My aunt and uncle are crazy about the Israel National Trail. They want to hike all the trails that make up the Israel National Trail, one at a time. At the end of the Chanukah holiday, they decided to come to Eilat and hike the final part of the National Trail: from Mount Yoash to Mount Zefahot. They asked me if I wanted to join them, so I left my apartment in Jerusalem and took the bus to Eilat. We set off for the trail in the early morning (around 6:00 AM) of the following day.
This part of the trail, which is one of the most beautiful trails along the Israel National trail, goes through the wonderous landscapes of the Eilat Mountains Nature Reserve. The trail is about 14 km long and is an excellent hike for the whole day. For some reason, my uncle was sure that it would take only 5 hours to finish. The truth is that the hike takes at least 6 hours (if you’re in really good shape), but can also take about 9 hours (if you’re not used to hike on steep trails and for long distances), so be prepared. They finished the trail barely. But I think it isn’t such a hard trail. It’s hard only because it’s long and has some mountains that you have to climb on the way to the sea.
Before I start telling you about the trail itself, let’s go over safety instructions and general notes:
* The hike is under your own responsibility, so please be careful.
* Make sure you hike with good hiking shoes, have at least 3 liters of water and wear a hat. It is recommended to also pack snacks and lunch.
* Pay attention to sunset hours (in Summer around 5-6 PM, in Winter around 4-5 PM) and begin your hike at least 9 hours before sunset. The best time to begin this trail is at sunrise.
* During the rainy season, check for flood hazards after every rainfall. If there is a flood hazard, do not hike in the mountains area.
* There are three mountains that you need to climb along the way, starting from Gishron Ascent, which is about halfway through the trail. There is also a tall ladder and a few places with bars stuck in the stones, where you need to climb down.
* The phone signal is bad in the mountains area and sometimes non-existent.
* The army sometimes closes part of the trail when there are security issues, so it is advised to call the IDF coordination center beforehand to make sure that the trail is open: 08-9902927/6.
How to Get to the Head of the Trail?
The head of the trail is at the base of Mount Yoash, which is one of the most popular overlooks in the area. My Dad gave us a lift to the starting point. It’s about a 20 minutes’ drive from Eilat on road number 12. But how can you get there? If you don’t have anyone that can give you a lift up there, you can take Egged bus number 392 from Eilat Central Station to Netafim Station (נטפים). It’s the fourth stop from Eilat. From there, you will need to hike about 30 minutes down road number 12 until you see the sign pointing towards Mount Yoash. The first bus from Eilat leaves at 6:30 AM, so you can get to the head of the trail at 7:00 AM. The alternative is to hike about two and a half hours from Eilat. I think you should save your powers for the trail.
If you want, you can come to the area a day before and camp in the Mount Yehoram Camping Grounds, which are situated on the other side of the road from the head of the trail. The camping grounds have no facilities on them, so it’ll be just you, your sleeping bag and your tent if nobody else decides to camp there.
This isn’t a circular trail, so you’ll end up on road number 90 near the Coral Beach Reserve. From there, you will be able to catch a bus to the city center.
Before the Hike – Overlook from Mount Yoash:
If you get to the head of the trail early, you might want to climb up the steep Mount Yoash to enjoy the wonderful views of the Red Sea in the East, Egypt in the West, and even Saudi Arabia in the South-East. We climbed the steep 734-meter mountain and were lucky to see the beautiful sunrise over the Edom Mountains. We spent about 45 minutes on Mount Yoash before beginning the trail at its base.
There’s a huge sign saying “שביל ישראל” (“Israel National Trail”) at the head of the trail (1). This sign announces the last part of the Israel National Trail. Look past this sign and you’ll see marks on a stone. All trails in Israel are marked in different colors. The National Trail is marked with a colorful orange-blue-white. We started our way on this trail. Along the trail, keep your eyes out for the orange-blue-white mark.
So, we continued on the trail (which is also marked blue) and after a few minutes of hiking through beautiful reddish rocks, got to a beautiful open area, with a wonderful wadi to our left. We kept on walking on this wide path until we got to a trail junction (2) – blue and black marked trails. We continued on the blue trail in the direction of Wadi Gishron.
A few meters afterwards we got to a point where we could see the wonderful Wadi Gishron from above (3). My uncle couldn’t stop saying “Wow!” It is really a wonder. At the bottom of the wadi, we could see the massive border fence that separates Egypt from Israel. This border fence is an interesting story, as it did not exist at all until December 2013. The fence was built originally to try to stop the large number of illegal African migrants that were entering Israel through the Egyptian border. After the dreadful terror attack on road number 12 in 2011, the government decided to make the border more massive, and this is the border fence you’ll see today.
So, after seeing the impressive wadi, we continued on the blue marked trail until we got to a steep, slippery descend (4). Luckily, there are long railing bars stuck in the side of the wall here, so we held on to them as we slowly went down. This can be a challenging part for some people, so be careful when going down this part! Afterwards there are a few more places that you need to use some bars to climb down. When we got to the Acacia tree we thought that the descend was over, but no… We continued a few more meters along the blue trail until we got to a 10 meters high dry waterfall (5). There are two ladders here: one solid ladder and one cable ladder. My aunt and uncle preferred the more stable ladder, while I preferred the more “adventurous” one. It wasn’t so wobbly as I expected.
Then we continued with some more little descends to the bottom of Wadi Gishron and got to another trail junction, where the blue marked trail meets the red marked trail (6). We continued on the blue marked trail towards Gishron Ascent and after about 650 meters got to another trail junction (7). To our left we saw a big pipe going through the rock. The green mark, leading to Tsafra Pass, was painted above it, so we decided to see what’s at the end of the pipe. This isn’t part of the trail, but you can also make your way through the pipe to see what’s on the other side. The pipe looks much shorter than it really is. At the end of it is a trail that goes through a very-very narrow passage through the rocks. I’m quite skinny, so I tried going through the passage, but really had to crawl from underneath to barely pass it. The legend says that the Tsafra Pass is called after a very fat teacher, who came with her students on a field trip and got stuck in the passage. Poor Tsafra. I can understand how she got stuck.
After seeing the other side, we made our way back through the pipe, back to the blue marked trail. After a few hundred meters we got to an asphalt road (8), which we passed. We kept on descanting down the wadi, here and there using some aiding bars in the rocks, until we got to the point where the wadi opened. After about a kilometer on a wide trail, the trail takes a turn left and continues straight until the base of Gishron Ascent (9).
When my aunt and uncle saw the ascent, their faces dropped. They weren’t ready for such an ascent, that goes about 120 meters above the wadi. I think we didn’t rest enough at the base of the ascent. They had a tough time climbing and we had to stop a few times on the way. I recommend resting about 5-10 minutes at the base of the ascent before climbing it. It’s a steep climb, but if you don’t stop along the way you can finish it within about 20 minutes. Then you can rest on the top of the ascent and enjoy the beautiful views of the Red Sea and the interesting white hill, called Rehoboam Hill. My uncle was breathless, but my aunt had the air to point at the white hill and say: “It looks like a volcano, doesn’t it?”
After we gathered some strength, we continued right on the black marked trail, that goes south on top of the mountain. The trail goes down the mountain and at some point, meets another asphalt road. There’s a huge yellow sign saying something about a border, but we couldn’t see any border ahead. At this point (10), the trail goes along about 300 meters of the road, until it leaves it and turns right on a red marked trail.
The trail continued until it got to the base of another mountain (11). My aunt and uncle looked at it astonished. They weren’t expecting another mountain. But, they climbed it as well. It’s let steep than the Gishron Ascent, but still a long and exhausting climb, especially if you’re already exhausted by the other climb. A family of hikers passed us as they climbed the mountain like ibexes, which didn’t make us feel any better. Then, after a climb that seemed very long, we got to the top of the mountain (which I’m not sure how it’s called). I enjoyed the wonderful views of the Red Sea and Eilat Mountains while my aunt and uncle caught their breath. This is a perfect point for a few minutes of rest or lunch or a coffee / tea break.
We continued on the black marked trail that makes its way down to Wadi Zefahot. It is important to keep on the black trail in this area, because if you take the wrong trail you might end up at the border with Egypt. It’s a nice trail, that continues down until it arrives at a trail junction, where the black marked trail meets the green marked trail (12). At this point we turned onto the green-marked trail and started making our way to the final mountain – Zefahot. We were getting close to sunset, so my uncle tried to hurry us up, but my aunt was, at this point, almost out of energy. We made it up Mount Zefahot one step at a time. It wasn’t a very steep climb and at the end we could see the sea right beneath us, with buses and cars and civilization.
Mount Zefahot is 278 meters high and many people climb it just to enjoy the wonderful view. “Zefahot” in Hebrew means schist stone, but the mountain is mainly built from gneiss stone. On the top, we met a young guy who seemed to be starting his way down the mountain. “How long is it from Eilat?” my uncle asked him, and he replied with a smile: “About 30 minutes.” He made it seem as though the climb down was very easy. We started descending down the mountain on the green marked trail (13) and soon enough understood that the climb down wasn’t that easy. It was a bit steep at times and we needed to climb down some big rocks on the way. The sea was always at our sight, but the way down was more than 30 minutes. When the trail stopped being steep at last, I ran ahead to check how much longer do my aunt and uncle need to hike. When I saw the beautiful sea in front of me and the moderate descent to the Eilat Field School, I was relieved. I headed back to my aunt and uncle and told them the good news. They wanted to see it with their own eyes.
The end of the trail (14) is near the back exit of the Eilat Field School. Road number 90 runs a few steps from the end of the trail, and the bus station isn’t far away. You can catch line number 16 to the city center or get a taxi.
I might have made it sound like a very tough trail, but the truth is that I believe it can be a much less challenging trail. It all depends on who you’re hiking with, how fit are you and how used are you to long distances of hiking. Of course, there are a few challenging points along the trail (some very steep descends and some steep climbs). We – my aunt, uncle and I – made too many stops and stopped while climbing, which is the worst thing to do, in my opinion. Finish your climbs and only afterwards take a few minutes to gather your breath! If you make the right amount of stops for refreshment, drink enough water and keep a good pace, I’m sure you’ll enjoy this beautiful trail
How much time does the trail take? Between 6 to 10 hours, depending on your fitness and pace.
Difficulty: I believe it’s a moderate to hard level trail, but if you’ll ask my aunt and uncle (50+), they’ll tell you it’s the most challenging trail they’ve ever done. So, it depends who you ask, what’s your fitness level and how used are you to hiking.
It’s about a 14-km long trail, starting at Mount Yoash and ending at Mount Zefahot.
When is the best time to hike? During the Spring (April-May), when it isn’t too hot and rainfall is rare.
I wish you a great hike in the desert!
More hiking trails that might interest you:
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