A guide to the North's wheelchair and stroller accessible sites.
(photo credit: AVIVA BAR-AM)
Long ago, or so local legend has it, an angel appeared to one of a band of thieves who made a living robbing travelers in Upper Galilee. 'Turn over a new leaf,' warned the angel, 'or bad things will happen.'
In the morning, the thief begged his comrades to change their ways. Annoyed, the group hatched a plan to get rid of their newly reformed friend. They asked him to help carry out one more heist before going straight. Placing him atop an enormous cave as a lookout, they waited for an opportunity to throw him down into the abyss.
Suddenly the cave collapsed - except for the narrow strip on which the 'good' thief stood. Only he remained alive... standing on the remains of Keshet (Arch) Cave.
Until a very few years ago, Israel's most delightful natural phenomena and unique historic sites were out of bounds to parents whose toddlers were in strollers, anyone with a cane, and people who could only move about in wheelchairs. That meant that whole families were stuck at home staring at the walls, while the rest of the country was enjoying riverside trails, waterfalls, unique memorials and stupendous views - as well as picnicking in the forest.
Not any more, however - at least not in Upper Galilee and the Golan Heights! Here are eight great sites suitable for just about anyone!
Spectacular Me'arat Keshet (Keshet Cave): Off Route 8993
Once accessible only to good hikers, Keshet Cave is situated inside the Jewish National Fund's beautiful Adamit Park. Get there by following Route 899 east from Rosh Hanikra and heading north at the sign for Kibbutz Adamit (Route 8993). To reach the cave itself, drive down to the lower parking lot and take the paved route marked with a green trail marker. After you've seen the cave, you can picnic near the parking lot.
Montfort Observation Point
Off Route 899, east of Kibbutz Eilon.
Situated on the slopes of a hill and surrounded by rich green trees all year round, the Montfort Citadel is a dazzling sight. It is particularly stunning in late afternoon when the setting sun lights up portions of the fortress.
Montfort was originally built in Roman times. During the early Crusader period a small fortress was put up on the same site, apparently to defend a French nobleman's estate. Decades later, the German Teutonic Order decided to set up its own headquarters. They bought Montfort ('strong mountain') in 1228, then expanded and beautified the citadel until it became one of the loveliest in the whole Crusader Kingdom.
Your best view of Montfort is from within the JNF's Goren Park, situated in the heart of the largestnatural forest in the country and above the longest riverbed in Galilee - Nahal Kziv. Drive through the forest to see winter anemones, cyclamen and, in spring, orchids and the flaming flowers of the Mediterranean rosebud.
When the scenic drive splits, take the left (higher) road. Pass a campground and a ranch, park in the lot, and follow a paved route to the Montfort Observation Point for a breathtaking view of the citadel and the lush, green riverbed.
You come out of the park on Road 899, near Granot Hagalil Regional Center. This is the back entrance to Goren Park, so if you prefer you can begin your trip from this end.
Tel Dan Nature Reserve
Off Highway 99 east of Kiryat Shmona.
According to legend, long ago each of the three rivers went its own separate way. For millions of years they bragged and boasted, all three claiming to be the biggest and most beautiful body of water. Finally, they asked God to descend from above and to decide between them.
When the Lord couldn't make up His mind, He suggested that all three join together. The ancient wise men of Israel say that the Dan actually won, because the word Jordan means 'came out of the Dan'.
Few sights are more refreshing than a delightfully flowing river - like the glorious Dan. At the Tel Dan Nature Reserve, an excellent wheelchair-accessible path takes you over and right next to the river, with its deliciously rushing waters. The circular path takes about 45 minutes, during which you can enjoy the thickets on both sides of bridges built over the Dan's flow.
On one side, you may see exceptionally tall Syrian ash trees endemic to Turkey and accustomed to freezing weather. And only a few meters away from the Syrian ash, stand thriving laurel (bay) trees, the kind whose leaves are used for cooking. Laurel trees need a Mediterranean climate, and that, too, is found in the reserve!
Excavations at Tel Dan have uncovered unique and fascinating remains, some of which have been restored. These are not wheelchair accessible, so instead, follow up your trip with a visit to nearby Beit Ussishkin. A natural history museum offering a fascinating overview of the region's natural phenomena, it is also the only place in the world where the whole development of the biblical city of Dan is on display. Here you can find artifacts from four biblical eras: the time of Abraham, the period of the Judges, the Israelite Conquest and the divided Kingdom.
Off Highway 99 at intersection with Route 989.
Few sights in Israel are as impressive as the extraordinary multi-layered Sa'ar Waterfall.The waterfall's source is Nahal Sa'ar, a river which acts as a natural border between the limestone-covered Hermon mountain range and the basalt rocks of the Golan Heights.
Nahal Sa'ar flows from the Hermon in the direction of the Banyas River, dropping 500 meters in only seven kilometers. The top layer of the waterfall is 20 meters high; the bottom an additional seven.
A brand-new wheelchair accessible path takes you right up to a great observation point next to the waterfall. Now everyone can delight in this glorious sight - but only you if they come during the few weeks in early spring when the waterfall flows (late February, early March).
Ancient Katzrin Village
near modern Katzrin, on Route 9088
When you visit an archeological site, your imagination has to work hard to fill in the holes. The restorations at ancient Katzrin, however, offer a unique and effortless peek into the past. Located about one kilometer east of modern Katzrin, the village was re-created by archeologists and experts in Jewish law, and realistically portrays Jewish life between the fourth and seventh centuries.
A new, paved path takes you right to the restored ancient-house-under-construction, a completely restored home, and the famous Katzrin synagogue. Recently introduced, a golf cart is available to take visitors along the path as well! It isn't necessary to reserve but it's a good idea in season. Phone: (04) 696-2412
Round off your tour with a stop at the Golan Archeological Museum, in the modern city center (also on route 9088). Here you can view unique and exciting remains from the nearly three dozen Jewish villages that studded the Golan Heights long ago. Buy a combined ticket for the village and the museum, and hold onto your ticket stub!
Off Highway 87 between Bashan and Katzrin junctions.
Full of tiny waterfalls, this charming little park features wading pools for the kiddies and a dry path for the grownups. Mei Eden, the large mineral water company based in nearby Katzrin, helped develop the site for visitors and says it bottles water from these springs in its factory.
Little pools feature the riverbed frog, an amphibian that lives in sweet water and is up to 7.5 cm. long. Fruit trees and buildings remain from the Syrian period on the Golan. Absolutely enchanting, shaded by eucalyptus trees, this site was developed with local materials, mainly dark, basalt rock. The path, although not asphalt, is well-suited to strollers and wheelchairs.
Ofir Lookout: Off Route 789, road leads west 2 kilometers north of Moshav Givat Yoav.
In your zeal to find just the right view of Lake Kinneret, don't forget Mitzpe Ofir! Towering nearly 480 meters above the lake's shimmering waters, the spot served as the perfect outpost for Syrian sharpshooters from 1948 until the Golan Heights came under Israeli control during the Six Day War. The troops must have had a field day - not only did they have an excellent view of the settlements below, making it easy to take potshots whenever they wished - but in April they could feast their eyes on the wild, pink-and-purple blossom called the Mesopotamica iris (iris aram naharayim, in Hebrew).
With the help of the Jewish National Fund, Jewish Agency and the local council, Mitzpe Ofir wasdeveloped by Jimmy Sha'al of nearby Moshav Givat Yoav as a memorial to his son Ofir: the youth died of a long, lingering illness at the age of 16. A grove of 16 olive trees planted here symbolizes each year of his short life. The stone picnic tables and overlook near the parking lot are accessible to wheelchairs (paving consists of flat basalt rock); hike up the hill to a second, unusual group of stone tables with a stupendous view of Lake Kinneret, Kibbutz Ein Gev, Kursi, and, on the other side of the water, Tiberias and the mountains of Lower Galilee.
Gadot Overlook: Off Highway 91 and 1.5 kilometers northeast of the Daughters of Jacob Bridge.
For 19 years following the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, Syrian troops stationed in the Golan Heights fired relentlessly on the settlers below. Life was a living hell for members of the kibbutzim for farmers plowed their fields from behind tanks and children played, studied and slept inside shelters. Until Israel captured the Heights in the Six Day War more than 400 shooting incidents occurred. On one black day, over a thousand shells were fired at Kibbutz Gadot alone.
One former Syrian base is now called Mitzpe Gadot. The site of particularly harsh battles, it now hosts a central memorial for soldiers of the 33rd Battalion who lost their lives taking this site and the adjacent position in '67. Also remembered are those from the same battalion who were killed here during the Yom Kippur War and in the Lebanon campaign in 1982.
The overlook and memorial site is a lovely, tranquil spot sporting wildflowers, butterflies and lizards sunning themselves on the rocks. From a bench shaded by eucalyptus trees you can look down from the heights to see the eastern Hula Valley spread out directly below and with it the fields of Kibbutz Gadot. Try to sense the immensity of the Syrian's strategic advantage on this hill, and imagine spending night after night in underground shelters, or tilling your fields constantly accompanied by tanks. Listen to an audio guide for more information on the area and its history.