The other day we were too exhausted to hike all the way to Ein Hod. Instead, we took a bus to the Ein Hod Junction and found our Trail Angel’s place nearby, at the bottom of the village. We quickly made dinner and fell asleep the moment we put our heads on the mattresses. Then, we woke up early, as usual, and started another day of hiking. Our feet were still quite tired from the other day, but we decided that we’ll do as much as we can. “It turned out that as much as we can” was about 12.5 km, from Ein Hod to Ofer Junction.
The segment starts beside banana plantations and then rises up and makes its way through fields of prickly pear cactuses. After leaving the cactuses, it arrives at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Nahal Mearot Nature Preserve, where you can argue about human evolution. It continues upwards until it reaches the Ofer Lookout Tower, with beautiful views towards the coastal plain, and then makes its way down to the road that leads to Ofer Junction.
Trail length: About 12.5 km. You can also hike it from the other direction.
Trail duration: About 6-8 hours, depending on your pace.
Difficulty level: Easy-moderate.
Best season: Fall (October-November) and Spring (February-April).
Water along the way: You can get water in Ein Hod before starting the day. You can also fill water in Nahal Mearot Nature Reserve (about 4.5 km from the start of the trail). I’ve seen posts by other hikers saying that there’s a water faucet about 1 km south from the Ofer Lookout Tower, but haven’t seen it myself. You can also buy or fill water at the gas station at Ofer Junction.
Stay options at the end of the trail: We didn’t camp outdoors because of rain, but it seems that there might be a camping area about 600 meters from the gas station of Ofer Junction, called The Olives Campground. If you go eastward from the gas station and turn on the first road right, you’re supposed to see it after a while. We stayed at a Trail Angel’s place in moshav Bat Shlomo, two bus rides away. But there are other trail angels in the area.
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. 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.
· 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 head of the trail, you will need to reach Ein Hod Junction. There isn’t a direct bus from Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, so it’s best to use a navigation app like Google Maps or Moovit to find the best route for you. From the junction, you will need to enter the access road to Ein Hod and walk about 550 meters until the right turn onto a dirt route. Continue a bit on the route and you’ll see the head of the trail to your right.
From Ein Hod to Nahal Mearot Nature Preserve
We left our Trail Angel’s place in Ein Hod (1) early in the morning. The place was actually right on the Israel National Trail, so there wasn’t a lot of room for confusion. We walked about 150 meters westward on the dirt road and then turned left onto the trail, which is only marked by the Israel National Trail colors at this point. After a short while, we passed by the back entrance to Yotam’s Wayside Inn (2). There’s a lot of buzz around this place. I myself didn’t get the chance to peek inside. This inn aims to empower people with special needs through travel, music, the sea, and the land. If you want, you can stay to volunteer during your hike. We planned to stay at this inn but found that it was completely full, so instead we stayed at Hed’s place, which was great and probably quieter.
A couple of minutes later we reached a gate in the fence, which we opened and passed through. A short while later we were walking right next to the banana plantations. The plantations go on and on, but you need to keep your eyes to the left, to spot the left turn from the plantations (3). We missed it and realized that we were on the wrong track only when another hiker shouted towards us from the other side of the fence: “Did you see a watch over there?” We didn’t find the watch, but we did wonder why is he over there, while we were where we were. So, we went a long way back and found the turn, which we have missed.
This part of the trail is not very clear. We turned on the GPS and just tried to find the best way to the trail. There was a lot of rubble and rocks everywhere. After a while, we spotted the trail mark again. From this point, the trail continues above the fields and plantations, on rocky terrain. About 750 meters from the left turn, we reached another gate. We opened it and passed through.
After the gate, we started seeing more and more prickly pear cactuses. During my tour guide course, we learned that wherever there are cactuses in Israel, probably there was once an Arab village. Here, in this area, there was once an Arab village called Mazar.
In Hebrew, this type of cactus is called “Tzabar.” It seems that the Israelis love it because anyone Jewish who has been born in Israel is often dubbed “Tzabar”. This is because the Israeli Jews are rough and prickly from the outside and sweet from the inside, just like the fruits of the tzabar, called prickly pears. Many Israelis love to eat the prickly pears. Ayelet couldn’t resist and picked one from the cactus with her bare hands. She tried to peel it, but was not too successful, because she still got some thorns on her tongue. Nevertheless, she was extremely happy that she got the chance to eat the prickly pear. “It was worth it!” she said.
We got a bit lost in the field of cactuses but were able to find our way back to the trail. Then, we started ascending higher and higher above the coastal plain. To the right, we could see the beautiful patches of agricultural fields and plantations of the coastal plain. There were few points where we had to climb up boulders, but it wasn’t difficult.
About 4.5 km from the very start of the trail, we reached a cattle gate that led into the Nahal Mearot Nature Preserve (4). As in many other national parks and nature reserves on the Israel National Trail, you don’t need to pay an entry fee to enter this park as an INT hiker. We entered and sat down next to one of the picnic tables, facing the cliff, which holds some prehistoric caves.
Was there evolution or not?
Nahal Mearot Nature Preserve is home to four UNESCO-listed caves, each proclaimed a site of outstanding universal value by the organization. The study in these caves began in 1928, and the findings were remarkable. According to the research on site, it seems that the neanderthal and the homo sapiens both lived here in an overlapping period of time. A lot of prehistoric objects were found here, too. That’s why scientists are so excited about this place. They can try to learn about the evolution of human beings from this place.
One of my friends said that she doesn’t believe in evolution and that this place doesn’t really mean anything. Apart from her, all of us believed that you can learn about human evolution from this place and that human evolution existed. In Israel, evolution is a very controversial topic, as some religious people believe that GOD created us as we are today and that there was no development. They think that scientists are here to challenge the Torah (the Bible) and damage the status of GOD. If you also have people in your group who don’t believe in evolution or do believe in evolution, don’t be too hard on them. Remember that it’s the person’s beliefs and that you can’t really change them.
From Nahal Mearot Nature Preserve to Ofer Tower
We left the reserve and continued ascending on the trail. The trail goes on for about 2.3 km and then reaches an old building with a white dome (5). This is the Tomb of Shaykh Amir, which was built in the early 19th century in the Arab village of Jaba. The village was depopulated during the 1948 Independence War.
We continued on the trail and started an easy-moderate ascend towards the Ofer Lookout Tower. About 470 meters from the tomb of the shaykh and a few steps away from the tower, we reached Ido Lookout (6). It’s called after Ido Meir Cohen, who passed away from an illness at the age of 43 while serving as a combat soldier in Shayetet 13. The lookout faces the Mediterranean Sea and looks over the agricultural fields and plantations and coastal plain settlements.
We continued towards the tower (7), which stood nearby. The pine trees which we see here today were planted a short while after Israel was established, in order to provide employment options for the residents of the area. In the 1960s, the tower was built in the heart of the forest thanks to donations given by Jewish communities in New Zealand, Australia, and Hong Kong. It was built for the forest keepers, who used it to locate wildfires. When the pine trees around the tower grew higher and blocked the view, they made the tower higher. And today, it soars to a height of four floors.
From Ofer Tower to Ofer Junction
The trail continues from the eastern side of the picnic area, which encircles the tower. It’s easy to get confused because there are so many trails in this area, so make sure you see the Israel National Trail mark. There’s also a yellow bicycle sign.
We continued on the descending trail for about 200 meters until we reached a sign showing us the “Bericha Trail” (8). The trail is 2 km long and is centered around the story of the Bericha Movement, an underground organized effort that helped Jewish Holocaust survivors immigrate to the Land of Israel after World War II. It wasn’t easy, because when the war ended, the British mandate ruled the Land of Israel and limited the number of immigrants who were allowed to enter. That’s why many immigrated illegally. We followed the Israel National Trail, so we didn’t go on the Bericha Trail, but if you have time, it leads to the same point.
We hiked through the forest, passed by a few parking and picnic areas, and after about one km reached the point where the Bericha Trail and the Israel National Trail meet for a very short while (9). There’s a huge space with picnic tables, which you need to cross and then you’ll see the trail mark point to the right.
From there, we continued downwards on the trail for about 1.2 km and then reached a monument for Moti and Itai Sharon (10). Moti Sharon was an IDF helicopter pilot. In 1988, while on a mission to place a border stone between Israel and Egypt, his helicopter’s tail broke off and he crashed. His son, Itai, passed away in 2006 during a selection process for the IDF’s combat pilot course. If you’ll look closely, you can see that the monument resembles parts of a helicopter.
The trail continues to descend from this point. After about 440 meters, we reached a point where we weren’t sure if we should take the left-side or right-side trail (11) because the trail mark wasn’t clear. The left-side trail is the one you need to take.
We continued descending for about 800 meters and then met road number 7021 (12). Here, we were already exhausted, carrying our exhaustion from the day before. So, we rested on the side of the road for a while, thinking about our options, and decided that we have no more energy for the day. Nitai was also having a swollen leg, so he couldn’t really continue in his state.
We walked westward on the side of the road for about 1.2 km until we reached a gas station (13). There, we bought some ice cream, as part of our trail tradition, and sat down on the sidewalk to look for transport options to our Trail Angel in Bat Shlomo. When we finished the ice cream, we discovered that there’s also an excellent restaurant next to the gas station, called Diner Rosa. If you like meat and don’t care about Kosher, their food is delicious!
After filling ourselves with food, we made our way to the bus station at Ofer Junction. We took a bus to Furaidis Junction and from there, a bus to Bat Shlomo Junction. Our Trail Angels were the owners of a beautiful organic farm, where we spent two nights of rain.
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 at Ofer Junction. There aren’t any direct buses from there to Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, so you’ll need to switch somewhere. If you want to get to Haifa, you can get on bus number 921, which reaches Haifa within half an hour.
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.
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