Hiking the Israel National Trail: From Migdal to the Jordan River

The trail from Migdal to the Jordan River was one of my favorites. We woke up very-very early, when it was still pitch-black outside, and left the Angel’s rooftop in Migdal. The impressive Arbel Mountain awaited us in the darkness. But later we discovered that it wasn’t the toughest climb along the segment.

If you want to read about the previous segment, check out – Hiking Lower Nahal Amud on the Israel National Trail.

The segment from Midgal to the Jordan River (Rob Roy) starts with a beautiful climb to the top of the Arbel Mountain, that rises to a height of about 180 meters. Later, it takes you down to the Moshava Mitzpa and then takes you up again, along the steep and endless Sapir Avenue. You also get to hike through the Switzerland Forest, which doesn’t look at all like Switzerland, and ends near the famous Moshava, Kinneret, one of the first Jewish settlements around the Sea of Galilee. This part of the Israel National Trail is about 25-km long and took us about 12 hours to complete. Get ready for a long day, with some stunning views of the Sea of Galilee but not a lot of shade.

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), as most of the segment is exposed to the sun. Also, don’t try to climb the Arbel after rainfall, as it could be slippery and dangerous.

· 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. 

· 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?

If you just want to hike this segment without hiking the previous one, you will need to reach the entrance to Migdal. There are frequent buses from the Tiberias Central Bus Station to Midgal Intersection. It’s best to use a navigation app like Moovit or Google Maps to find the best route for you. 

The hike:

Map of the trail from Midgal to the Jordan River
Map of the trail from Midgal to the Jordan River, taken from https://israelhiking.osm.org.il/

The night before the hike, we stayed on a rooftop of a Trail Angel, who lives in Midgal. We woke up around 3:30 AM and quickly got ready for the hike. Just before we made our way down the rooftop, another hiker, who was hiking with another group, came up to me and asked: “Can I join you?”

“Sure,” I replied, and she took her things and came along.

We walked through the quiet streets of Migdal, to the entrance of the town. I wonder if someone heard our walking poles, knocking on the sidewalk. When we arrived at Migdal’s entrance (1), we turned right onto a route that was parallel to the road. At the beginning of this route stood a white sign that showed the upcoming segment of the Israel National Trail.

“Tell us something about the Sea of Galilee,” one of my friends said.

“It’s the lowest freshwater lake in the world,” I told them.

We continued for about 300 meters along the road and then turned right into the fields that surround Migdal (2). It was pitch-dark, so we couldn’t really make out the agricultural crops. We also had to look at the map, because we couldn’t see any trail marks. If we hadn’t started the hike so early, we could have seen the impressive Arbel Mountain in the near distance. About 450 meters from the road, we turned left and a few meters afterwards, right. Then, we continued for another 400 meters until we reached road number 807 (3). To our right was a Paz gas station. We crossed the road and saw a trail mark pointing straight ahead, so we continued along the access road to Hamam. In retrospect, we should have made a small right turn onto a path that goes through the olive tree grove, but we must have missed it because of the darkness. Anyway, the access road also leads to the same place, so we didn’t stray too much.

After a short while of walking on the access road, we started hearing barking dogs. Then, we started seeing them, not tied to anything, running towards us. The guy who joined us a few days back, Nitai, pointed his flashlight on them and they stopped and just stood in front of him, barking. I tried to not make any eye contact with the dogs and quickly passed by them, hoping that Nitai will hold them for long. It seemed like they were guarding the olive tree grove. I’ve heard of some incidents with guarding dogs on the Israel National Trail, so make sure to be alert. Running isn’t the solution, as they will most probably run after you. Maybe use your hiking poles or, like in our case, a flashlight.

We managed to pass the dogs and continued on the access road, which goes on for about 1 km. To our right, we started seeing the buildings of the Arab village, Hamam, which was established in 1948 for the Bedouins of the Arab el-Rawarna tribe. We noticed that it was an Arab village thanks to the Arabic inscriptions and the mosque, which stood close to the road. Then, there was a gate to the left, which led into the Mount Arbel National Park and Nature Reserve on a red-marked trail (4).

Like many other national parks along the trail, we didn’t need to pay anything to enter Mount Arbel National Park. There’s no cashier at this entry point. We stepped inside and sat to rest on a circular stone bench, that stood right next to the entrance. Nitai started making coffee, and the rest of us started doing some stretches. It’s good to stop once in a while to stretch the back.

After coffee and a few snacks, the first line of twilight lit up the sky. Also, two other hikers arrived and gave us motivation to start hiking up the mountain before more hikers arrive. So, we continued on the trail, which goes for a while on a paved route and then turns left and starts climbing up Mount Arbel (5).

Arbel Mountain National Park at twilight
Walking on the paved path into the Arbel Mountain National Park

Mount Arbel is one of the most impressive mountains in the area, rising to a height of about 180 meters and overlooking the Sea of Galilee and its surroundings. The climb was fairly easy, as there were a long set of stairs almost all the way to the top and the ascend was done by zigzagging from one point to the other. As we climbed higher and higher, the whole village of Hamam was revealed to us from above, with all of its beautiful lights. I also looked to the west, where Mount Nitai stood nearby.

The lights of Hamam

After about 1 km, we reached a trail crossroad (6). At this point, above us, were some stunning caves inside the side of the mountain. According to Josephus Flavius, Jewish rebels used these caves to fortify themselves against Herod around 40 BCE. But that didn’t help them much. Herod lowered his soldiers into the caves and they killed the rebels with no mercy. The red-marked trail leads from this point to the caves, but we continued on the black-marked trail, that leads left towards the Carob Lookout. The Israel National Trail doesn’t really reach that specific lookout, but don’t worry, there are plenty others on the way.

Mount Arbel Caves
The caves of Mount Arbel

We started circling the edge of the mountain and after about 500 meters arrived at a point where we could see the magnificent sunrise over the Sea of Galilee. If you plan to do this segment, I totally recommend starting from the foot of the mountain at least half an hour before sunrise, so that you can see this wonder.

Sunrise over the Sea of Galilee from Mount Arbel
Sunrise over the Sea of Galilee

After awing in front of the view, we continued along the edge of the mountain and quickly started climbing further up the cliff. At this point, you really need to use your hands, as it’s steep and there’s not a lot of room for the feet. After rain, this part could be slippery and dangerous. Near the end of the climb there are some hand and foot bars, that you can use to climb all the way up to the top of the mountain.

Climbing Mount Arbel
Near the end of the climb

When we reached the top, we turned left onto a blue-marked trail that pointed towards the Kinneret Lookout (7). The lookout was 200 meters away. It was quite a foggy day, maybe because of the heat and humidity in the area, so we couldn’t see too much of the view, but it was still stunning to see the whole Sea of Galilee below us. In Hebrew, the Sea of Galilee is called “Kinneret”, hence the name of the lookout. We stopped to rest for a while and then rose to continue on our way.

“I’ll wait here for my friends,” said the girl who joined us in the morning. We saw that some of the people in her group already started the climb, so we said goodbye and left her there. Later that day, we found out that the girl had severe joint pain and left the trail a few hours afterward.

The view from Mount Arbel
The foggy view from Mount Arbel

We continued on the blue-marked trail for about 300 meters and then turned right onto a trail which was marked only with the Israel National Trail colors. We started the descend down Mount Arbel, which was very gradual and quite easy. After about 3.2 km, we saw a herd of cows walking right in front of us, crossing from the left and passing to the other side of the trail. We had to turn left at this point (8), so we waited until they left the area. According to my research, there’s supposed to be a water faucet at the cemetery that’s located a bit to the north of this point (I marked it as a red dot on the map). We didn’t use it, because we had enough water. The settlement that you might notice in front of you is called Kfar Hitim. It was established in 1936 and claims to be the first of the Wall and Tower settlements, which were established by the Jewish people during the Great Arab Revolt. Though, Nir David, a settlement in the Jezreel Valley, also claims to be the first.

Cow crossing on the Israel National Trail
Cow crossing!

We continued to the south (left) and continued descending for about 1 km until we turned right onto a green-marked trail. But, as we’ve learned the hard way, after every descend comes an ascend. The green-marked trail led to road number 7717 (9). We walked carefully along the road and then turned right onto a wide path, that led up to the moshava Mitzpa. The climb was up was quite long and tiring, because there was no shade and the heat was starting to rise.

Luckily, at the end of the climb there’s a pergola (10), which offers some shade. Next to the pergola there’s also a drinking water faucet. We filled our bottles, ate breakfast, which included bread with tahini and pomegranate, and continued on our way through Mitzpa.

The drinking water next to the pergola

We walked about 650 meters through the moshava, on a route that was very well marked, and then turned left onto a small road parallel to road number 77. We walked on this road for a while and then left it and climbed up to a junction on road number 77. On the other side of the road, we spotted another Paz gas station, a minimarket and some other stores.

“Hey, look!” my friend, Ayelet, said. “There’s a big sign with the National Israel Trail colors!” And there really was a large sign with the trail mark, right above one of the minimarkets. It’s no wonder that many hikers stop there for refreshments. We didn’t.

The Paz gas station and the minimarkets in the distance

We crossed the road (11) and then started climbing up Sapir Avenue. It’s a long-long street, that leads up to Teverya Ilit, also known as Poriya, which is the upper part of Tiberias. This part of the Israel National Trail, which overlaps Sapir Avenue, goes on for about 1.5 km! You climb a height of about 90 meters and you see mainly sidewalk and houses. There’s the view of the Sea of Galilee to the left, of course, but there are plenty of Sea of Galilee views also later. When we reached the top of the avenue, we were exhausted. Luckily, there was a patch of green lawn at the end, with some benches towards the view. We collapsed onto the grass and lay down for several minutes. If you want to skip Sapir Avenue, I’ll totally understand you. You can catch bus number 9 or 39 from the “Sapir Boulevard/Menachem Begin Road” station, which is located on the other side of the road from the Paz gas station. Get off 5 stops later, at the “Sapir Boulevard/Oranim Boulevard” station, and climb a few meters up, back to the trail. It’s only a 3 minutes’ ride.

Sapir Avenue on the Israel National Trail
The excausting walk up Sapir Avenue

A few meters from the lawn are the signposts, that mark the beginning of the Switzerland Forest (12). But don’t expect to feel like in Switzerland. The forest consists mainly of eucalyptus trees and other trees, which are more connected to Australia or the Middle East. The forest was planted thanks to the donations of the Jewish community of Switzerland, hence its name. 

Near Switzerland Forest on the Israel National Trail
Our green patch of lawn and the entrance to Switzerland Forest in the distance

We turned left into the Switzerland Forest and started hiking on the paved path, which is also popular among bikers. But it was SO hot and humid, that I personally didn’t enjoy the hike through the forest. I expected much more shade, as it is, after all, called a “forest.” But there were only a few picnic areas with shade, and most of the trail was exposed to the sun. Once in a while I took a moment to enjoy the view of the amazing Sea of Galilee, to the east.

When it was already unbearably hot, we found shade under the only tree we found in the area and rested there for about one and a half hours. We used the time to talk about defamation. Why do people tell bad things or laugh about other people? And when we completed the discussion, we ate lunch, which was again, bread with tahini, and then started moving.

Hiking through Switzerland Forest on the Israel National Trail
Hiking through Switzerland Forest

About 6 km from the start of the Switzerland Forest, there’s a small road, which you need to cross (13). We crossed to the other side of the road and continued the descend down towards the Sea of Galilee. Ayelet and I walked ahead of the others and started singing old Hebrew songs out loud, very overexaggerating. We were already more than 9 hours on the trail, so we started losing it.

Descending to the Sea of Galilee on the Israel National Trail
Descending to the Sea of Galilee

After about 1.8 km, we saw two basalt stones with marble panels on them (14). On the larger stone it says: “הד הרים צלול ועז, הד הרים עתה כאז” (in translation to English: “Clear and strong mountain echo, the same mountain echo as before”). It is part of a poem by Rachel Bluwstein, one of Israel’s greatest poets. She is better known as Rachel the Poetess and lived for a while in the Kinneret Farm, not far from this point. On the smaller stone it says: “By Kedesh-Tamar, eighty to Kvutzat Kinneret, 9 Shevat 1994”.

Two stones near Ein Poriya
The two stones

From the two stones, we turned left and very quickly arrived at Ein Poriya. The water of the spring comes out of the Poriya Ridge and is transferred by narrow water canals to two small accumulation pools. This place was neglected for many years and was only recently restored. We sat next to one of the picnic tables and rested for a while before continuing on our way.

We had a hard time finding the trail from Ein Poriya. We walked down the curving paved path, looked to the left and the right, and found no mark. Only after a few minutes of search, we traced the mark and continued descending towards the Sea of Galilee. About 450 meters from the spring, we reached another large stone with Hebrew inscription on it (15). The inscription says: “The Vegan Pool. Vegan pioneers settled in Har Kinneret between the years 1927-1929. They worked in agriculture and built a pool to accumulate rain water.” Near the stone there’s a small accumulation pool, which we figured was theirs. It turns out that between 1927 to 1929, a group of vegans came to live in the area and work in the orchards. One of their principles was to not take any artificial medicines, so after a while one of the residents died from fever. After his death, the group abandoned the place.  

The Vegan Pool on the Israel National Trail
The Vegan Pool stone

We continued down the descend, according to the trail marks, for about 1.3 km until we reached an entry point into the moshava Kinneret (16). A moshava is a type of rural Jewish settlement, which was founded during the Ottoman period in the Land of Israel (Palestina). Kinneret, named after the Sea of Galilee lake, was established in 1908 next to the Kinneret Farm.

At the entry point to the moshava, which isn’t the official entry point, there’s a small piece of lawn, picnic tables, a “Trail Library”, a drinking water faucet, and a monument. The monument, which is a column with an airplane on top, is meant to commemorate the two pilots who died here in a flight accident in 1953. They wanted to “say hello” to their friends in the moshava Kinneret, but lost control on the airplane and crashed.

The monuments to the two pilots in the moshava Kinneret
The monument to the two pilots

Next to the lawn there’s also an old building built from basalt bricks, which was the water pool of the Shtreidel Farm. It was built in 1911 and supplied water to the Shtreidel family’s house and farm. The water arrived from the pumping institute on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and it was the first water system in the moshava.

From there, we turned left and then right onto the HaMeyasdim Street (the Founders Street), which was the first street in the moshava. There are a lot of old but well-preserved houses along this street.

The Founders Street in the moshava Kinneret
A building on the Founders Street

After a short while, we reached road number 767, which cuts through the moshava. Instead of continuing on the trail, we turned right and then crossed the road to the moshava’s supermarket (18). After such a long day, we just had to buy some refreshments. I think it was the first time that we bought something to eat, that wasn’t bread and tahini. We enjoyed our ice cream bars and then got back to the trail.

We continued on Derech Hof Yarden Street and then turned left onto Gan Rachel Street, which eventually led us out of the moshava (19). The trail curves to the right and continues through fields of palm trees and between large fish pools, which look more like huge swamps. Historically, this place was really covered swamps, so it fits quite well.

About 1.6 km from the moshava Kinneret, we reached a small, white building, which I know very well. It’s the Motor House (20). When I was in the tour guide course, I had to guide about this building. It started as a pumping house in 1910, but two years later became the residence of a group of over 15 Jewish people from Yemen. They worked in the fields of the moshava Kinneret, but didn’t get equal living conditions like the Ashkenazi Jewish people who lived in Kinneret. The Ashkenazi people, who came from Europe, took advantage of the Yemenites, who were willing to work hard for the redemption. They paid them less, didn’t offer them protection, and made them live in the small and noisy Motor House.

The Motor House near the Sea of Galilee on the Israel National Trail
The facade of the Motor House

Originally, we thought about camping near the Motor House. But there was a big sign that said that camping there was not allowed, maybe because of all the eucalyptus trees, which could be very deadly. So, we continued to a Trail Angel nearby – Rob Roy (21).

Rob Roy is a touristic site, situated on the Jordan River and offering a variety of activities such as canoeing on the Jordan River and raft building. Their compound is designed like an Indian village and there’s plenty of room to spread out a sleeping bag or open a tent. They offer free accommodation for hikers on the Israel National Trail. We arrived very late, so it was already dark and a lot of hikers were already there, making dinner.

The evening was nice, but because we were exhausted from the day’s hike, we just wanted to go to sleep early. We settled down in one of the spaces and tried to go to sleep, but the neighboring group, which was with us also in Migdal, was making so much noise. At some point, someone went over to them and asked them to keep their voices down. It helped for a while, but then, after a few hours, some other noise woke us up. “Ka, ka, kaaa, kaaa!” It was some sort of animal, which sounded like some sort of bird. In the morning, my friends said that they were chickens, but I’m not at all sure about that. These animals were crying out loud for hours. HOURS. At some point, someone from the neighboring tent cried out: “Stop it! I can’t take it anymore!” There was also a terrifying dog, who was with no leash, laying near the restrooms. So, you can understand that we barely slept that night, and the next day we had another 25 km ahead of us, with some major climbs.

Maybe when you’ll come, there will be less noise at Rob Roy. But if you want to sleep somewhere else, there are plenty of other Trail Angels in the area, especially in the moshava Kinneret. I also saw some people camping on the banks of the Jordan River. I don’t know if it’s allowed, but didn’t see any signs that forbid it. Just make sure not to camp beneath eucalyptus trees, because it’s a hazard.

How much time does the trail take? About 12 hours, depending on your pace and fitness level.

Difficulty: Moderate to hard level of difficulty, because the trail is very long and there are some major climbs along it. There’s also not a lot of shade throughout the trail, which makes it challenging during hot days.

It is about 25-km long. You can also hike it from the other direction.

When is the best time to hike? We hiked in the end of October, but I think that this segment will be the most beautiful and comfortable during the spring, from February to May. Just make sure not to hike after rainfall.

I wish you a fantastic hike on the Israel National Trail!

Go on to the next segment – Hiking the Israel National Trail: From the Jordan River to Kfar Kisch.

If you want to leave the trail after this segment, you can catch the buses that you need from the “Bet Yerah Regional School” station, which is located a short walk away from the Motor House and Rob Roy. Bus number 961 stops there and goes directly to Jerusalem. If you want to get to Tel Aviv or to other places, you’ll need to take at least two buses.

Save this post for later!

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:

Hiking the Israel National Trail: From Dan to Kfar Giladi

Hiking the Israel National Trail: From Kfar Giladi to Nahal Kedesh

Hiking the Israel National Trail: From Nabi Yusha to Gesher Alma

Hiking the Israel National Trail: From Gesher Alma to Horvat Homama

Climbing Mount Meron on the Israel National Trail

Hiking Upper Nahal Amud on the Israel National Trail

Hiking Lower Nahal Amud on the Israel National Trail


Hiked the trail on October 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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