We woke up to a new morning at Moshe Shaiyah Lookout. This day, we planned to get to Mahal Memorial as early as possible. We were getting nearer to Jerusalem, and it was still the weekend. So, we thought it could be an excellent opportunity to call some of our families and arrange a BBQ meet-up.
The segment from Moshe Shaiyah Lookout to Mahal Memorial is easy and fascinating. On the way, we passed through Latrun and got a short glimpse of the monastery. Then, we walked through beautiful orchards and forests. And near the end, we also got to walk a bit on Burma Road, a makeshift bypass road built during the 1948 Siege of Jerusalem.
Trail length: About 15.5 km. You can also hike it from the other direction.
Trail duration: About 6 hours, depending on your pace.
Difficulty level: Easy to moderate.
Best season: Fall (October-November) and Spring (February-April).
Water along the way: There is a drinking water tap at Moshe Shaiyah Lookout. Then, there are water taps at Latrun (about 5.3 km from the start). Next, you can fill water at the Latrun Monastery (about 6.6 km from the start). There is also a water cooler at the spiritual center in Neve Shalom. It’s the building with the dome (about 9 km from the start). To reach it, you will need to make a short diverge from the trail. There are drinking water taps at the Mahal Memorial, the endpoint.
Stay options at the end of the trail: We camped near the Mahal Memorial. There are also trail angels in the area.
Continue to the next 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 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 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 Modi’in and take bus 18 from there to “Takhanat Kemach” station in Sha’alvim. From there, you need to walk about 1.7 km to Moshe Shaiyah Lookout, the start point. There are also other options, so it’s best to use a navigation app like Google Maps or Moovit to find the best route for you.
The hike from Moshe Shaiyah Lookout to Mahal Memorial
From Moshe Shaiyah Lookout to Latrun
We began our hike from Moshe Shaiyah Lookout (1) and walked on a comfortable route for about 2 km. To our left, we could see the houses of the religious kibbutz, Sha’alvim. Then, we arrived at an underpass beneath the Israeli railway (2). We continued another 370 meters or so and passed beneath road number 1 (3). This road is one of the leading transportation routes in Israel, connecting Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It follows an ancient path that linked Jaffa to Jerusalem hundreds of years ago.
After crossing underneath the road, we turned left and continued parallel to the road for about 1.5 km. Then, the trail started turning right towards Latrun. The path was easy and passed by beautiful orchards and agricultural fields. Then, after about 970 meters, we started the ascent to Latrun.
We climbed through the woods and the high grass. On the way, we passed by some outdoor fitness equipment. About 320 meters from the start of the climb, we reached a memorial to the 188th “Barak” (Lightning) Armored Brigade (4). It is one of many memorials scattered over Latrun, part of the Armored Corps Formations Park. The plan is to have 52 memorials in the park.
The memorials of Latrun
We passed the memorial and turned right onto a paved route. A short while later, we saw another memorial to our right (5). It was for the 217th “Sus Doher” (Galloping Horse) Armored Brigade. The symbol of the brigade, a galloping horse, appeared on the monument stone.
We continued another 180 meters or so and arrived at a huge parking lot in front of Yad La-Shiryon (6). It is officially known as the Armored Corps Memorial Site and Museum at Latrun. If you have time, it’s worth a visit! The prices are reasonable. In the outer courtyard, you’ll find one of the largest collections of tanks and armored vehicles in the world. You can also enter the main building, a Mandate-era Tegart fortress, and visit the memorial to the fallen soldiers of the Israeli armored corps. Over 5,000 fallen soldiers are commemorated at this site.
Latrun was the site of one of the fiercest fights in the 1948 Independence War. That’s why the memorials and museum are located here. Latrun was a strategic point on the route from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The Jordanian Arab Legion captured this point in May 1948. The Israeli forces tried to capture Latrun five times but were unsuccessful. 168 Israeli soldiers were killed, and Latrun remained under Jordanian control until the 1967 Six-Day War.
The Jordanians threatened the convoys that made their way between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. So, to continue the supplement of essential supplies to the Jewish population of Jerusalem, we had to find a new road. This is when we started using the Burma Road, a makeshift bypass road to Jerusalem.
An interesting encounter at the gas station
From the entrance to Yad La-Shiryon, we left the trail and went to the nearby gas station (7). There’s a convenience store over there, with picnic tables and shade. We thought it could be a great place for breakfast.
Sapir and I sat down next to one of the tables, and the rest went to make coffee somewhere. Then, a guy with white braided hair asked if he could sit with us at the table. “I’m waiting for a friend,” he told us. We welcomed him to our table and even offered him waffles.
Then, he asked us a lot of questions. Where were we from, how was the Israel National Trail, and what are our professions. He also told us a bit about himself, that he was a gardener and loved to travel. All this talking isn’t unusual because people in Israel like to talk, especially with hikers on the Israel National Trail. But there was some kind of charm around him.
A few minutes later, the whole group came back, and he started talking to them, too. Nitai said that he knows him from somewhere, and then he said that he appeared in “One Out of a Million” (in Hebrew: “אחד למיליון”).
“Really?” Nitai was excited.
I didn’t know at the time about the TV show. Only later, when I came back home and accidentally stumbled upon “One Out of a Million,” I understood why Nitai seemed so excited. It’s a documentary show that showcases people who have experienced miracles. In this case, the man we met was Lior, an adopted man who miraculously met his biological brother on the street. They became best friends and only after many years discovered they were brothers.
At the Latrun Trappist Monastery
We said farewell to Lior at the gas station and linked back to the Israel National Trail. It goes down through a set of parking lots and then arrives, after about 350 meters, at road number 424 (8). We crossed according to the traffic lights and continued about 300 meters alongside the road. Then, we turned left and arrived after a short while at the Latrun Trappist Monastery (9). The monks who live here don’t talk a lot, which is why we call them “the silent monks.”
The monastery is named after the ancient Crusader-era fortress situated atop the hill. It was called “Le Toron des Chevaliers”, which means “the Tower of the Knights.” “Le Toron” turned into “Latrun.” Following this mistake, a Christian tradition was born, claiming that the Good Thief (“Boni latronis” in Latin) was born here.
In the 1870s, a road inn was built here, on the route between Jaffa and Jerusalem. Those days, the journey between the two cities took about two days. The inn was sold in 1887 to a Trappist monk who established the monastery. Why here? Because it’s close to Emmaus Nicopolis, believed to be the place where Jesus appeared after his death and resurrection. During World War I, the monastery turned into an Ottoman military camp. Only in 1919, the monks came back to the place and expanded it.
We left the trail to take a deeper look at the monastery. Because of the weekend, there were stalls selling stuff outside the building. When we asked to look inside, the monk in charge said that they were closed because of coronavirus.
From the monastery to Neve Shalom
We exited the monastery and continued on the trail. In the garden next to the trail stands a high monument, that looks like an Indian totem (10). Three faces appear on the monument – the faces of Rashi, Bernard of Clairvaux, and Saladin. Those all come from different religions, but according to the abbot of the monastery, all of them represent tolerance.
From there, the trail continues uphill towards Le Toron des Chevaliers, the Crusader-era fortress. We foolishly cut through the olive grove and didn’t climb up to the remains of the fortress. But if you do want to reach it, it’s only a short 400 meters climb from the monastery.
We cut through the olive grove and reconnected to the Israel National Trail, where it overlaps a red-marked trail. Now, we descended to a beautiful vineyard. In the distance, on the hill, we could see the houses of Neve Shalom. In translation to English, the name of the village means “an Oasis of Peace.” It was founded as a cooperative village by Jews and Arabs, who wanted to prove that the two people can live peacefully together.
We went for about 600 meters and then crossed over the dry wadi of Nahal Nahshon (11), which flows only in winter and spring. Then, we continued upwards for about 1 km until we reached the outskirts of Neve Shalom. From here, we could see the dome of their spiritual center.
From Neve Shalom to Burma Road
We continued the ascent for about 210 meters and then turned left onto a black-marked trail (12). Some people, who sat next to the picnic tables at the turn, asked us if we want Coca Cola. When we said “no,” they asked if we want waffles. We didn’t want the waffles because we had enough of them, but Nitai went up to them anyway and took some. Just to be polite.
We accidentally took a wrong turn right and downwards. But soon enough, we were able to get back to the black-marked trail. The trail continues straight for about 890 meters. Then, it arrives at a shaded picnic area and a trail junction. We rested for a while and then took the right turn onto a green-marked trial (13).
We continued down the green-marked trail for about 730 meters and then reached the junction of Peru Forest (14). Here, we turned right and continued on the green-marked trail. After about 420 meters, we arrived at another trail junction. This time, we turned left onto a red-marked trail. It led us to the serpentine descend along the historical Burma Road.
There are informative signs and reddish reliefs of the convoys that made their way down this road. Burma Road was the makeshift bypass road used by the Jewish convoys to bypass the Jordanian post at Latrun and reach Jerusalem. It was active for only six months, starting June 1948. The Israel National Trail goes on the most challenging part of the Burma Road, where the engineers had to deal with a very steep decline.
From Burma Road to Mahal Memorial
After about 440 meters, we arrived at the bottom of the decline. There, we saw a rusty pipeline, which was part of Hashiloach Pipeline. They laid the pipeline within only 30 days! Like the Burma Road, it also bypassed the Jordanian post at Latrun. It rejoined the mandatory-era line at Shaar Hagai.
We continued left on the red-marked trail (15). It still follows the Burma Road, but now it was much milder. There were no major ascents or declines. Though, there’s almost no shade. We went on the red-marked trail for about 1.2 km, passing dry vineyards on the way. Then, we turned left onto a trail that was marked as the Israel National Trail only. After 770 meters, it returns to the red-marked trail.
Then, we started walking into the boundaries of Eshtaol Forest. Like many forests in Israel, this one was planted by the KKL in the 1950s and consists mainly of Aleppo pine. There’s supposed to be a water spring in the area called Ein Mesilla, but we didn’t notice it. After about 1.3 km, we reached a short tunnel underneath road number 38 (16).
To the right, there’s a gas station with a convenience store, which we visited later. We crossed through the tunnel and then continued with the road left to Mahal Memorial (17).
At the Mahal Memorial
Mahal is an acronym of “Mitnadvei Hetz LaArtez,” which means “volunteers from abroad.” They came from abroad to fight alongside the Israeli forces during the 1948 Independence War. There were about 4,000 volunteers, most of them Jews but some of them non-Jews, too. The memorial is made of three letters that make up the Hebrew acronym “Mahal.” There are also boards explaining the group and showing the names of those who fell during the war.
Around the memorial, there’s a vast picnic area. When we arrived, it was full of people. Ayelet’s and Nitai’s families were there, too. They brought meat and salads, and we had a great picnic. A girl who we met at the beginning of the trail appeared near the end and joined us for the night. She said that her group had kicked her out.
It was supposed to rain that night, so we also asked the families to bring some coverage against rain. At first, we tried to tie them to some trees and create a shelter from the rain. But it wasn’t too successful. So, we chose Plan B – to sleep under the picnic tables. We placed the coverages on top of the picnic tables and affixed them with rocks on the ground.
It really rained that night. There were even thunders. And most of us stayed quite dry.
Leaving the trail
If you want to leave the trail after this segment – You will need to walk about 3.5 km to Mesilat Zion Junction and take bus 417 or 415 from there to Jerusalem. If you want to go directly to Tel Aviv, you can take bus 412 from Mesilat Zion Junction. It’s best to check the best route for you by using Moovit or Google Maps. To get to Mesilat Zion Junction quicker, you can order a taxi.
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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