Just before the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, I got to hike for a month on various parts of the Israel National Trail, or in Hebrew, “Shvil Israel.” I was traveling with a large group of people, so the pandemic restrictions stopped us when we reached the middle of the trail. The first half was incredible and made me dream of more. So, in October 2020, I set off with a small group of friends to complete the sections from Dan in the north to Jerusalem. In this post, I’ll share some useful tips for hiking the Israel National Trail.
2023 update: As of August 2023, the trail no longer begins in Dan or Kfar Giladi. It now starts on the slopes of the Hermon Mountain, passes through Banias, and rejoins the original route near Kfar Giladi. I haven’t hiked on the new sections yet.
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A few words about the Israel National Trail
The Israel National Trail spreads over 1,000 kilometers, more than 620 miles. It connects Eilat in the south to Kfar Giladi in the north and passes through breathtaking landscapes, ancient sites, and modern-day settlements. You’ll be hiking colorful mountains in the desert, passing by ancient ruins about 2,000 years old, enjoying natural water pools, and meeting fabulous people.
After hiking the northern part of the trail, I understood there are many ways to hike the trail. You can take it easy, hike only half a day, stop to volunteer in certain places along the way, OR you can challenge your limits, hike 25-30 km a day or more, race through the beautiful landscapes, and feel exhausted, yet satisfied, at the end of the day. Of course, you can also do something in the middle, not too slow and not too fast. You can sleep outdoors the entire trip, in tents or only sleeping bags, OR combine some Trail Angels and paid accommodation options along the way. There are endless options to experience the Israel National Trail.
How long does it take to hike the Israel National Trail?
It takes about two months to complete, but if you’re fast, you might be able to complete it within a month and a half, hiking about 25-30 kilometers per day. If you want to take it easy, you can spread the trail over a longer timeframe.
How can you recognize the trail?
The trail is marked by an orange-blue-white marker on rocks, trees, and signs along the way. You should see this marker quite frequently. If you don’t see it for more than a few hundred meters, you should stop and see if you’re on the right track. Some sections are not marked very well, so it’s best to keep an eye on the map once in a while. Also, some sections overlap other trails, that have other marks, so don’t panic if you suddenly see a different color!
I’ve stumbled upon this beautiful video by Łukasz Supergan that gives an overview of the trail:
How to prepare yourself for the Israel National Trail
The Israel National Trail is beautiful, but can be challenging, especially for novice hikers. You might have hiked some challenging day hikes in the past. But that doesn’t necessarily prepare you for the challenges of this trail. Remember that you’ll be carrying all your belongings on your back, sleeping outside your comfy home, and hiking day after day. If you’ve already done some treks in your life, then you probably know how it’s going to feel. But if it’s your first long trek, here are some tips to make the hike a bit more pleasant:
Carry as little as you can
I’ll talk about the packing list later, but the key is to carry as little as possible. Only take what you will definitely need. Your back will be thanking you on the trail. It’s recommended to carry a maximum of 17 kilograms. If your body weight is small, try aiming towards 11 kilograms. Remember that you will need about 3-5 kilograms of water in the north and 5+ kilograms in the south. That should be calculated into the total weight on your back.
Take long walks with your backpack a few days before the start of the trek
To get used to the weight, I recommend packing all your equipment in your backpack and going on long walks with it near your home. This way, you’ll understand if you need to get rid of some equipment and get used to the feeling of the backpack on your back. If I had done that, I might have felt better on my first two days of hiking.
Listen to your body and take a rest when you need it
The Israel National Trail is your opportunity to become a close friend of your body. Listen to it, recognize when it is painful, understand its limits, and take rest when you need it. You may need multiple stops throughout the day, shorter segments, or more frequent day-offs. You may dream of completing the trail super fast, but you need to be realistic. You don’t want your body to fall apart on the way.
Take the difficulty level more seriously
Many sections of the trail are labeled easy or easy-moderate. I also label some of them that way. You need to understand that the section might seem easy on paper, but the fact that you’re carrying many kilograms on your back and tiredness from the previous day may make the segment a bit more challenging. The difficulty level is directed towards day-hikers, who come with a small backpack and lots of energy. So, take that in mind when you plan your segments.
Bring a good sleeping mat and sleeping bag
It’s super important to get good sleep on the trail. If you plan to sleep outdoors, bring a good sleeping mat that will support your back and a sleeping bag that fits the forecasted temperature.
Bring a first aid kit
You will most likely need it. Most people experience blisters in the first couple of days, so bring something for that. All kinds of bandages and iodine could also be helpful. Find a first aid kit on Amazon.
When is the hiking season?
There are two main hiking seasons for the Israel National Trail – spring (from February to April) and fall (from mid-September to November).
If you start the hike during the spring, it is best to start from Eilat in the south and hike northward. This way, you’ll reach northern Israel just in time for the beautiful flower blossom. The temperatures should still be pleasant, and the waterholes and springs will probably be filled with water, which means you can refresh yourselves along the way. In late February, I began the trail from Eilat and experienced only three days of rain while in the desert. Most days were very pleasant, even a bit warm during the afternoon, and the blossoming flowers around Ramon Crater are fantastic!
If you start the hike during the fall, it is best to start from Mount Hermon or Kfar Giladi in the north and continue southward. The temperatures might be hot in the beginning, which means you’ll need to start your hikes early in the morning, but once you reach the desert, the temperatures should already be mild or even cold, so make sure to pack something warm. The route from north to south is easier, as it includes fewer ascends. So, if you’re a beginner, it might be better to start in the fall.
Can you hike the trail outside the season?
It’s possible but much less ideal. In winter, the days are shorter, the temperature is colder, and there might be many rainy days, which will slow you down and potentially may even be dangerous. In summer, the temperature and humidity are usually very high, which makes it almost impossible to hike. You’ll have to wake up very early to try to beat the heat and take long breaks in the afternoon.
How to reach the beginning of the trail?
To reach the trailhead in Eilat:
- Order a bus ticket to Eilat and get off at the central bus station.
- From there, take Egged bus number 15 or 30, which leaves from outside the central station.
- Get off at the station called “Sadeh School/ Eilat Coral Beach National Park” (in Hebrew: ” בית ספר שדה/ שמורת חוף האלמוגים”). You can ask the driver to get off at the Eilat Field School, in Hebrew, “Beit Sefer Sadeh.” The trail begins behind the field school. There’s a big sign at the beginning. If you can’t find it, ask at the field school.
Here’s the start of the trail in Eilat on Google Maps:
To reach the trailhead at Mount Hermon:
From what I understand, the new first section of the Israel National Trail begins near the Upper Parking Lot of Mount Hermon, where the Golan Trail begins. It’s impossible to get all the way there by public transportation. To get there, you will need to take a taxi from nearby Majdal Shams or have someone else take you there.
Here’s the start of the trail at Mount Hermon on Google Maps:
Accommodation on the Israel National Trail
When we hiked the Israel National Trail in February-March, we mainly camped outdoors, in free designated campgrounds. But another accommodation option along the trail is the “Trail Angels,” which I’ll write about in a moment.
Camping on the trail
You will find many free camping sites along the way, including very few or no facilities. In the boundaries of a nature reserve, those free sites are marked by a big sign with a tent icon on it. Please camp in these designated areas while hiking in nature reserves so you will not disturb the wildlife at night. In some of these free camping sites, you might find water faucets, from which you can fill up water, but don’t count on it.
Outside nature reserves, the camping sites are not always marked. Theoretically, you can camp anywhere that looks like a camping site. There are also several paid camping sites along the way.
Check out my Google Map, which shows the main camping sites and hostels along the way. If you know about any more places, please let me know in the comments, and I’ll update them on the map:
Aside from camping, there are also “Trail Angels,” people who open their homes for hikers on the Israel National Trail. Many offer showers, laundry machines, and an area to sleep. Please only use this option if you are stuck, as they have limited space and are not always available for hosting. Also, if you choose to stay at an Angel’s place, see if you can help with house chores, or at least don’t leave a mess behind you. Get the list of Trail Angels here.
What about food?
It’s essential to eat throughout every day of hiking. In the north, you can get supplies almost every day because there are many settlements and gas stations along the way. In the south, you’ll need to measure your portions and carry food that doesn’t get spoiled over time. Food that doesn’t get spoiled too fast includes cornflakes, peanut butter spread, halva, tuna, corn in a can, nuts, and dried fruit. It’s recommended to bring some field cooking equipment, so you can make ptitim or rice with lentils in the evenings. The most important thing is to be creative.
Water on the Israel National Trail
One of the most important things to carry on the trail is water. You’ll need at least 3 liters of water for the northern part and even more on hotter days. Southward from Arad, you’ll need at least 5-6 liters of water. The weather in Israel is usually quite hot, so most of the water is for drinking. You’ll also need it for cooking and general hygiene. I recommend buying a hydration bladder or reusable water bottles that hold together at least 5 liters of water. You can find good hydration bladders and reusable water bottles on Amazon.
In the north, you will usually fill your water supplies at the campgrounds because most of them have water faucets. But if you get stuck on the way, there are many settlements and gas stations where you can stop to fill water. I recommend checking water points in advance and planning your sections and route accordingly. Southward from Arad, you will come across only a few places with water. That’s why it’s crucial to order water caches.
2022 Update: In the south, there are some camping sites with drinking water tanks managed by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. These include Barak Campground, Tsichor Campground, Milchan Campground, Racham Campground, Shechoret Campground, and Mount Yehoram Campground. If there is no water in the tanks, you will need to contact an INPA ranger.
Check out Fandom for the most updated source about water on the Israel Trail.
Water caches on the Israel National Trail
Several service providers hide water bottles for you at specific camping sites along the way. You should talk with a service provider at least two weeks in advance and tell him where you want them to hide some water on the trail. After paying the service provider, he will send you photos of the water cache location as well as precise directions. Make sure to write it down on paper so you can find it even if your battery is dead. Once you take the water from the cache, you need to inform the service provider.
One of the most recommended water suppliers on the Israel National Trail is Yanir BaMidbar. Prices are around 11 ILS for 1 liter of water, so it should cost you about 66 ILS for 6 liters. But prices may be higher if the service provider needs to drive especially for you to a specific place.
Here are some of the main water cache locations:
- Be’er Milhan Camping Site.
- Nahal Barak Camping Site.
- Gev Holit Camping Site.
- Nahal Gevanim Camping Site.
- Nahal Hava Camping Site.
- Hod Hakev Camping Site.
If you want to avoid using water caches, I’ve found a blog that tells how you can cross the desert without water caches.
Packing for the Israel National Trail
In general, the less you pack, the better. I’ve created a separate post about packing for a hiking trip in Israel, but here are some points important specifically for the Israel National Trail:
- Backpack capacity: Most people who hike the Israel National Trail use a backpack of 60 to 80 liters, but if you’re very space-conscious, you may get along with 45 liters. I used the Osprey’s Aura AG 65 (for women), which was very lightweight and comfortable.
- What to wear for the trail? Don’t think you need more clothes because you’re hiking for a long time. Believe me, you can get along perfectly well with 3-4 sets of clothes and even less. Bring breathable, long-sleeved shirts and long, breathable pants to protect your skin from the sun. I used the quick dry zip-off pants. It’s also good to bring a wide-brim hat (I can recommend the Sunday Afternoons Ultra Adventure Hat) and sunglasses. For the night, you should pack microfleece clothes or a windproof jacket and a warm hat, as it can get very cold. If you want to get into water sources, you can also bring a swimsuit, but you can also enter in your regular clothes.
- Field cooking equipment: Try to take the minimum amount of equipment you need for cooking outdoors. First, you’ll need a small backpacking stove. We took Kovea’s spider stove, but you might prefer more lightweight options if you’re traveling in a very small group. You’ll also need a gas canister. It’s best to take one with a screw-in option, so you can always screw the stove in and out. There aren’t a lot of places where you can get the canisters on the trail, so I recommend buying some in advance. We were a group of five, and each canister lasted us for about a week. You can get them in travel gear stores.
- Make sure you have a phone with internet connection. This way, you can use your phone for navigation, to call suppliers and Trail Angels, and to stay updated about the weather. Read more about sim cards and phones in Israel here. You can also call the emergency number – 100 – if needed.
- Bring a power bank. If you’re going to use your phone throughout the hike, you’ll need to charge it. And there are barely any places you can charge your phone on the trail itself. The free campsites usually don’t have charging points unless a large group comes to camp there and organizes it for themselves. So, I recommend bringing a powerful power bank that is as lightweight as possible. Once in a while, you can stop at a gas station or a Trail Angel to charge the phone and the power bank. Check for good power banks on Amazon.
- Walking poles: While I saw many hikers who didn’t use them, walking poles can make your life much easier. I recommend choosing ones with a cork handle. They make your hands less sweaty. Find walking poles on Amazon.
- Do you need a tent? When we were hiking the trail in the north, we didn’t use a tent. We slept in our sleeping bags under the starry sky. But we stood out because everyone I saw on the trail slept in tents. So, while it’s possible, maybe you won’t want to do it. Tents provide more privacy and protection from the outdoors. But we chose not to carry them because of the weight. In October, it was very comfortable and even warm, but as we came closer to December, it became more chilly. That’s why a good sleeping bag is important. If you choose to take a tent, make sure to bring a rain fly as well. If you choose to come without a tent, bring something to protect yourself and your equipment from occasional rain.
Pay attention to the weather forecast
Knowing the weather forecast before starting each segment of the trail is crucial. Don’t hike if it’s supposed to rain, as it could be dangerous, especially in the desert. Even if it’s supposed to rain in Jerusalem, it can affect the desert. Also, if the weather is too hot (above 30 degrees Celsius), you should plan your hike accordingly. Start your hike early in the morning and aim to rest in the hot afternoon hours.
Check out the Israel Meteorological Service for weather alerts.
My experience from the trail sections
As mentioned, you can divide the sections however you want. I have yet to document all the sections, but here’s a list of what I’ve documented so far, from north to south:
#1 – From Dan to Kfar Giladi. – 2022 update: This segment has been canceled due to safety issues! The trail now begins from Mount Hermon.
#2 – From Kfar Giladi to Nahal Kedesh. (missing here – the part from Nahal Kedesh to Nabi Yusha)
#5 – Climbing Mount Meron on the Israel National Trail (from Horvat Hamama to HaPitul Campground).
#6 – Hiking Upper Nahal Amud on the Israel National Trail (from HaPitul Campground to Nahal Akbara Campground).
#7 – Hiking Lower Nahal Amud on the Israel National Trail (from Nahal Akbara Campground to Migdal).
#9 – From the Jordan River to Kfar Ksich. (missing here – the part from Kfar Ksich to Mashad)
#12 – Hiking Mount Carmel on the Israel National Trail (from Yagur to Nahal Oren Campground) (missing here – the part from Nahal Oren Campground to Ein Hod).
#13 – From Ein Hod to Ofer Junction (missing here – from Ofer Junction to Shfeya Junction).
#19 – From Herzliya to Tel Aviv (missing here – from Highway 20 to road 482).
#21 – From Tel Afek to Shoham
#26 – From Ein Kerem to Ein Kobi – I did this segment but unfortunately didn’t document it yet. Will try sometime!
Note: Since October 2019, the Israel National Trail has an optional route to Masada and the Dead Sea. If you don’t want to hike there – although it should be beautiful – you can continue on the original route that just cuts through the Negev Desert.
Tapatalk forum – For more questions about the trail or to find hiking partners, you can check out the forum on Tapatalk.
Israel Hiking Map – This online map is handy to review the trail before you set off. You can also access it while hiking, but you’ll need enough battery in your phone. The map is also in English. You can use it to determine elevation change and terrain to be ready for the more challenging parts of the trail in advance. To find the beginning of the trail, you can search for “Mount Hermon” or “Eilat.” On this map, the trail is colored in light orange. Another nice online map is Amudanan, which I personally used during my hiking, but it is more for Hebrew-speakers.
“Hike the Land of Israel” Book – Many say this book is good for hiking the Israel National Trail. I didn’t read it, but because of all the recommendations, I’m recommending it too.
Walk About Love – For those who want to travel with more people, “Walk About Love” might be great for you. They bring together hikers from Israel and abroad and hike the entire trail together. You can also use their logistic services if you don’t want to carry a backpack and other equipment.
Now that you know all you need to know about the Israel National Trail, you can start planning your hike. Plan how many kilometers you’ll hike each day, make sure you know where you’ll sleep each night, and get everything ready for your trip.
If you need any advice or help in planning, you’re welcome to contact me via my Facebook page or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also contact me for tours on segments of the trail.
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