldn’t find the trail mark and must not have looked closely at the map, because we missed the trail and got off it for a short while. We were able to get back on it after using GPS. The dirt path continued with almost no shade and it was quite hot, so we were losing water very quickly. About 500 meters after the factory, we reached a fence and a water pipe, which we had to cross by jumping over it (7). Then, the path continues for a bit and turns right onto a kind of jeep route.

We walked on the dirt route for about 4 km with almost no shade and a lot of agricultural fields until we reached a kind of cattle pen (8). Here, we had to jump over another fence and continued along the dirt route. And again, we didn’t pay enough attention to the trail marks and got off the trail. The trail takes a right turn from the dirt route about 400 meters after the cattle pen, so make sure not to miss it. There are a cattle gate and a big green sign there, right next to a water pipe (9).  

From that point, the trail gradually rises until it reaches the point where it descents down to the Dishon Wadi (10). The 100-meter descent is super steep and can really hurt the knees. Lucky that I had my walking poles with me.

This is what you see just before the descent to Dishon Wadi

When we reached the bottom, we turned right and merged with the red-marked trail. It makes its way through the Dishon Wadi, with beautiful cliffs on both sides. lots of shade, and cows. If we weren’t short on water, we might have enjoyed this part of the trail even more.

Cows in the Dishon Wadi

We continued for about 2.5 km on a wide and stoney jeep route through the Dishon Wadi until we reached the Ein Aviv water faucet (11) and joyfully filled our water bottles and washed our faces. From there, it was a short 800 meters walk to the campground near Alma Bridge (in Hebrew, “Gesher Alma”) (12).

The water faucet at Ein Aviv Station

The Gesher Alma Campground is a flat and barren area, located right next to road number 886. It has not facilities at all. When we camped there, we could hear the noise of cars from the road, but there weren’t too many. I personally heard the howling jackals much more. The lights from the road may also be distracting. If you prefer a cozier place to sleep, you might want to try to find a Trail Angel in Dishon.

The next day, we continued to Horvat Hamama.

Gesher Alma campground, right next to the bridge

To sum it up, the trail from Nabi Yusha to Gesher Alma is quite long and challenging at times. The shrine at the beginning is very impressive and the views along the way are also nice. But there’s barely any shade, so if you’re hiking in a hot season, make sure to bring enough water with you.

Continue to the next segment – From Gesher Alma to Horvat Homama.

How much time does the trail take? About 10-11 hour, depending on your pace and fitness level.

Difficulty: Moderate to hard.

It is about 14 km long. You can also hike it from the other direction.

When is the best time to hike? We hiked in mid-October, but I think it would be much nicer to hike this tail in the spring, around March. Just make sure it didn’t rain before you start the hike.

I wish you a fantastic hike on the Israel National Trail!

If you want to leave the trail after this segment, you can hike about 2 km along the road to Dishon and take bus number 34 from Dishon Junction to Koach Junction. There, you’ll find many buses to various destinations.

Get ready for the trail by reading my post – The Israel National Trail: Ultimate Preparation Guide.

And check out previous segments of the Israel National Trail:

Hiking the Israel National Trail: From Dan to Kfar Giladi.

Hiking the Israel National Trail: From Kfar Giladi to Nahal Kedesh.

Pin the post for later:


Hiked the trail on October 2020.

If you liked this post or found it useful, would really appreciate a like, a share and a comment (:

If you need any help with planning this hike, feel free to contact me at lior@backpackisrael.com. I also offer guided hiking tours on several segments of the Israel National Trail.

Also, feel free to follow this blog and like my Facebook Page – Backpack Israel.

And plan a great trip to Israel using my app – Travel Israel by Travelkosh for Android and iOS

Yours,

Lior.

Categories
Free things to do Galilee Hiking in Israel Israel National Trail National parks & natural places

Hiking the Israel National Trail: From Kfar Giladi to Nahal Kedesh

The Israel National Trail, which is about 1,000 km long, is the most popular hiking trail in Israel. After my friends and I completed the first segment from Kibbutz Dan to Kfar Giladi, we continued to the second part of the trail. It takes you upwards, to the ridge of the Naftali Mountains, and offers enchanting viewpoints over the Hula Valley. The segment connects Kfar Giladi to Nabi Yusha, but we had to cut the trail at the entrance to Nahal Kedesh because of the awful heat and shortage of time. In this post, I’ll share my hiking experience from the segment we did.

The hike took us about 9 hours and is about 20 km long. It is of mid-level difficulty, as it is a long trail, with many descends, and many parts that are exposed to the sun. But the views from the top of the Naftali Mountains are worth it! 

Before we begin, let’s go over some safety instructions and general notes:

· The hike is under your responsibility, so please be careful.

· Make sure you hike with good hiking shoes, have at least 3 liters of water, and wear a hat. Pack food and snacks for the whole day, BUT make sure to bring a garbage bag as well and take your garbage with you. Also, when you do your needs, do not leave toilet paper behind. 

· Don’t go on the hike when it is too hot (over 30 degrees Celsius), because many parts of the trail have no shade. We hiked when it was 28 degrees Celsius and it was unbearable in the afternoon.

· Pay attention to sunset hours (in Summer around 6-7 PM, in Winter around 4-5 PM). Try to begin the hike before 6 AM so you will have time to rest a bit during the hot hours of the afternoon and still get it to the end of the trail. 

· The phone signal is very good. 

· Before you begin the hike, make sure you have a good trail map. The trail is well marked, but it’s always good to have a map. You can also use a navigation app such as Amud Anan which shows you the trail (in orange). With GPS, you can also see where you are exactly. 

· The trail is marked with the Israel National Trail colors, orange-blue-white.

· If you need any further help with planning your trail, I recommend posting on the Israel National Trail forum on Tapatalk.

How to Get to the Head of the Trail?

If you are staying in Kfar Giladi, you need to make your way down to the Kfar Giladi cemetery. We went to the Roaring Lion Monument at the back of the cemetery and then descended the staircase that is opposite to it. We continued south, down the inner road of the kibbutz, until we saw road number 9977 in front of us. Then, we spotted an underground pedestrian tunnel, that crosses the road to the other side. This tunnel is marked with the orange-blue-white trail marker. If you aren’t staying at Kfar Giladi, you can find this underground tunnel on the southern side of Kibbutz Kfar Giladi. 

The Roaring Lion Monument at Kfar Giladi

The Hike:

First part of the trail, from Amud Anan website
Second part of the trail, from Amud Anan website
Third part of the trail, from Amud Anan website

The hike starts from Kibbutz Kfar Giladi (1). Kfar Giladi was established in 1916 in the middle of nowhere, close to the border with Lebanon. At that time, the French had a mandate over Lebanon. The people of Kfar Giladi believed that by settling there, they are forming the borders of the future Jewish state.

After a great night at Kfar Giladi, we woke up early and made our way to the Kfar Giladi cemetery, also known as HaShomer Cemetery. HaShomer was a Jewish defense organization, which operated during the British mandate. Some of its leaders established Kfar Giladi. Many of the defenders are buried here. At the back of the cemetery stands the famous Roaring Lion Monument, which bears the names of eight people who died during the Battle of Tel Hai in 1920. Tel Hai was another settlement, which was established to the south of Kfar Giladi.  

At this point, a cute, white and dotted dog, joined us. She wanted to play with us, gave us small stones to throw her, and we immediately became friends. We started making our way to the underground pedestrian tunnel that crossed road 9977, and she followed us. We tried to tell her to stay, but she crossed the underpass with us (2).

The underpass below road number 9977

From the underpass, the trail continues on a dirt road, which goes down a long set of stairs. The information boards which we saw along the way told us that this was the “Trail of the Wounded”. It was the original route, that linked Kfar Giladi to Tel Hai and was used to transfer the wounded and dead during the night of the Battle of Tel Hai. The trail continues for about 200 meters and then turns right (3). There’s a short but steep descend and then the trail turns right again and begins a mild climb through a beautiful forest. This is also the site of the Sculpture Garden, where the greatest Israeli sculptors and renowned sculptors from abroad installed different sculptures from 1980 to 1994.

The Trail of the Wounded
The Sculpture Garden

After about 500 meters, we reached the entrance to the Naftali Mountains Forest Reserve (4) and continued up the path into the reserve. Very quickly, the trail leaves the asphalt path and goes into the forest. The trail is very narrow at this point, and the bushes and trees are all around you. When we got out of the dense part of the forest, we saw a small green bridge. Instead of going on the bridge, we went right, in the direction of the Israel National Trail mark. The trail slowly started ascending through the impressive Naftali Mountains Forest, and we could start seeing the beautiful view of the Hula Valley to our left side.

The entrance to Naftali Mountains Forest Reserve
Green all around…

From this point on, the trail continues on a wide and quite easy trail through the forest. There are some places where there is a fork in the route, but you should just keep on the orange-blue-white trail and you’ll be fine. About one hour or 1.5 km from the start of the wide route in the forest, we reached a steep descend. At the end of the descend we saw three other hikers, standing in front of an orange cow.

“Hey,” they waved at us, “Do you know how to get rid of a cow?”

But before we could reply, the dog which had accompanied us starting running towards the cow and barking at it. Everyone became hysteric. The hikers asked us to take control of the dog, but she was too determined. She ran back and forth towards the cow, barking at it again and again, until it finally turned around and started running in the other direction, away from us.

I shrugged, “I guess that’s how you get rid of a cow,” and we continued on the trail, leaving the other hikers quite baffled behind us.

We continued for a short while more and then stopped for breakfast next to a cow barrier, which is supposed to prevent cows from crossing into certain areas. I am not sure how much this thing works.

Tshika, the dog that accompanied us, during breakfast

The dog joined us for breakfast, although we had nothing for her. Then we started wondering if she’ll be accompanying us for the entire trail and noticed a phone number on her collar, together with her name – Tshika. We called the number and reached the Tshika’s owner, who claimed that Tshika was a very playful dog who usually goes on hikes in the area. Unfortunately, there was no way we could bring the dog back to Kfar Giladi, so we told the owner that we will take her with us until the end of our trail. She said she could come to pick her up at the end. We couldn’t give her food, but we did give her some water. Then, after seeing a hoard of wild boars crossing the trail behind us, we stood up and continued on our way.

The next interesting stop is the Ramim Cliff Lookout (5). From this point, you can go down the Geological Trail, which links to the Geological Park next to Qiryat Shemona. But we continued on the Israel National Trail. Of course, before continuing, we stopped for some photos of the landscape. Beneath us, we could see the beautiful view of Qiryat Shemona in the Hula Valley.

Ramim Cliff Lookout

From the lookout, the trail continues up into the forest. At the end of the short climb, we turned left onto the red marked route, which is also the Israel National Trail. Near this point (6) operated an iron mine in the 1950s. You can still see one of the red mine wagons on a piece of track.  

The mine wagon

We walked and walked, viewing the beautiful Hula Valley to our left. A short while after we crossed under the cables of the Manara Cliff cable car, the trail started descending in a winding path. Mid-way down we spotted the small truck, painted in orange-blue-white, just like the Israel National Trail (7). My friends were quite excited about this truck and stopped here for a lot of photos on top of it. It stands in the compound of the Manara Cliff, where you can rest for a while in the shade. But you need to leave the trail a bit in order to get there. So, after taking some photographs, we retraced our tracks and continued down the trail.

“The Israel National Trail Truck”

At the end of the descend, we reached a crossroad of the red and green marked trails. We continued right, on the green marked trail, which overlaps the Israel National Trail (8). The trail turns to a white gravel route, with no trees around, and no shade at all. It starts climbing up again. We reached that point around 10 AM and it was SO hot! But at least the view was still outstanding. About 200 meters from the crossroad, we reached the Alef-Khet Lookout (9), another beautiful lookout over the Hula Valley. There’s also a “Trail Library” here, where hikers can borrow reading books on the way.

The Alef-Khet Lookout

The trail quickly turns to an asphalt route and continues along the ridge of the mountains for about 3 km until it breaks down from the green-marked trail. This part of the trail has almost no shade at all, so try getting here before it gets too hot. There is a big tree, which offers some shade, right at the point where we turned left (10) to the Israel National Trail. From this point, the trail continues on a dirt route and makes its way next to beautiful plantations. About 1.5 km down this route, we reached the blue-marked trail and continued left with it (11).

The plantation on the way

The trail becomes rocky and continues through the forest until it reaches the red-marked trail (12). There, we turned right onto the red-marked trail. At some point, we reached a gate, which we had to open in order to continue on the trail. Make sure to close the gate after yourselves! The trail continues for about 5 km, with almost no shade, but with breathtaking views.

More views close to the end… It was a day with a lot of humidity in the air.

At around 2:30 PM we reached a gate, which led to the road number 886 behind it (13). At this point, we decided to leave the trail and make our way to the nearest bus station. This point is right next to the Nahal Kedesh Reserve. We had to get back home early for the upcoming holiday, which was Shavuot. The dog, Tshika, was also exhausted. We couldn’t give her much water, because we had to drink too, and she was panting hard. We waited for her owner to come and then concluded our two-days hike.

To sum it up, this trail was breathtaking all the way! When you start climbing up the Naftali Mountains, the route starts being very scenic and continues this way throughout the entire trail. We hiked near the end of May and it was already very hot, so I would recommend coming here around February-March, when weather is usually better and everything is blossoming in the area.

How much time does the trail take? About 8-10 hours, depending on your pace and the number of stops you make on the way.

Difficulty: Moderate.

It is about a 20 km trail. You can also hike it from the other direction.

When is the best time to hike? February to April or October to November, as long as it didn’t rain before you came.

I wish you a fantastic hike above the Hula Valley!

More hiking trails which might interest you:

Hiking Around Eilat: Beautiful Red Canyon

Birds, Agriculture and Ancient Wells Just Outside Eilat

Hiking Near the Dead Sea: Lower Nahal Oz

A Beautiful Hike in Upper Nahal Darga – Dead Sea Area

Hiking in the Eilat Mountains to Beautiful En Netafim

Beit Guvrin National Park: A Beautiful Day Trip from Jerusalem

Mount Carbolet: A Beautiful Segment of the Israel National Trail


Hiked the trail on May 2020.

If you liked this post or found it useful, would really appreciate a like, a share and a comment (:

If you need any help with planning this hike, feel free to contact me at lior@backpackisrael.com. I also offer guided hiking tours on several segments of the Israel National Trail.

Also, feel free to follow this blog and like my Facebook Page – Backpack Israel.

And plan a great trip to Israel using my app – Travel Israel by Travelkosh for Android and iOS

Yours,

Lior

Categories
Hiking in Israel National parks & natural places

Beit Guvrin National Park: A Beautiful Day Trip from Jerusalem

The Israel Pass has been launched a few months ago. This card combines the Rav Kav public transportation card with reduced tickets to national parks in Israel. And this made me think about the public transportation leading to those national parks. Is it easy to reach the parks by public transportation? Or is it better to get there by renting a car? I’ve decided to not count on Google Maps to find the answer and go out to find it by myself. The first national park I decided to visit was Beit Guvrin National Park, officially called Beit Guvrin- Maresha National Park.

It is one of the most beautiful national parks in Israel, situated in the Land of a Thousand Caves. This region is located in the Israeli Lowlands (“the Shfela”), between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The park is also a World Heritage Site. It is about 53 km from Jerusalem, so it takes about an hour to drive by rented car.

I took the bus, or to be precise – two buses. In order to get from Jerusalem Central Station to Beit Guvrin National Park you need to take Egged bus number 446 to Kiryat Gat and then switch to Dan bus number 66 to Beit Guvrin. The whole ride would cost you about 26 ILS one way, and takes about two hours. Whether you choose to get there by car or by public transportation, Beit Guvrin National Park is a great day trip from Jerusalem.

The History of Beit Guvrin National Park:

So, the history of this area begins not in Beit Guvrin but in Maresha. Maresha was first mentioned in the Bible as a fortified city of Judah. During the Persian period, the area was settled by Idumeans, an ancient nation that came from the Negev area. Later, in the 4th century BCE, the Sidonians and the Greeks joined the settlers here. They brought the Hellenistic culture with them. During this time, many caves were created in the area, granting the region its name, “The Land of a Thousand Caves”.  That is what Maresha is so famous for today – its large number of man-made caves, made for different purposes. Many of the caves were used for agricultural purposes, as the settlers of Maresha made their livings as farmers.  The city of Maresha was destroyed in 40 BCE by enemies of the Roman empire.

About 100 years after the destruction of Maresha, in 68 CE, the Romans arrived in the area. They conquered the nearby Jewish village of Beit Guvrin. It was greatly positioned near water sources, on an easy route that went through the lowlands, and near many agricultural fields. So, the Romans decided to build a city here and called it Eleutheropolis, “the free city”. It was well connected to other cities in the area.

Modern history:

Then, there’s the Independence War of 1948. On the hidden remains of Beit Guvrin stood an Arab Village called Bet Jibrin. The nearby police station was taken over by the Egyptian army in June 1948. The IDF took grasp of the place in October 1948, and kibbutz Beit Guvrin was established here a short while later, in May 1949. The archeological finds of Maresha were already found at the beginning of the 20th century by the British Palestine Exploration Fund. Since 1989, the Israel Antiquities Authority is excavating the site. It opened as a national park in 1989 and was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2014.

Getting to Beit Guvrin National Park by Public Transportation:

So… Let’s begin. I started my day at 6:50 AM in the Jerusalem Central Station. Egged bus number 446 leaves from platform number 7 on the third floor of the station. Its final stop is actually Be’er Sheva, but it stops at Kiryat Gat, a small city in Israel. It takes about an hour and 10 minutes to get from Jerusalem to Kiryat Gat. Their central station is very small, so it’s very easy to find the way to the next bus. You just have to walk to the main street, where you’ll see some platforms.

Dan bus number 66 leaves from the most outer bus stations on the street and unlike the Egged bus, this bus is blue-colored. Getting from Kiryat Gat to Beit Guvrin takes about 25 minutes. This line leaves only once in two hours, so it’s important to catch it if you don’t want to be stuck for two hours! I recommend using Google Maps to see exactly when you should leave Jerusalem in order to get to Beit Guvrin early.

This is the station of Dan bus number 66 in Kiryat Gat

Getting from the kibbutz to the national park:

So, I got to Beit Guvrin at around 9:00 AM. Beit Guvrin is a quiet and beautiful kibbutz in the Shfela. The bus drops you at the center of the kibbutz, so you need to walk down to the road separating the kibbutz from the national park. There’s a massive yellow gate at the entrance to the kibbutz, which opens only by cars that come and go. When I was there, a car arrived very quickly. But when I got to road number 35, which I had to cross, I got cold feet and walked back up to the kibbutz. Cars were driving on the road at enormous speeds, and I couldn’t see the park’s entrance from where I stood. I thought “maybe this trip wasn’t a good idea”.

I made quite a long detour to reach the other side of the kibbutz, waited a long time at a different gate, and then got to the nearby gas station. Next to it is a part of the national park, but it was closed and a big sign on it said that you can enter only with a ticket. To get it, you need to reach the ticket booth on the other side of the road. So, I had no choice but to cross the road. From the gas station, it was easier, because I could see the road leading to the national park right in front of me. All I had to do was wait for the right moment to run from one side to the other.

My recommendation:

Instead of doing what I did, cross the road carefully from the point in front of Kibbutz Beit Guvrin. Just make sure there are no cars around. Then, on the other side of the road, walk on the ground beyond the railing. Don’t walk on the road, because it’s very dangerous! Within 3 minutes or so you’ll get to the peaceful road that leads to the park entrance.

Road number 35 after crossing. That’s the gas station over there!

Entering the Beit Guvrin National Park:

It’s a short walk from the beginning of the park’s access road to the park’s box office. The entrance price is 28 ILS per adult, but if you’re a student it will cost you 24 ILS (true to January 2020). You get a ticket, which you need to keep for the second part of the national park, the part situated on the other side of the road, and you get a map. The map has a lot of text telling you about the different sites, and there’s also lots of signs in English throughout the park, so don’t worry about understanding what you are seeing.

The way to the park’s main route. Everything was SO green!

I started making my way to the first stop on the map. The way to the first station is full of beautiful green scenery. After about 10-15 minutes of walking along the park’s paved access road, I got to the sign that signaled left towards the beginning of the route. There’s a dirt parking lot next to a picnic area, and beyond it starts the dirt trail that leads to the first station.

The First Station – The Agricultural Installation Complex:

The first thing you’ll see is a large mix of stones laying all together in one place. Those stones are ancient architectural elements and agricultural equipment, gathered here from different parts of the COUNTRY. The items on display here date from the Hellenistic period, which is the 3rd century BCE, to the late Islamic period, which is the 8th century CE).

The architectural items

But the more interesting part in my view is the complex situated a bit below this gathering of stones. There you will find replicas of agricultural items – An ancient oil press and a threshing floor. All is accompanied by wonderful signs both in Hebrew and English, telling about the agricultural processes.

Replicas of ancient oil presses

The Second Station – The “Polish Cave”:

From the Agricultural Installation Complex, you need to cross another dirt parking lot to continue on the trail, which climbs up a bit and reaches the first cave on the route. As I have already mentioned in the “History of Beit Guvrin National Park”, Maresha is famous for its great number of man-made caves, which were used for different purposes. The “Polish Cave” was originally made as a cistern in the Hellenistic period, but was later turned also to a columbarium, as niches for doves were carved into its walls. These doves use this cave until today.

At the bottom of this small cave is a block of stone, which was part of a supporting pillar. This stone gave the cave its name, because Polish soldiers from General Wladislaw Ander’s army arrived here during World War II and left their mark on the pillar – the year 1943 together with the inscription “Warsaw, Poland” and an eagle symbolizing the Polish army.  

It was hot outside when I visited, so it was nice entering this cave and all the others, since the temperature is cool and nice inside. Just watch your step when climbing down the stairs!

Doves at the top of the “Polish Cave”

The Third Station – The Columbarium Cave:

I had visited Beit Guvrin National Park before and have also visited the Columbarium Cave, but even though, when I climbed down to the cave and stood inside it, I was amazed again by its impressive internal appearance. The Columbarium Cave is said to be one of the most beautiful caves in Maresha-Beit Guvrin. Inside the tall walls of this cave are over 2,000 niches for doves. The people of Maresha might have raised those doves for food or they might have used their droppings for fertilizing their agricultural fields. They might have also used them for ritual matters.  

The Columbarium Cave

The Fifth Station – The Oil Press Cave:

After visiting the Columbarium Cave, you need to continue on the trail through the amazing landscape of the Israeli lowlands. After a while, you reach another area with caves. I haven’t mentioned the fourth station, because it’s a very small cave which I didn’t find much interest in. Beside it is the fifth station, which is the Oil Press Cave. Inside it you can see the restoration of one of 22 underground oil pressed found in the park.  

Restored underground oil press

The Sixth Station – The Villa:

After visiting the Oil Press Cave, I continued on the trail towards the next cave, which is The Villa. Actually, the Villa is not a cave. It’s a restored house that was used for dwelling and for commercial purposes in the Hellenistic period. But if you really want to see more caves, there are underwater cisterns underneath the Villa. I climbed down to the cisterns and made a short visit. There’s also a large quarry inside, which is today linked to the cisterns.

After visiting the Villa, I decided to climb up to the top of Tel Maresha and enjoy the outstanding view of the Shfela, the Israeli lowlands. I enjoyed the landscape as much as I enjoyed the caves. It was amazing! The climb up to Tel Maresha is very short, but you don’t have to climb up to there in order to enjoy the view, because the landscapes are everywhere you look along the way.  

The Villa from above
The beautiful lowlands that surround the park

The Seventh Station – The Maze Cave:

The trail leads down to the Maze Cave, which is really like a maze. There are lots of underground spaces inside, which are connected by small and winding passages. At some point you even reach an impressive columbarium, and at the end of this underground adventure you pop out at a restored oil press.

Wierd shapes inside the Maze Cave

Then, you continue down the trail towards the souvenir shop, where you will find restrooms, drinking water and another very impressive cave. By the way, it takes about one hour and a half to reach the souvenir shop area by foot from the park’s box office, so if you need to go to the restroom before, there’s a restroom near the first station of the park.  

Souvenir store plaza

The Eighth Station – The Apollophanaes Cave and the Way to the Bell Caves:

So, as I mentioned, not far from the souvenir shop is one of the most impressive caves of the park. I personally love it. It’s a family burial cave, which is most probably connected to the Sidonian population that lived in Maresha. When the cave was discovered in 1902, it was discovered with beautiful colorful paintings along its walls. Those original paintings were eventually vandalized and faded away, but luckily, they were photographed. Based on those photographs, the paintings were restored.

The paintings include different creatures, amongst them a giraffe with a short neck, a smiling lion and a what looks like a rhino. The front (or back) of the tomb looks like the front of a Greek temple, with two long pitchers on both sides. The ribbons connected to them might be symbolizing, according to the Greek-Hellenistic burial traditions, the victory of the soul over death. Above it all you can see two eagles, which are supposed to take the soul to the Heavens.  

The staircase to the Apollophanaes Cave
One of the beautiful paintings in the Apollophanaes Cave

The Bell Caves:

From the Apollophanaes Cave you can continue on a dirt trail to the Bell Caves. Unfortunately, when I visited the Bell Caves were closed due to safety issues. I hiked along the trail anyway, just to see how it goes. According to the map, it’s a 1.5 km trail, and it goes through the beautiful landscape of the area. On the way there’s the huge apse of the St. Anne’s Church, which was originally built in the Byzantine period and later restored in the Crusader period. This church was so dominant, that the Arabs who lived here called this area “Tell Sandahanna” after the church. You can also see this apse from the top of Tel Maresha, if you choose to climb up for the view (near the Villa complex).

The trail gate leading to the Bell Caves. Don’t get off the trail!
St. Anne’s Church

Second Part of the Park – Beit Guvrin:

From the Bell Caves, you can continue on the paved road back to the entrance of the park, to road number 35. Cross the road very carefully and walk up to Beit Guvrin, the newer part of the park. It is situated next to the gas station, which also has a small restaurant and restrooms, so you can stop here before continuing to the park.

To enter you need to press the button of the camera-intercom and show your ticket to the camera when requested to do so. Then you can open the gate and enter this part of the park, which was uncovered by the archeologists in the end of the 20th century. This part of the park is from the Roman period.

The most impressive building in the compound, in my view, is the Roman Amphitheatre, which was built here by the Romans in the mid-2nd century CE. The park really did a great job in restoring the place, and they even added some figures to demonstrate how the Amphitheatre might have functioned. There are dozens of figures “sitting” on the benches facing the arena, there are some gladiators “fighting” for their lives and there’s the emperor sitting up above and “deciding” whether or not he wants them to die. You can step down into the arena and read all the interesting signs.

The amphitheatre of Beit Guvrin

The church and mosque:

Then, the second building is the Church and Mosque Under One Roof. This building is also quite impressive, especially its outstanding arch ceiling. It was built as a large church in the 12th century and later was turned into a smaller mosque. You can still see the Michrab, the Muslim praying niche, in the southern wall of the building.

The Church and Mosque Under One Roof, or the Crusader Fortress

I finished my visit by climbing up to the top of the building, where there is a beautiful view of the surroundings. There is also a sign telling the story of the huge bathhouse located right next to the building, which was at one point also a fortress.

The Roman bathhouse from above

Then, I had to hurry back to kibbutz Beit Guvrin to catch the bus. I caught it at around 1:15 PM. If I had missed it, I would have had to wait thee until 4:30 PM for the next bus. And that’s how I arrived at Jerusalem at around 4 PM (due to afternoon traffic).

So, to sum it up:

Getting to Beit Guvrin National Park by public transportation is possible, but you will need to be very strict on the hours since bus number 66 is not very frequent. I recommend leaving Jerusalem on the 6:50 AM Egged bus in order to reach the national park as early as possible. The whole trip took me about 9 hours, from Jerusalem to Beit Guvrin and back, so it’s a perfect day trip from Jerusalem. If you love archeology, caves and beautiful landscapes, I totally recommend taking a day to explore this World Heritage! If you don’t have so much time to spend, you can always come here by rented car and save about 5 hours of the day.

You can find more information on the park in the official website of Beit Guvrin National Park. You can also check the park’s map.

Looking for more places near Jerusalem?

Check out the Sataf or Lifta.

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Yours,

Lior

Categories
Haifa National parks & natural places

A Walk Through Ancient Caesarea

Caesarea is one of the top sites in Israel and is worth the entrance fee if you’re interested in archeology and ancient architecture. I’ve visited Caesarea many times in my life. In Caesarea you can enjoy the beautiful sea, the wonderful sun, the excellent ice cream and of course, the outstanding archeological findings.

The Theatre in Caesarea

When coming through the main South entrance, you’ll be able to see the back of the beautiful Roman Theatre. You can enter the theatre through one of the passageways and stand in the middle, where the Romans performed comedies and dramas. Try to talk with your friends while they are sitting on the upper seats and see if they can hear you from below. Today, the theatre is used for performances of the greatest Israeli musicians and singers.

From the Roman Theatre, you can make your way north towards the Promenade. On the way, you might want to stop and look at some interesting findings. One of those findings is the Reef Palace, that was built by Herod on top of a coral reef in the sea. Inside the ruins, you can see a swimming pool, that was built inside the palace. Archeologists believe that this pool was filled with freshwater, because plaster was found on its sides.

The Pilate Stone on the way to the Reef Palace

Something I found out about only in my last visit to Caesarea is that on the path to the Coral Palace is a very important stone inscription called the Pilate Stone.  The stone was discovered in the 20th century near the ancient theatre and was moved to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. The one in Caesarea is a replica. And why is it so important? Because the name of Pontius Pilate is mentioned in the inscription. Pilate was a prefect of the Roman province of Judaea from AD 26–36 and is connected to the trial of Jesus. When Pilate was prefect, Caesarea was the capital of the Roman Judea Province.

The next place you might want to learn more about is the hippodrome, where the Romans participated in chariot racing. Today, you can see seats only on the eastern side, but during ancient times, there were also seats on the western side, that were demolished by the waves over time. In the beginning of the 2nd century, a new and larger hippodrome was built in the eastern side of the city, so this hippodrome was changed into an amphitheater, where gladiators fought against hungry carnivore animals. To protect the audience, high nets were installed in front of the seats. Today, if you look very well, you can still see the holes in which the net poles were installed.

Paintings in the Hippodrome

Not far from the hippodrome is a nicely preserved public bath house. But if you’re short on time, I would recommend you make your way to the ancient port area. In Caesarea, Herod built the first port with piers along the Mediterranean Sea. It was a huge, sophisticated port for its time. This is how Caesarea became one of the most major gates to and from Israel and why many famous people passed here, including Paul the Apostle, who stopped here on his way to teach the gospel of Jesus to the world. If you wish, you can arrange a dive in the ancient port area, to see the impressive remainders of the port under the sea. There is also a snorkeling option. For more info about the diving and snorkeling, you can visit the Old Caesarea Diving Center.

Next to the ancient port of Caesarea you can watch two interesting displays, “Caesarea Experience” and “Time Tower”, showing the amazing history of Caesarea, from its beginning as a trading station during the Persian Period, through the time it was expanded by Herod, until its destruction by Mameluke Sultan Al-Malik Al-Ashraf in the 13th century, following the fear of the Mamluks, that if they will not demolish the buildings themselves, the Crusaders would conquer and take control of them. There is no need to book ahead for those displays and they are included in your entrance ticket. Another cool display is “Caesarea Stars”, offering you a virtual opportunity to ask famous historical figures questions about their lives, beliefs, and many other things. Don’t forget to ask them what are they doing in Caesarea.

The Port Area from Afar

After your tour of Caesarea, you can sit down in one of the cafes or restaurants, eat something, enjoy great ice cream, or drink a refreshing cup of coffee. If your budget is tight, it is better to come prepared with your own food, because prices in Caesarea are high.

You can exit the national park from the gate you entered or exit from the impressive Crusaders Gate, that’s located in the northeastern part of the park.

Caesarea is a National Park and so there is an entrance fee. If you plan to visit many national parks during your visit to Israel, you should check out the National Parks Money Saving Tickets.

How much time is needed for a tour in Caesarea? At least an hour and a half.

Opening Hours: May-August Sundays through Thursdays and Saturdays from 8:00 to 18:00 and on Fridays until 16:00. September-October Sundays through Thursdays and Saturdays from 8:00 to 17:00 and on Fridays until 16:00. November-April Sundays through Thursdays and Saturdays from 8:00 to 16:00 and on Fridays until 15:00.

If you’re interested in a guided tour of Caesarea, you might be interested in the free guided tours given by Gan-Kehila volunteers every Shabbat except in August. Those tours start from the Theatre gate and the Port gate at 11:00, 12:00 and 13:00.

How will you get here? Caesarea is located in the North, along the seashore. If you’re not renting a car, it is possible to arrive to Caesarea by public transportation (not during Shabbat). You can find many buses running from the major cities to Caesarea and once in Caesarea, you can catch a bus to a location near the national park and talk a short 15-30 minutes’ walk to the place. Try using Google Maps. It’s great, also for driving directions.

Caesarea is a great trip from Haifa.

Free things to do in Caesarea:

Outside of the National Park of Caesarea are some areas that are free to enter and have some interesting archeological findings within them.

The Sculptures Park – If you exit the national park from the Port gate (Crusaders Gate), you’ll see in front of you a building that belongs to Caesarea Cellars, an events hall that holds marriage ceremonies. Inside their backyard you will find a magnificent roman street, decorated with enormous sculptures. Most of the sculptures represent people and it is assumed that the largest one represents Emperor Hadrian. If the yard is open, you can enter through the wooden doors and enjoy the archeological site for free.

The Street at Caesarea Cellars

The Arches Beach (Aqueduct Beach) –  If you walk about 20 minutes north of the national park you will find one of the most picturesque beaches in Israel. The walk is a part of the Israel National Trail. In the beach, you will not only enjoy the amazing sand and sea, but also the amazing remains of the High Aqueduct, that was part of the water system of the ancient Roman city of Caesarea. As you walk along the aqueduct, you’ll be able to see the beautifully made arches, covered sand dunes. It recommended to stay on the beach until sunset, to enjoy the beautiful sight of the sun sinking into the sea.

The ancient aqueduct

I wish you all a great visit to Caesarea!

If you liked this post or found it useful, I’ll be glad to get a like, share or comment from you (:

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Yours,

Lior

Categories
National parks & natural places

Apollonia National Park: Archeology Along the Coast

(and how to pay less to get in)

Israel is full of nature, history, and archeology. Within only 470 km of length and 135 km of width, you can find 70 magnificent nature reserves and national parks. One of those parks is Apollonia National Park, located along the seashore, near Herzliya, on a very impressive kurkar promontory. I’ve visited Apollonia a few weeks ago and discovered that besides its main highlight – the remains of the ancient city of Arsuf – you can enjoy a beautiful view of the Mediterranean Sea and the wonderful flowers that rise from the sides of the walking pavements.

History of Apollonia:

Apollonia started its way as Arshuf and that’s why the site is also called “Tel Arshuf”. “Tel” is a man-made hill, covering the remains of an ancient city, and in this case – covering the remains of Arshuf. The Phoenicians arrived at the seashore in the 6th century and settled here, calling the place Arshuf after their god of storms, Reshef.

After quite a long time, and after the settlement was taken from one hand to another, the Greeks arrived and conquered the place. It was hard for them to say “Arshuf”, so they changed the name to “Apollonia” because they identified Reshef with Apollo.

The site’s history doesn’t stop here: more and more empires and groups took hold of the place, the city became a guarding post in the Muslims’ era and the Crusaders also settled here for a while. When visiting Apollonia National Park, you can read all about the rich history of the place on top of the informative signs that are posted all around the park.

Visiting Apollonia:

So I started my visit near the ancient city’s moat, which was built to make sure no wall-breaking machines would be able to get to the city wall. This moat was the edge of the city in the Crusader Period.

Moat. Credit: Lior

When I walked towards a shaded viewpoint, I was amazed by the beautiful purplish Limonium flower (“Adad” in Hebrew). The purple comes from the flower’s leaves. The park is full of it, so you can’t miss it!

From the first viewpoint, you can see the remains of an ancient villa from the Roman Century, facing the ocean. After the villa was destroyed by an earthquake in 1127,  it was abandoned.

The Roman Villa of Apollonia. Credit: Lior

I also liked the “Burnt Room”, located at the end of the park, near a beautiful porch overlooking the sea. In this room, there are piles of rolling stones. The Muslims rolled those stones on top of the Crusaders’ heads while they were trying to take over the place. The room was seriously burnt down because you can still see some signs of fire on the stones and walls.

If you’re into archeology and love the sea, Apollonia is a great place for you!

Some tips before you go:

Use Israel Nature and Park Authority’s Money Saving Ticket:

If you’re planning to visit at least 3 national parks in Israel, the Money Saving Tickets could come in handy. Those tickets can save you precious money! You can’t get the ticket at Apollonia, but you can get it in other major parks (read the list in the link). The most worthwhile tickets, in this case, are the ones valid for 6+ parks because Apolonnia costs 22 Shekels. For more info, you can also read more on money-saving tickets in Israel.

Come near sunset:

The site is facing the sea, so to get the most out of your visit to Apollonia, I recommend you come near sunset, to see the sunset above the ancient city’s remains.

Best season to visit:

Spring. If you want to enjoy the flower blossom, come here around April-May.

Opening Hours:

In the Summer: Sunday to Thursday and Saturday between 8:00 am and 5 pm. On Fridays and eve of holidays between 8:00 am and 4 pm. In the Winter the park closes one hour earlier. Make sure to arrive at least one hour before closing time, because they don’t let you in if you arrive less than an hour before closing!

How to get to the park?

If you don’t have a rented car, the closest bus station is שער הים/נתיב הל”ה (Shaar A-Yam/ Nativ A-Lamed-Hei) or שער הים/האשל (Shaar A-Yam/ A-Eshel). Those stations are about a 20 minutes’ walk from the national park. Buses number 29 and 13 arrive at those stations from Herzliya. If you do have a car, you need to turn towards Herzliya Pituah at Kfar Shemaryahu junction, and at the second traffic circle, turn right onto Wangate Street, which will lead you to the park.


Read more about Apollonia in the official website of Israel Nature and Parks Authority.

You are also welcome to like my Facebook Page – Backpack Israel.

Have a great time,

Lior (: