The alarm clock rang, and we didn’t get up. After hiking from the Jordan River to Kfar Kisch, we were completely exhausted and our bodies just couldn’t rise from the mattresses. I looked to my left and right and murmured: “Do you want to skip today?”
“Yes, yes,” they mumbled back.
So, our plans changed. Instead of hiking up Mount Tabor, we woke up around 6 AM and got ready to take a bus to Afula. From there, we planned to take another bus to one of my friend’s house. It was Friday, so we wanted to have a decent Shabbat meal with her family, and luckily, they lived quite close to the trail. In retrospect, it was good that we skipped Mount Tabor that day. There was horrible mist, that blocked the entire view, and the church at the top of the mountain was closed because of the coronavirus.
The following day, we were already ready to continue the trail. Our feet felt much better, and our spirit was a bit higher. Yes, we skipped the segment that includes Mount Tabor, but we had to flow with the circumstances. My friend’s parents gave us a lift to Mashad, which is also on the trail, and we began our day.
The segment from Mashad to the Hermits Mill is calm and pleasant. We enjoyed the views, the variety of trees, and the view of the water along Zippori Stream. On the way, we even got to taste some honey and ended the day with wonderful Bedouin accommodation in the middle of the beautiful landscape!
Trail length: About 21 km. You can also hike it from the other direction.
Trail duration: About 10 hours.
Difficulty level: Easy to moderate. There are some short and moderate ascends along the way and some sections of the trail are exposed to the sun.
Best season: Fall (October-November) and Spring (February-April).
Water along the way: There’s a water tap next to the tomb of Rabbi Judah Nesi’ah (about 5.3 km from start of trail) and inside the backyard of Yiftah’el Winery (about 12 km from start of trail). I don’t know if they let everyone enter the winery. We politely asked and they let us fill water. The trail also passes through Ka’abiyye, where you can purchase water in one of the stores.
Stay options at the end of the trail: I couldn’t find a camping area near the end of the trail. If you know one – let me know ? There are Trail Angels in the nearby community settlement of Nofit. There’s also an option at a reasonable cost in Harduf. We stayed at Abu Atef’s agricultural Hospitality, which offers Bedouin hospitality at a good price for INT hikers.
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), because it’s not enjoyable and can end with a heatstroke.
· 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.
· 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?
To reach the head of the trail, you need to get to Mashad and find your way to the Tomb of Jonah the Prophet. To reach Mashad from the central cities, you will need to change several buses, so it’s best to use a navigation app like Google Maps or Moovit to find the best route for you.
We started from Mashad, an Arab town populated mostly by Muslims. Specifically, we began the hike next to the tomb of Jonah the Prophet (1), traditionally located inside a mosque in the center of the town. It is believed that Mashad was established on the ruins of the Biblical town, Gath-hepher, which was the town of Jonah.
We continued left (west) from the mosque and walked through the town. After a few steps, we saw to the left a gate leading into a cemetery. A car stopped by and the man sitting inside pointed towards the direction of the trail and said: “The trail is that way.”
“Thanks,” we told him and continued on our way, along the road that went to the right. About 270 meters from Jonah’s Tomb, we turned left and continued on the road towards the woods outside of Mashad. There were some interesting houses along the way, with unique architecture, and all kinds of decorations. Near the end of the town, we started walking in a construction area of new houses. The beautiful view of the Galilee was now visible to our right.
Around 1.2 km from the center of Mashad, we arrived at the outskirts of the town and left the asphalt road onto a dirt trail (2). We walked into a wood of pine trees. There was also a lot of garbage here, thrown on the ground. It was the first time we saw so much garbage on the trail. But it’s a typical sight, to see garbage thrown at the outskirts of Arab settlements. We saw it later also in other places.
After passing the garbage piles, the trail was quite pleasant and continued through the woods. At first, you have some shade, but a short while later you’re already walking in an area exposed to the sun, with the view of the Galilee to the right. After about 1.5 km, we reached a right turn (3) with a cattle passage.
After turning right, the trail starts a slight descend. We continued on the trail, that quickly turns left and descends a bit more into the low area between Zippori and Hoshaya. While descending, we could see the houses of the national-religious community settlement of Hoshaya in front of us. Later, when Hoshaya was to our right, we could see the fortress of Zippori National Park to our left. Zippori National Park is a beautiful archeological site, housing the remains of the ancient Jewish town of Zippori. There’s a lot of amazing mosaics there, including the “Mona Lisa of the Galilee”. And most importantly – it was the place where Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi completed the Mishnah, one of Judaism’s most fundamental books. So, if you haven’t been to Zippori National Park, maybe it’s worth doing a detour. The detour isn’t possible from this point, but it’s possible from the point where we’ve turned right and started descending. If you don’t turn right and instead continue straight ahead, you’re supposed to reach the national park. Entry is at a fee.
Anyway, we continued from the right turn for about 1.5 km until we reached the access road to Hoshaya (4). A group of bikers passed by us and greeted us with “good morning”. We turned left from this point and started a slight ascend along a narrow asphalt road. About 890 km afterward, we reached a right turn (5). Next to the turn stood a wooden sign that said “Tomb of Rabbi Yehuda Nesia”. Immediately after this turn comes another turn, to the left.
We continued about 190 meters on a black-marked trail and then reached the Tomb of Rabbi Judah Nesi’ah (6). It’s hard to understand who exactly is buried here, because some say it is Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi while others say it is his grandson. There’s another, stronger tradition, that considers the tomb to be in Beit She’arim. Inside the tomb there’s a lot of holy books, a request to not light candles inside the tomb, and on the black garment – a quote referenced to the Rabbi: “Look at three things and you will not come to sin. Know what is above you. Eye sees and ear hears and all your actions are written” (my translation from Hebrew). It seems like a family tomb, because it looks like there are several tomb niches on both sides of the place. Outside, to the right of the building, there’s a water tap.
We passed the building from its left side and turned left onto the trail. After a short while, we reached an area with lots of tall piles of pruned branches. They were so tall and huge, that they blocked the sight of the trail. So, if they’re still there when you hike here, don’t be afraid to walk between them – the trail crosses there.
We continued another 860 meters or so on the black-marked trail and then slightly turned left, towards a big sign that was hidden in the shrubs (7). We have arrived to the Solelim Forest Nature Reserve. The most common trees here are Mount Tabor oaks. From the sign, we began an easy-moderate climb, which went on for about 320 meters. Then, we turned left and continued on a flat dirt route for a while before starting to descend. On the way, there’s a spot with an opening in the forest, with a view towards the Eshkol Reservoir (8). We sat there for a while to appreciate the view and eat something for breakfast.
The Eshkol Reservoir, also called the Eshkol Water Filtiratartion Plant, is part of the National Water Carrier of Israel and is used to regulate and filter Israel’s drinking water. It is called after Israel’s third prime minister, Levi Eshkol, who was also one of the founders of “Mekorot”, the national water company of Israel.
We continued down the hill on a very easy black-marked trail for about 3.3 km. On the way, we met beautiful trees, amongst them many olive trees. There were some places where the trail mark was not so clear or not so visible, so make sure to look at the map once in a while and open your eyes for trail marks. It took us about an hour to reach the tunnel beneath road number 77 (9).
We crossed through the tunnel and then turned left and continued on the trail, which at this point is only marked with the Israel National Trail colors, for about 800 meters. Then, it crosses another road – road number 79 (10). But this time there’s a traffic light and a zebra crossing.
We crossed to the other side of the road and then climbed over the railing and found shade under some trees. After resting for a while, we continued on the trail, which goes beside some agricultural field and then turns right and goes parallel to road 7915. Eventually, the trail arrives at a small junction, with a small gas station. There are several signs with arrows pointing to the same direction. One of them says “Yiftah’el Winery” and another says “Alon HaGalil Field Center”.
The trail continues straight and goes to the direction of the arrows. After a short while, it turns left and reaches Yiftah’el Winery (11). From the moment we entered the place, we felt good and uplifted. Pleasant music was played through the speakers, at the entrance there’s a pergola that offers shade, and in the backyard, there are lots of picnic tables, which make you want to have a picnic there. A man from inside the visitor center stepped out to greet us and said: “You’re free to fill water and use the restrooms”.
After filling water and using the restroom – because you don’t get to use a restroom every day on the trail – I came back to the front of the place and found my friends around one of the picnic tables under the pergola. They were holding teaspoons and chatting cheerfully.
“What’s that?” I asked them, pointing at the teaspoons.
“They let us taste their honey,” they replied, “You should try, too.”
It turns out that Yiftah’el Winery not only offers wine, but also houses products from the Ofir Beehive. Actually, the family began with the beehive and only afterward started with the vineyards and wine-making. Inside the small visitor center there’s a row of honey jars and teaspoons, which you can use to taste the different types of honey. There are many types, including carob honey, jujube honey, citrus honey, and even avocado honey!
After tasting some of the honey, I came back to the picnic table. Initially, we planned to stay at the Alon HaGalil Field Center (also known as Alon HaGalil Biking Center), because they offer free camping for INT hikers. But, because we reached this point so early, around noon, and because the trail was fairly easy – we decided to keep on going.
We rested for a long time at Yiftah’el Winery, and then continued on the trail, that goes along the narrow asphalt road to the north-west of the winery. From this point, the trail overlaps a green-marked trail, that goes through Kira Ata Forest, part of the Zippori Forests. After about 770 meters, the trail leaves the green-marked trail and turns right, deeper into the forest, but still on a route suitable for cars. About 620 meters afterward, the trail starts descending through the forest and eventually reaches a more open area, where it turns right and continues straight for a while before turning left and ascending again.
We continued on the trail for about 660 meters and then stopped to rest under the trees. To the right of the trail, we saw some kind of settlement (12), which didn’t look too serious – a couple of houses, a car or two, and some children running around. It’s not clear what settlement it is, because it doesn’t appear on the maps I’ve looked at.
After resting, we continued descending on the trail. The Amudanan app alerted us about a “dangerous point on the trail”, where there could be a group of five vicious dogs, who have attacked hikers in the past. Just in case, we huddled together and kept our eyes out for the dogs, but they didn’t come. We continued on the trail, beside groves of olive trees for around 1.4 km until we reached the Arab village of Ka’abiyye (13).
We turned right onto one of the village’s roads and continued up the road for a while, until we saw a small supermarket to our left. So, we stopped to buy some popsicles and ice cream bars. It has already turned to a tradition – wherever we could buy something sweet, we did it. Paz was amazed to discover that her popsicle cost only one shekel.
After finishing our popsicles and ice cream bars, we continued through the village until we reached a roundabout, where we turned to the left (14). This route took us outside of the village, to a very narrow trail that bypassed the village from the south. It was a tricky path to walk on, because it wasn’t completely flat – it was slanted aside. To the left of the trail, we could see the buildings of Ka’abiyye-Tabbash-Hajajre and their agricultural fields.
After about 650 meters, we reached another road and turned right, onto it (15). About 220 meters afterward, the trail leaves the road and turns left onto a white, gravel path, that descends from the village. On the way, there were high piles of garbage, so be ready for it. There’s also a pen with lots of cows.
We continued for about 850 meters down the trail, until we reached a place with lots of noisy ATVs, Jeeps, and motorcycles. We guessed that they were there because it was the weekend, and the weekend is the perfect time to get on some vehicle and drive through the nature. Anyway, the place was full of people, who came to Ein Yivka (16), also known as Ein Susim (“Horse’s Spring”). It’s a huge natural water pool, created by one of three water springs that feeds the Zippori Stream. In normal circumstances, we would have stopped here to dip in the water, but because of all the people – we decided to pass and continue on our way.
From Ein Yivka, the trail ascends to a route, that goes above the wadi of the Zippori Stream. We tried to shorten the way and hike on the blue-marked trail, but very quickly we reached to a point where the stream entirely flooded the path and so, we returned to the Israel National Trail and climbed up to the higher trail. Above the trail, there’s Kibbutz Harduf. In Harduf there’s also a place where you can stay for a symbolic cost, called Sha’ar LaAdam – an Ecological Center for Coexistence. You can find the contact details here under “Harduf”.
We continued along the trail, which goes on a wide, gravel road, for about 1.7 km. Then, it turned left (17) and made its way by the agricultural fields near the Zippori Stream. About 370 meters later it turns left again and shortly arrives at the banks of the Zippori Stream. It’s a bit tricky walking along the stream, because the path is very narrow and you need to really stick to the fence in order to not step in the water, but this tricky part is over in no time.
We walked through a wide-open space, crossed the stream with the help of three wooden rafts that someone placed there, and then arrived at the Hermits’ Mill (18), called in Hebrew “Tachanat Hanezirim”. The Hermits’ Mill is a beautiful building, that was established here in the Ottoman era and operated until the beginning of the 20th century. The mill worked thanks to the water, that was transferred by an aqueduct from Ein Yivka. It is owned by the Carmelite Order, but is today rented to the Kishon Drainage and Streams Authority, who plan to turn it into a visitor center.
We turned left and continued straight for about 200 meters until we reached our destination – Abu Atef’s Agricultural Hospitality (in Hebrew: אירוח חקלאי אבו עאטף). Adel, the owner, greeted us the moment we arrived. We had contacted him in the afternoon and asked if we can stay at his place.
The place, which offers Bedouin hospitality, is beautifully designed, with lots of cushions and chairs in different bright colors, a large piece of green synthetic lawn, and many agricultural tools scattered around the compound. They arranged us a place to sleep with super comfortable mattresses, under a cloth cover that was supposed to resemble a Bedouin tent. And, for an extra cost, they also made Bedouin-style dinner for us, which was a great treat after a long day of walking. When we were waiting for the food, a fox came over, and Adel showed up and said: “Don’t be afraid of him. He’s a regular guest in our place. Just don’t touch him.” When the food arrived, we felt like kings and queens. So many options, so much good food.
We got to talk a bit with the owner and his wife. It turns out that the place was established only two years ago, on the land that belonged to Adel’s father. Adel’s father used to work in agriculture, so he wanted to preserve that through establishing this accommodation place, which also runs agricultural tours and activities in the area. We really enjoyed talking to them. They are friendly and charming people.
After the feast, we went to sleep. In the middle of the night, I heard Paz shouting “Go away, go away.” I woke up and looked over at her mattress. A fox was standing beside her backpack. I gestured at it to go away, too, and it did. Later, when we woke up in the morning, one of Paz’s sandals was gone. We looked all over for it, and after a few minutes found it in the fields near the accommodation. It seems like foxes like to play around with sandals, so keep an eye on your sandals!
If you want to stay at Abu Atef’s Agricultural Hospitality, you can find the owner’s contact details in the following link, under “Hanezirim Mill”.
That’s all for now. I wish you a fantastic hike on the Israel National Trail!
Continue to the next segment – Hiking the Israel National Trail: From the Hermits’ Mill to Yagur.
If you want to leave the trail after this segment, you will need to walk about 1 km to the entrance of Ras Ali and catch bus number 74 from there to HaMifrats Central Station in Haifa, from where you will be able to catch many buses to various destinations. If you want to get to Jerusalem, you can also get off at the Yagur Interchange and catch a bus from there.
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 October 2020.
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