Hiking the Israel National Trail: From Tel Aviv to Tel Afek

The previous day, we arrived in Tel Aviv and had an interesting night at the Roof Farm. We woke up early to catch the bus to this day’s segment and got off on road 482. Then, we walked off the road to Yarkon Park and continued east on the Israel National Trail. By doing this, we actually skipped about 3.8 km of the trail. I think we missed all the interesting spots in the park. But… That’s what we did.

The segment from Tel Aviv to Tel Afek is easy and fun. It goes along the meandering Yarkon River, the largest coastal river in Israel. In the end, it reaches the Yarkon National Park, where the sources of the river are located.

Trail length: About 20 km. You can also hike it from the other direction.

Trail duration: About 6-10 hours, depending on your pace.

Difficulty level: Easy.

Best season: Fall (October-November), Winter (December-January), and Spring (February-April).

Water along the way: There are drinking water taps close to the starting point of the segment, in Yarkon Park. Then, after you leave the park, the next drinking tap is only next to the Baptist Village (about 17.5 km from the start). There’s also a drinking tap at the campsite at the end.

Stay options at the end of the trail: There is a free campsite at the end, with a drinking tap. The campsite is called Yarkon National Park Overnight Campground. I also know you can stay at the nearby Baptist Village. You can find the contact details in this list.

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 heatstroke. There are many parts without shade on this segment. Also, after rainfall, parts of this segment could be muddy.

· Pay attention to sunset hours (in Summer around 6-7 PM, in Winter around 4-5 PM). Try to begin the hike before 8 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 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.

· If you need any further help with planning your trail, I recommend posting on the Israel National Trail forum on Tapatalk. Of course, you can also talk to me through lior@backpackisrael.com.

This segment starts in Yarkon Park, next to road number 482. It’s hard to find parking in Tel Aviv, so it’s best to come by public transport. If you still want to come by car, you can park at the Yarkon Park Parking Lot and continue on foot to the start point.

By public transportation:

From Tel Aviv, it depends where exactly are you coming from. It’s best to use Moovit or Google Maps to find the best route for you. Type in the search “Raoul Wallenberg” (in Hebrew: מבצע קדש/ראול ולנברג). This is the station we got off.

From Haifa, it is best to take a bus or train to Savidor Center Station in Tel Aviv. From there, take bus number 142 or any other bus that arrives at “Raoul Wallenberg” station (in Hebrew: מבצע קדש/ראול ולנברג). It takes about an hour and a half to arrive.

From Jerusalem, go to the Central Station and get on bus number 480 to Savidor Center Station in Tel Aviv. From there, you can take bus number 143 or any other bus that arrives at “Raoul Wallenberg” station (in Hebrew: מבצע קדש/ראול ולנברג).

A few words about Yarkon River

Since this segment goes parallel to the Yarkon River, let’s learn a bit about it. The Yarkon River spreads to a length of about 27.5 km. It meanders all the way, which gave it its Arabic name, “al-Auja”, which means “curving”.

The river was a source of water for many settlements, that were established on its banks. One of those settlements was Tell Qasile, founded by the Philistines in the 12th century BCE. Another settlement was Tel Afek, which was established as a city in Herod’s time, in the 1st century BCE. He called it Antipatris in honor of his father, Antipater.

Today, the river looks ridiculously small and not at all threatening. But long ago, this river was flowing with a lot of water. People had to go to the river’s sources to be able to pass it. That is why it was a natural obstacle in both ancient and modern times. During World War I, the Turks established a line of defense along the northern bank of the river. They tried to block the British but were unsuccessful. Later, when the British ruled the Land of Israel, they transferred the water of the Yarkon to Jerusalem.

When Israel was founded in 1948, we started using more and more of the water. The flow got terribly slow, and the river shrunk. We also started draining sewage into the river. In the 1970s and 1980s, it was a river of sewage, filled with toxic substances, organic garbage, flies, and more. Following the Maccabiah bridge collapse in 1997, we understood how dangerous the water is and started working on rehabilitation of the river. Still, the water isn’t suitable for swimming.    

The trail from Tel Aviv to Tel Afek

From road number 482 to road number 5

We took the bus to “Raoul Wallenberg” station (1). From there, we got off the bridge of road number 482 and entered Yarkon Park. Before starting the hike, we stopped for coffee and cookies on a stone picnic table.

After the refreshments, we continued on our way. People were jogging, walking, and bicycling in the park. We continued for about 1.7 km on the asphalt trail until a right turn onto a dirt route (2). The route goes right next to the Yarkon River. We couldn’t see the flow because of all the water plants growing next to it, but you can sense it. The humidity was terribly high.

After about 540 meters, we reached the bridge of road number 4 (3) and passed underneath it. We continued on the trail for about 2.5 km and arrived at a big sign talking about a stone dam (4). It said that the stone dam is supposed to help mix the water and clean them. There are several dams like this along the Yarkon. From there, we continued another kilometer to the bridge of road number 5 (5).

From road number 5 to Abu Rabah mill

The trail continues on quite a boring route along the river. Most of the way, you can’t see the river because of the water plants. Then, after about 5.2 km, we reached a charming point where the trail is shaded by an archway of reeds. This shading archway continues for a while. When we got out of it, we could see Tel Qana to our left, in the distance (6). There was once an ancient settlement there, on the banks of the Yarkon River. Today, it’s a small mound.

We crossed an old bridge above Nahal Hadar (7), a small seasonal river that flows to the Yarkon. Afterward, we turned right with the trail, passed through another archway of reeds, and reached another bridge (8). This time, it was a small bridge of the Yarkon River. We crossed it to the other side of the Yarkon and slowly left the side of the river.

At some point, we took a wrong turn, that brought us nearer to the river. Then, we thought we lost the trail because it seemed the trail was on the other side of the river. So, we thought about crossing the Yarkon River, but the flow was too hard. Nitai crossed it by passing over some stones. But the rest of us didn’t want to take the chance. So, we retraced our steps and reconnected to the Israel National Trail. It went far away from the river, on a wide Jeep route. Then, it returned to the river and reached Abu Rabah mill (9).

The mill was built in the 1880s by Sheikh Abu-Rabah. It ceased working as a flour mill in 1948. In 1950, it was used to irrigate the citrus groves of an agricultural contracting company. Today, it’s no longer functional.

From Abu Rabah mill to the Baptist Village

Next to the Abu Rabah mill, there was an easy way to cross the river. Then, we continued for about 900 meters until the bridge of road number 40 (10). We crossed beneath it, although it was super muddy. Then continued for a bit until we reached an old, crumbling building. This is where we met our friend, Oria, who wanted to join us for a day and a half.

Then, we continued together for about 1.5 km and reached the Lea House (11). We didn’t look inside because it looked like an old and crumbling building, too. But we did stop next to the bank of the Yarkon River and took an afternoon nap. Lea House was built in the 19th century, in the heart of the orchards. There was a pumping facility on the first floor, that was used to pump water from the river to the nearby orchard. The second floor was built later and was most likely a vacation house for the orchard owners.

After the nap, we continued for another 350 meters and then passed by a shaded sitting area (12). There was a big sign there, saying that hikers and bikers were welcome to sit over there. They just asked to keep the place clean and quiet.

From there, we continued another kilometer until we reached the bridge of road number 5 (13). Here, the path underneath the bridge was completely muddy and part of it was flooded. So, we walked on the concrete sidestep, at the side of the tunnel.

230 meters afterward, we reached a bridge that crossed to the other bank of the river. We crossed it and then continued 840 meters to the Baptist Village (14).

From the Baptist Village to Yarkon National Park Overnight Campground

We stopped to fill water at the drinking tap next to the Baptist Village. The Baptist Village was established in 1956 by a group of Christian Baptists from the USA. At first, it functioned as an orphanage and then turned into a school. Today it functions as a hostel and church for the Baptist community. Next to the drinking tap, there was a sign explaining the place. They also organize educational conferences for teenagers and soldiers who are part of the Messianic Jewish community. We opened the drawer next to the sign and found a lot of books connected to Jesus and Christianity.

Then, we continued for another 600 meters and crossed underneath the railway (15). From there, we walked another 500 meters to the back entrance to Yarkon National Park (16). There were no entrance fees. Right next to the back entrance, we saw the “Pillbox”. This circular structure was built by the British in 1936 to guard the railway from Arab rioters. The railway line that passes next to the “pillbox” was constructed in 1921. It was built to connect Petach Tiqva to Rosh Ha’Ayin. This way, the citrus fruit growers of Petach Tiqva could transfer their fruits more easily to Jaffa Port.  

We continued parallel to the railway for a short while and then turned right toward the Water-Lilly Pond (17). It’s a short detour off the trail. There’s a lovely pond over there, covered with yellow water lilies, also known as Nuphars. We stopped to rest nearby the pond and talked about jealousy, especially among women. Then, another hiker joined us, and we talked to him for a bit before continuing to the campground, which was 800 meters away.

The Yarkon National Park Overnight Campground

The campground is quite basic, with a flat area to place a tent and a drinking water tap. Beyond the fence is Tel Afek, which is part of the Yarkon National Park. According to archeological excavations, it seems that it has been settled continuously for about 5,000 years, from the Copper Age. A city and a fortress were built here by Herod the Great in the 1st century BCE.  I’m not sure if you can enter that area for free, because the trail doesn’t pass near the fortress.  

A bit south to the campground is a small pond, which is beautiful at sunset. There are also some herb plants that grow around it. The problem is that it draws mosquitos. This was one of the only places on the trail that we used our mosquito repellent. Oh, and there’s the train that passes nearby almost all night long.

That’s all for now. I wish you a fantastic hike on the Israel National Trail!

Continue to the next segment – From Tel Afek to Shoham.

If you want to leave the trail after this segment – You will need to walk about 1.6 km to road 483 and catch a bus from the station called “Afek Park/483”. You will probably need at least 2 buses, so it’s best to check the best route for you by using Moovit or Google Maps.

Read more:

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.

Looking for a guide on the Israel National Trail? Contact me at lior@backpackisrael.com or read more here.  

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Hiked the trail in November 2020.

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