Most folks visiting Israel are drawn to its historical, religious, and cultural sites. Others to the beaches and nightlife of Tel-Aviv or Eilat.But on top of these known attractions, Israel is also offering fantastic nature and outdoor options to explore.
The most striking feature of Israel’s landscape is its variety. This tiny area has a dramatic desert in the south and the green Galilee mountains in the north. Two areas that are so different, but you can drive from one to the other in less than 3 hours.
There are more than 60 national parks and natural reserves scattered across Israel. All of them are managed by the “Israel Nature and Parks Authority” (“Ratag” in Hebrew). These parks cover a wide range of sites connected to nature,archeology, and heritage. About 15 of them fall in the nature/hiking category. The parks have the advantage that they make the natural wonders inside them easily accessible to folks who prefer not to sweat too much or hesitate to wonder the landscape on their own outside the national park’s controlled environment.
The countryside is crisscrossed with an impressive network of clearly waymarked and maintained trails, covering the entire country.Itopensterrific options for the more adventurous travelers that have the skills to tackle the terrain on their own. The combination of the pleasant weather outside the summer months, a landscape that is not too rough, and the reliable infrastructure make the county an excellent destination for hiking addicts.
Exploring the Desert areas
The desert is the largest geographic area in Israel and occupies about 60% of the country. Its vast spaces are a paradise for nature lovers. Deep canyons, colorful rock formations, 360° vistas from mountain tops, and unique geological formations guarantee a fantastic experience. During the summer temperature are around 40°, But in winter, you get perfect weather for traveling with 10°-20° and very few rainy days. There are dozens of places to explore. To give you a taste, we will introduce you to three unique places in three different regions, each with its unique character.
Judean Desert – Ein Gedi
The Judean desert is the northernmost desert area in Israel, located between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea. It is the easiest to visit since it’s near Jerusalem, and you will cross it anyway if you travel from Jerusalem to Masada. The best way to get a taste of it is by visiting the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve. The harsh and barren desert gets just 40 mm of annual rainfall.
However, in the tiny area of Ein Gedi, four springs are flowing all year round, generating approximately 3 million cubic meters of water a year, making Ein Gedi the largest oasis in the Judean Desert. The combination of the sharp height difference and the magic of water flowing in the desert makes Ein Gedi a paradise for hikers. The springs flow into two deep gorges, the NahalArugot and Nahal David streams. (The word “Nahal” in Hebrew means stream ). The park offers various trails that can be “mixed and matched” to accommodate all kinds of hikers and visitors. Ranging from 2 Km family strolls up to 10+ Km demanding hikes with some steep ascents.
Negev Desert – Makhtesh Ramon
The Negev is the largest desert area in Israel. It has several sub-regions, each with its own unique character. If you have to choose one region, it must be the “Mackteshim” area. Makhtesh is the Hebrew word for “Crater”. But what is the difference?
- Crater – A roughly circular depression in the ground usually caused by volcanic activity, impact, or explosion.
- Makhtesh – A crater-like geological formation created by erosion.
There are only seven such craters in the world, five of them located in the Land of Israel and two in the Sinai Desert near the Egypt-Israel border.
Makhtesh Ramon, located at the foot of the tiny desert town of Mitspe Ramon, is the largest makhtesh in the world. Over 40 km long, 10 km wide, and about 400 m deep.It’s a big “must” for any nature lover. There are plenty of things to do in and around the Makhtesh:
- Jeep Tours.
- Mountain biking.
Your first station should be the visitor center with a good museum that will introduce you to the area, and friendly staff that will help you plan your travel, recommend hikes and provide maps.
Eilat Mountains – Timna Park
The Eilat mountains are the southernmost area of the Negev. Although part of the Negev, they have a different unique character. The sand and rocks color change sharply between Black, Yellow, and Red, and from the mountain tops, you can see the deep Blue waters of the Red Sea.
A great way to enjoy these wonders is to visitTimna Park, located 20 Km north ofEilat. The park area is large,and the main attractions are far from one another. Therefore, it is recommended to visit it with a car or an organized tour. Another option is to leave your vehicle at the entrance and tour the park on mountain bikes (Can be rented in the park).
The main attractions:
- Solomon Pillars – Huge red sandstone rock pillars
- The “Mushroom” – A red mushroom-shaped rock formation created by erosion.
- The Arches – Another rock formation in the sandstone of several “Natural Windows”. The “Windows” are located high above the valley floor, and the view from them is fantastic.
- Rock Drawings – Ancient engravings dating to the 14th century BCE, located on the wall of a small gorge. The drawings show Egyptian chariots alongside a hunting scene.
Exploring the North of Israel
The Galilee mountains and the Golan heights can be visited all year round, but they are attractive, especially during winter and spring. The landscape is green and fresh, dotted with wildflowers. Many springs and streams that were dry during the summer are filled with water. The richness and variety of flora, especially wildflowers, are spectacular. Despite Israel’s smallsize, it has about 2500 species, compared with only 1500 species in the British Isles that are more than ten times larger in area.
A 10-minute easy walk from the park’s entrance will bring you to the best view-point over the Sea of Galilee. You will be standing on the edge of a steep cliff 400 meters directly above the lake. More energetic travelers can climb up from below to the cliff on a well-marked hiking trail.
Banias (Hermon Stream) Nature Reserve
The Hermon Stream (Banias) nature reserve is a fantastic trip all year round. Refreshing water and plenty of shade make it a great summer escape. However, in winter, the water flow is much more impressive. It is one of the three tributaries of the Jordan River. It is not the biggest in terms of waterfowl, nor in terms of length. However, it is the “wildest” and the most scenic of the three.The shortest version is a 2 Km out and back walk to the impressive Banias waterfall. But the walk can also be extended to an 8 Km hike along the gushing river.
The Golan Heights is a rural and sparsely populated mountain range in Israel’s northeastern corner, near the border with Syria. It rises very steeply from the Jordan valley rift than flattening to a vast plateau on the west. The steep western slopes are characterized by deep canyons that penetrate it, some of them providing excellent hiking, and one of them even suitable for canyoning.
The plateau area is characterized by rolling hills, disturbed from time to time with cone-shaped extinct volcanos. There is no specific natural reserve to visit; rather, the whole area is full of natural, cultural, and historical attractions. The best way for most travelers would be to tour to take a road trip with several stops. Some of the key places of interest when driving from south to north are:
Ein Keshatot – Anmagnificent ancient synagogue from the Mishnah and Talmud period (2nd century), one of the most impressive and important of this period found in the Land of Israel.
Gamla – Impressive remains on the edge of a cliff of a fortified Jewish city that flourished in the 1st century BCE.
Rugum El Hiri – An ancient mysterious megalithic monument consisting of concentric circles of stone with a tumulus at the center. It is also nicknamed the “Israeli Stonehenge”.
Yehudiya Natural Reserve – Yehudia Nation park (The formal name is Yehudia forest Natural reserve) includes the threemost significant streams of the Golan heights. The Yehudia, Meshushim, and Zavitan streams. There is a large selection of trails to pick from very short to 10 Km long. The park includes some of the best trails and some of the most beautiful Golan Heights natural pools.
Mount Bental – One of the most beautiful lookouts in Israel. The views encompass Israel, Lebanon, and Syria.
Exploring central Israel
Central Israel is less attractive compared with the north and the south in terms of natural attractions. However, many travelers spend most of their vacation here since Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv are located. However, if you are looking for an escape from the city noise, there are a few great options also here:
A short 20 minutes’ drive east from Jerusalem will bring you to Wadi Qelt. The stream runs down from Jerusalem’s eastern outskirts, crossing the Judean desert and passing through Jericho before it pours into the Jordan River. The Judean Desert is arid and barren, but inside the deep gorge of Wadi Qelt, you step into a paradise of water, vegetation, springs, and cascades. As a bonus, there are also several ancient monasteries hanging from the canyon cliffs, including the iconic st.Geroge Monastery. You can visit the monasteries and picnic near the spring in Ein Prat natural reserve and tackle a challenging desert hike along the gorge.
Instead of huddling with crowds on the beaches of Tel-Aviv,make a short 30 minutes drive either north or south of the city and take an easy and rewarding walk on a secluded beach with a fantastic view of the Mediterranean sea. The best option is Gaash Beach, 10 Km north of Tel-Aviv. This 3 Km strip between the Wingate institute and Kibbutz Gaash is characterized by a tall limestone cliff that drops to the sea, leaving a narrow strip of sand, in some sections just a few meters wide. You can walk on the top of the cliff going north with great non-stop sea views andreturn along the water.
Take a look at this video for more impressions:
Check some travel books about Israel:
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