Hiking Trails and National Parks in Israel
BY Lee Saunders DATE 13/09/2018
In every long walk in nature, you always get far more than you’re looking for: a return to freedom; a return to humility; a return to yourself…
In Israel, 40 national parks and numerous hiking trails only serve as reminders of the haunting magnitude of nature, and our small place in the heart of it. Despite its tiny size, Israel’s unbelievably diverse terrain runs from mountains in the north to the parched desert of the Negev in the south, offering a fascinating and challenging geography that will give you the unforgettable experience that you crave.
With almost 10,000 km of marked trails, and still growing, there is some truly superb hiking to be done, and nowhere offers sites of such natural beauty more than Israel’s third city – Haifa. The country’s largest national park is Mount Carmel National Park, which towers over the Mediterranean coastline, and the majestic mountain-topped Dan Carmel Haifa, and stretches over the Carmel mountain range, from Haifa, down to wine growing towns such as Binyamina and Zichron Yaakov further south. Containing 10,000 hectares of pine, eucalyptus and cypress forest, the park offers many scenic hiking trails on lush green slopes, taking you past some of the 250 archaeological sites inhabited by prehistoric humans.
There are few places that steal your breath away more than Masada, an awe-inspiring ancient fortress in the Negev Desert, built by King Herod. From the base of the fortress, the Masada Snake Path, one of the iconic hikes in Israel, winds its way up approximately 400 meters from the lowest place on earth, the Dead Sea, to the peak where archaeological remains tell a remarkable story, against all odds, of heroism, endurance and resilience. What better way to test yours than with this epic 90-minute climb. Book an early morning tour from Tel Aviv or Jerusalem from any of the Dan Hotels; sunrise hikes offer one of the greatest experiences in the world, as the sun peaks out over the Jordanian Mountains and you enjoy unbeatable views across the Dead Sea.
Close to the Dead Sea in the Judean Desert is the oasis that is Ein Gedi, offering one of Israel’s premier hiking spots. With springs, waterfalls and brooks flowing at the foot of the cliffs, Ein Gedi provides more than nine well-marked hiking trails range from shorter one-hour hikes, suitable for family groups, and longer, more challenging 3-4 hour trails for the most experienced hiker. They will take you through wadis (dry river stream in the desert) and surprisingly lush green scenery to the refreshing David’s Waterfall to cool off. For the more adventurous, there is the chance to also visit Dodim’s Cave and the water pools nearby. Marvel at the contrasting rich and green vegetation with the red and brown rocks of the Judean desert; stop, breathe in and share the scenery with the native ibexes and rock hyrax in a place filled with historical and archaeological remains of its first inhabitants some 5,000 years ago.
More than a stopping point on the way to Eilat, the epic terrain that is Mitzpe Ramon or Ramon Crater, the largest of three Negev craters, gives you a truly memorable off-the-beaten-path experience. Once filled with giant oceans, this unique crater is a jewel in the Negev desert does not exist anywhere else in the world. Now more than 500 meters deep and 40 km long, it was created as the oceans dried up and receded and rivers weaved through the empty canyons. Enjoy hikes, ranging from 2 hours to a full day, taking with you all the water and sunscreen you will need for a safe and fantastic trail.
Further south in the Eilat Mountains, the Red Canyon is the stunning backdrop to one of Israel’s most enjoyable and accessible hiking trails. Twenty minutes north of Eilat, you can hike undisturbed, at peace, through natural canyons, the Red Canyon getting its name from the phenomenon when the sunlight hits the reddish rock. Trails include a “green” well marked and relatively short trail that is family-friendly, while the “black” trail is a more challenging descent down to the river bed and creeks. Marvel at the yellow, red and brown colors of the rocky landscape as you weave your way through narrow canyons, looking out for gazelles in the wild. From certain viewpoints, you can see four countries: Israel, Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
Book your trips from the Dan Eilat and Dan Panorama Eilat, where you can enjoy a pampered and luxurious stay before hitting the open road and wearing out your boots.
Written by Lee Saunders