We woke up at Beit Meir and started our final day on the Israel National Trail. When we started this journey, our goal was to reach Jerusalem. The trail continues beyond Jerusalem, but we didn’t have the time to hike it all at once. So, one month of hiking was enough.
The segment from Beit Meir to Ein Karem passes above and through the Forest of the Martyrs. The forest was planted in memory of those who were perished in the Holocaust. After a slightly steep decline comes a short ascent and the trail continues on an easy route with splendid views. We passed through a kibbutz, next to an ancient fortress, and made our way to Ein Karem. There, we got the first glimpse of Jerusalem, dipped in the water spring, and walked by ancient agricultural terraces. Then, the trail continues to Ein Karem, one of the most charming neighborhoods of Jerusalem.
Trail length: About 22 km. You can also hike it from the other direction.
Trail duration: About 10 hours, depending on your pace.
Difficulty level: Moderate to hard.
Best season: Fall (October-November) and Spring (February-April).
Water along the way: You can get water in Beit Meir, near the starting point. Next, there’s a drinking tap near the entrance to Tzova (about 12.3 km from the start). There’s also a drinking tap in Ein Karem, near the public restrooms, at the endpoint.
Stay options at the end of the trail: We finished our hike in Ein Karem, so we didn’t need to look for places to stay. There are some trail angels in Ein Karem and the area. You can also take advantage of the opportunity and stay a few days in Jerusalem to explore the city. Check out my full Jerusalem travel guide for budget travelers. Israel National Trail hikers can also enter the Israel Museum for free if they show their backpacks at the entrance.
Read about the previous segment: From Mahal Memorial to Beit Meir.
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 a full day of hiking. Also, make sure to bring a garbage bag as well and take your garbage with you, including toilet paper.
· Don’t go on the hike when it is too hot (over 30 degrees Celsius) because it’s not enjoyable and can end with heatstroke. After rainfall, this segment could be a bit slippery, so be careful!
· Pay attention to sunset hours (in Summer around 6-7 PM, in Winter around 4-5 PM). It’s best to start hiking around 6 AM. This way, you will have time to rest in the hot hours of the afternoon and get to the end of the trail before sunset.
· 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 to what’s shown on your map.
· The trail is marked with the Israel National Trail colors, orange-blue-white.
How to get to the head of the trail?
To reach the trailhead, you will need to get to Beit Meir. From Jerusalem, take bus 186 which leaves from the Jerusalem ICC Station. The station is on the road to the south of the Yitzhak Navon Railway Station. From Tel Aviv and Haifa, you will need to first reach Jerusalem and then take bus 186 to Beit Meir. Anyway, it’s best to use a navigation app like Google Maps or Moovit to find the best route for you.
The hike from Beit Meir to Ein Karem
From Beit Meir to the Bnei Brit Cave
We left Beit Meir and went down the access road to the Israel National Trail (1). There was a big sign next to the road explaining the upcoming segment. The segment started on a blue-marked route, but after 350 meters, continued on a black-marked one. To our left, we could see the stunning view of the Forest of the Martyrs. It was planted in memory of the people who were perished by the Nazis in the Holocaust. They say there are six million trees in this forest, symbolizing the six million Jewish victims, but I haven’t counted.
After about 1.2 km, we turned left to a blue-marked route (2). The trail curved down a steep decline between the trees and bushes. Then, after about 1.2 km, we reached the Bnei Brit Cave (Martyrs Cave) and the Anne Frank Memorial (3). There were picnic tables nearby, so we stopped for a coffee break.
The Bnei Brit Cave is a natural cave that was expanded. “Bnei Brit” means “allies.” It’s supposed to be a place where people go to connect to the memory of the Holocaust victims, but it’s closed with a gate. The communion is done only on special occasions. A few steps away is the Anne Frank Memorial. The memorial is made from a set of signs, on which appear quotes from Anne’s journal. There is also a sweet chestnut tree. In her journal, Anne Frank wrote about a sweet chestnut tree she saw from her hideout. That tree was her only connection to the outer world.
From Bnei Brit Cave to Tzova
We turned to the east on a red-marked asphalt road. The road continues right and upwards on a blue-marked route.
As we climbed up the road, an enormous truck passed by us. A short while later, we saw it up high on another road, facing another truck. The road was so narrow that the two couldn’t pass each other. One of the trucks had to do a reverse, and only then the other one could pass.
We continued up the curvy road until it got flat. Now, we were hiking on the Southern Scenic Route of the Forest of the Martyrs. There was a splendid view of a green forest to our left, many bikers rode past us, and everything was pleasant.
The Scenic Route continues for about 9.5 km. Near the end of the route, we could see the houses of Givat Yearim to our left. Givat Yearim is a semi-cooperative moshav, founded in 1950 by Jewish Yemenite immigrants. When we got off the scenic route, we reached the access road to Givat Yearim (4). There, we also found a pavilion with some benches and a drinking water faucet.
We filled water, passed the access road, and continued straight on a dirt path. We passed through a charming plantation with apple trees and exited through a small opening in a gate. About 730 meters from the access road, we reached the front entrance to Kibbutz Tzova (5).
Tzova, also called Palmach Tzova, was established in October 1948 by a group of Palmach veterans. Today, the kibbutz’s main income comes from its glass factory, which produces tempered, laminated, and bulletproof security glass. But they also get money from agriculture and the hotel that the kibbutz operates.
Around Kibbutz Tzova:
We entered the kibbutz and passed by its silo tower, which had nice artwork on it. We continued straight on the first roundabout. After a few hundred meters, we reached the back exit of the kibbutz (6). At this point, there was a sign next to the gate barrier, talking about the Battle of Tzova.
Before 1948, there was a Palestinian village here called Suba. It was located on top of the ruins of an ancient Crusader-era fortress called Belmont. The village overlooked the road leading to Jerusalem, and its residents often attacked Jewish convoys that made their way from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. So, to ensure the safety of the convoys, the Palmach soldiers conquered Suba in the early stages of the 1948 Independence War. Most of the village’s residents fled before the forces even got here. Some of the residents have moved to nearby Ein Rafa, where they live today as Israeli citizens.
We continued about 430 meters to the base of Tel Tzova (7). This is where the Crusader-era fortress and the Palestinian village stood. If you have time, you can climb up to the top of the mound and explore the ruins.
Next to the road, we saw a row of letters, forming the words “the agriculture will win.” Israel is famous for its developed agriculture, but the truth is that local agriculture is in decline. More and more vegetables and fruits are imported into the country, which means we’re laying aside the locally grown ones. Today, it’s not so profitable being a farmer in Israel. And that’s sad because it seems we’ve lost our connection to the land. Instead of encouraging people to cultivate the land, we’re encouraging them to work in hi-tech. Let’s hope agriculture will win soon.
From Tel Tzova to Ein Sattaf:
We continued about 450 meters on an asphalt route and then turned right with the green-marked trail (8). A short while later, we reached HaYovel Picnic Area. The map says there’s a drinking faucet there, but I couldn’t see one.
From there, we continued downwards through the forest for about 1 km until we reached a big roundabout on road 395 (9). Here, we went straight towards Sattaf. We left the road and arrived at a stunning picnic area overlooking the Jerusalem Hills. In the distance, we could see Ein Karem and Hadassah Ein Karem Hospital. “We’re almost done,” we said, “We’ve almost reached our target.” We stopped to eat some apples. Nearby, there was also a café on wheels.
Then, we started our way downwards toward the Sattaf. This place was also a Palestinian Village, which was abandoned during the 1948 Independence War. Today, many people come here to see the ancient agricultural techniques that were preserved. The agricultural terraces were first developed about 4,500 years ago. There are also two water springs, which are a highlight in the hot months.
We continued about 570 meters on a green-marked route and then turned left (10), went down a set of stairs, and continued towards Ein Sattaf (11). This is one of the water springs in the park. We took off our shoes and socks and entered the narrow water tunnel. It’s a short tunnel, that leads to a small and shallow pool. Kids probably love it. I felt it was too dense, knocked my knees, and got some back pain. But at least I tried it.
From Ein Sattaf to Ein Karem
After drying our feet, we put back our socks and shoes. Then, we continued down a long-long set of stairs to the lower parking lot of Sattaf (12). From there, we turned left and walked on a green-marked route through a pleasant forest. At first, it was really stinky, but then the air felt cleaner. After about 1 km, we left the green-marked route and continued on the Israel National Trail only. In the distance, we could see the buildings of Hadassah Ein Karem Hospital.
About 2.6 km from the lower parking lot, we reached a small bridge over the Sorek River (13). This river is one of the largest and most important drainage basins in the Judean Hills. In the Bible, it is mentioned as the border between the Philistines and the Israelite Tribe of Dan. Some believe that “sorek” means “special vine,” referring to the grapes grown in the area.
We crossed the bridge and continued another 670 meters to a roundabout connecting road 386 with road 395 (14). At the roundabout, we turned left and continued on a dirt path parallel to the road.
After about 750 meters, we started entering the neighborhood of Ein Karem. I have never entered the neighborhood from this side, so it was even more exciting. The houses were above us, and we climbed towards them. They surrounded us from all sides. When we reached the paved street of Sorek, we turned right, and started climbing up a long set of stairs. At the end of the climb, we found out that they are called the Gan Eden Staircase (Heaven Staircase).
The staircase is connected to the Jewish Yemenite immigrants, who were brought here in the early years of the state. The authorities promised them a house in Jerusalem, but took them here, to an abandoned Arab village at the outskirts of Jerusalem. At first, they refused to leave the buses. But then, one of the Yemenites went off the bus, stood next to the staircase, and said: “It’s not so bad. We are still close to Jerusalem. Look, this is the Heaven Staircase leading to Jerusalem.” Ever since, those stairs are called the Heaven Staircase.
I could understand the connection between heaven and those stairs. When we reached the top, I was so excited. We did it. We reached Jerusalem after a month on the trail! It wasn’t an easy task, but we made it.
In Ein Karem
Ein Karem is one of the most charming neighborhoods in Jerusalem, but it wasn’t always part of Jerusalem. Back in ancient days, it was a separate village in the Jerusalem Hills. According to Christian tradition, it is where John the Baptist was born. (Read more about John the Baptist in Ein Karem). Before 1948, it was a Palestinian village. Now, it’s a neighborhood full of artisans and craftsmen who are influenced by its beauty.
We continued straight from the stairs and walked a short while to a coffee house and confectionery on the main road of Ein Karem (15). There, we stopped to drink coffee and summarize our hike. It was a hike full of natural beauty and interesting history, but also full of mental and physical challenges. There were ups and downs, but we were able to stick together as a group, and overall, we had amazing fun!
We split up. Until next time.
Leaving the trail
If you want to leave the trail after this segment – You can take bus number 28 from Ein Kerem/ HaMa’ayan Station to Mount Herzl Light-Rail Station. From there, you can take the light-rail to the central station and take a relevant bus or train from there. The whole ride to the central station shouldn’t take more than half an hour. It’s best to check the best route for you by using Moovit or Google Maps.
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 in November 2020.
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