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 on the Israel National Trail
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.

Hiking up Mount Carmel on the Israel National Trail
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.

Picnic area on Mount Carmel
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.

Map of the Suez Canal front during the War of Attrition

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.

Carmel Forest on the Israel National Trail
Down into the forest
Salamandra in the Carmel 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.

Mount Shokef on the Israel National Trail
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 on the Israel National Trail
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.

Burial Cave in Horvat Rakit
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 Yishakh 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 on the Israel National Trail
Some of the beautiful rock formations along the cliff
A beautiful wall of natural stone on the Carmel
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.

Hiking down Mount Carmel, with the Mediterranean Sea in the background
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 on the Israel National Trail
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.

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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

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