We woke up at Horvat Homama and started climbing Mount Meron. We understood that the best way to start the day is before sunrise, when it’s still dark and pleasant, so we woke up very early. The climb began very quickly, but it was much less difficult than we expected.
The first major mountain on the Israel National Trail is Mount Meron. We did the segment from Horvat Homama to HaPitul Campground, which is about 10-km long and takes you very close to the summit of Mount Meron, the second-highest mountain in Israel. Then, it descends to the moshav of Meron, where the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai lies. We loved the views, and the segment was so short that we finished it in the early afternoon and enjoyed half a day off.
Trail length: About 10 km. You can also hike it from the other direction.
Trail duration: About 5-8 hours, depending on your pace.
Difficulty level: Moderate, because of the moderate to hard climb up the mountain and the moderate climb down the mountain.
Best season: We hiked in mid-October, but I think it would be much nicer to hike this tail in the spring, around February-March. In this time of year, there are probably a lot of blossoming flowers. Just make sure it didn’t rain before you start the hike, because then it would probably be very muddy.
Water along the way: It’s possible to fill water at Horvat Homama. Next, there is a water tap at the Peak Parking Lot (about 4.2 km from the start). There is also a water tap at HaPitul Parking Lot (at the end of the segment). If for some reason there’s no water over there, you can get water at Meron, the settlement above the parking lot. Just keep in mind that they are religious, so the grocery store is not open on Shabbat (from Friday eve to Saturday eve).
Stay options at the end of the trail: There’s an option to sleep above the parking lot at HaPitul Parking Lot (update from May 2021: the camping site is under construction, hence it is not possible to sleep there). If it is not possible to camp there or you want to continue a bit, you can add about 7 more km and camp at Ein Kawas, but there’s no drinking water over there. If you are very fit, you can add another 12 km from HaPitul Parking Lot and camp near road number 85, but the hike is quite challenging, so keep that in mind. Another easier option is to camp at the paid Nahal Amud Camping Site, only 4 km from HaPitul. It costs 40 Shekels to stay there.
Want a guided tour? Check out my guided tours on the Israel National Trail.
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), as there are many places that are exposed to the sun, especially when you begin the descend. Also, it’s not recommended to hike after rainfall.
· 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 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 Israel Hiking Map, 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 just want to hike this segment without hiking the previous one, you will need to get on bus number 367 from Nahariyya Central Station and get off at the Meron Field School (in Hebrew: בית ספר שדה מירון). It takes about half an hour from Nahariyya to Meron Field School. From there, it’s a short walking distance to the Horvat Homama Campground and the head of the trail. Take into consideration that it might take you around 2 hours to reach Nahariyya by bus from Jerusalem or Tel Aviv.
A bit about Mount Meron:
Mount Meron is Israel’s second highest mountain, rising to a height of 1,204 meters. The Israel National Trail reaches quite a high point, but not the very top of the mountain, because there’s an army base at the summit. The height from Horvat Homama to the Mount Meron Peak Trail is about 300 meters.
The mountain is also one of the rainiest places in Israel, with about 900 millimeters of rain falling on it every year. There are also high chances for snow on the summit in the winter. There are some beautiful and rare Mediterranean, Lebanese and Turkish flora on the mountain, and that is why Mount Meron was named a nature reserve already in the time of the British mandate.
The mountain’s ancient Arabic name is Jabal Jarmak. The Jewish settlement at that time referred to the mountain as Har Hatsmon. Its current Hebrew name was given to it in the early 1950s. It was named Meron after the nearby ancient settlement of Meron, which is the burial place of one of the greatest Jewish sages, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.
We left from the southern end of the Horvat Homama Campground (1) and started ascending through the Mount Meron forest. This part of the Israel National Trail merges with a black-marked trail, so we kept our eyes out for a black trail marker. We could only see the shadows of the trees, as it was before sunrise. But we could see the trail as well, and there wasn’t much room for mistakes, because there was only one way up the mountain. The trail, which was a bit steep but not too difficult, curved through the forest. At some point, when the sun had already risen, we reached a place where we could see part of the mountain’s ridge. It was green and beautiful.
About 1.8 km from Horvat Homama, we reached another, larger opening in the forest, which is called Neriah Mountain Observation Point (2). From here, there’s an outstanding view of the surroundings and in the distance, on a clear day, you can spot Mount Hermon and the Golan Heights.
The climb continues for about 800 meters, until the black-marked trail meets a red-marked trail (3). It took us about 1.5 hours to reach this point. From here, we turned left towards the Peak Trail. It’s a very popular trail, that circles the top of Mount Meron and offers some amazing views of the surroundings. The Israel National Trail passes on half of the Peak Trail, the half facing the east. This part of the trail is quite flat, with small ascents and descends here and there.
After about 1.4 km, we reached the huge parking lot at the top of Mount Meron, called HaPisga Parking Lot (because “pisga” means “peak” in Hebrew) (4). Here, there are some drinking water faucets and plenty of shade to rest and eat breakfast.
From this point, we started our way down the mountain. The Israel National Trail merges with a blue-marked trail from the parking lot and continues for about 700 meters, until it reaches the Bak Ruins (5). The Israel National Trail continues from here left, on the green-marked trail. But we continued on the blue-marked trail for a bit, further into the Bak Ruins, to a manmade cave, which was initially intended for storing crops. Today, the cave is full of freezing water. You can swim inside the small space, and that’s what many of us did to cool down from the heat.
The Bak Ruins are the ruins of a small agricultural settlement, established by Yisrael Bak, who was my grand-grand-grand-grand-grandfather. The area was given to him in 1834 by Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt, who was the ruler of the Land of Israel until 1840. At that time, the settlement was called Jarmak Village, and it is considered the first Jewish agricultural settlement in modern times. It was so impressive, that even Sir Moshe Montefiore visited the place in 1839. Unfortunately, when the Ottomans returned in 1840, they forced the Bak family to leave the place, because of the surrounding Arab settlements who were not so happy about the Jewish presence.
After dipping in the water cave, we returned to the Israel National Trail, which continues down the mountain with the green-marked trail. The descend is easy, but the trail is completely exposed to the sun from this point on. It continues on the green-marked trail for about 1 km and then slightly turns left and continues alone, with no other trail mark. About 400 meters afterwards, we reached a memorial stone (6), that preserves the memory of the 44 people, who found their death during the Mount Carmel forest fire in 2010. Why is this memorial stone on Mount Meron? Because one of the people who died on Mount Carmel was Meishar Adel Tapash, who grew up in the nearby Druze village of Beit Jan and was part of the Israel Prison Service at the time of the fire. His family built the memorial site.
About 500 meters afterward, we reached a left turn (7). We continued on the trail, through the forest and passed by a deep stone shaft. After a while, the forest opened again and there was a breathtaking view of the surroundings. Under a large tree there were a lot of people, who were looking at a hole in the ground. We decided to not check it out, because we didn’t want to be next to too many people. You know, coronavirus and all… But it was supposed to be the site of Ein Zeved (8), a small water spring, which is usually filled with water only in the winter. When it’s full of water, you might also spot some salamanders in it.
The descend is a bit tougher from this point on. About 650 meters from Ein Zeved, we reached an impressive-looking rock sculpture, which is called Elijah’s Chair (9). The “chair” overlooks Safed and the moshav of Meron. Legend tells that when Elijah will come to herald the redemption, he will sit on this stone structure and blow the horn.
The trail continues down a rather steep route for about 450 meters, until it reaches Horvat Shema (10). Some believe that it is the ruins of the ancient town of Tekoah of the Galilee. There’s a huge stone structure there, that might be a kind of mausoleum.
From there, we continued to the left and started hiking down the curving route, that eventually led us to HaPitul Campground (11), which is more of a parking lot than a camping site. “HaPitual”, by the way, means “the curve”, probably because of the curve in the road that’s right next to it. There are water faucets, which had boiling water when we arrived, probably because of the heat. After sunset, the water cools down and is more drinkable. We caught a spot on one of the flat spaces above the parking lot. The pine trees at HaPital Campground are very tall, so we decided it was too dangerous to sleep beneath one of them. A pinecone could be deadly falling from that height! So, we made sure that we were away from the trees and settled down.
We arrived at the campground very early, after about 7.5 hours of hiking, so we took advantage of the opportunity and climbed up to the moshav of Meron to visit the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. There’s a paved trail near the parking lot’s garbage cans, that makes its way up to the settlement. Then, you need to walk for about 10 minutes inside the moshav in order to reach the tomb. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai was a 2nd century sage, who is recognized by many Orthodox Jews as the editor of the Zohar, the chief work of the Kabbalah, one of the most important school of thoughts in Jewish mysticism. The place is usually filled with Orthodox Jews, who come to ask the righteous Rabbi for blessings. To enter the compound of the tomb, you have to be dressed modestly. On Shabbat, photographing the place is not allowed, so that’s why I don’t have a picture. We were there on Shabbat, so if YOU want to see the place, you’ll have to see it through your own eyes.
If you’re short of supplies, you can also get new supplies from the grocery store in Meron. On Shabbat the grocery store is closed, because the residents are mainly Ultra-Orthodox Jews and according to Jewish law, businesses can’t operate on the holy day of Shabbat.
Continue to the next segment – Hiking in Upper Nahal Amud, from HaPitul Campground to Nahal Akbara Campground.
I wish you a fantastic hike on the Israel National Trail!
If you want to leave the trail after this segment, there are multiple buses leaving from Moshav Meron, the settlement right next to the ending point of the segment. You will probably need to change 2-3 buses in order to reach one of the more major cities, like Jerusalem or Tel Aviv.
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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:
Hiked the trail on October 2020.
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