Top 5: Family hikes for Succot

Off the Beaten Track: With the weather cooling down and time off work, school for Succot, it's a perfect time for all the family to explore the country.

October 11, 2011 10:12
Yehudia national park

Yehudia gallery 311. (photo credit: Yoni Cohen)

Joe Yudin owns Touring Israel, a company that specializes in “Lifestyle” tours of Israel.

With Yom Kippur now over, its time to look forward to Succot - a great time of year for all the family to hike together.

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When compiling this list I wanted to avoid the obvious and give families the opportunity to participate. These are all moderate, not easy going, but not challenging, family-centered hikes, a little bit off the beaten path. I tried to spread them around the country so no matter where you are spending the holiday you aren’t very far from one. Bring hats, water, good shoes and food for a picnic. Enjoy!

1. Golan Heights - Nahal Zavitan

This is actually one of my all-time favorite hikes in Israel. It takes about three to four hours. Take Route 87 east along the northern shore of Lake Kinneret. Make a left at Yehudiya Junction and continue north on Route 87. The Yehudiya parking lot will be about 6 km on your right side. Park, buy some cold water, then get back in your car and take the blue trail, gravel road to another smaller parking lot and park there.

Follow the blue jeep trail over the cattle grate to a fork where the trail splits into black and blue. Cross over to the black trail, through the pass in the barbed wire fence. Continue almost two kilometers to the intersection of the red trail into the Zavitan Stream, and take it to the left through pink and white oleander. Don’t pick the flowers as the sap is poisonous.

You’ll partly walk through an ottoman era aqueduct built by locals before the Syrians moved all the residents out of the Golan in the 1950’s. You will soon come to a beautiful hexagon pool formed millions of years ago when lava met the cool waters of the local springs. Enjoy a dip and remember that jumping off the cliff and into the waters is officially prohibited.

Just a few dozen meters down the trail is another pool. You will get to an amazing overlook of the Zavitan falls and then you can descend to the falls down a steep trail and a ladder, the trail is marked in blue. Getting to the last pool is tricky but well worth the careful effort. Come back the way you came. Follow the blue trail through the ruins of the Syrian village of Hirbit Sheik Hussein and back to your car.

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2. Mt. Carmel - Nahal Oren (Etzba Ridge)

Photo: BiblePlaces.comFrom the Coastal Highway (Route #) get off at Atlit Junction and go east on Route 721 before turning left onto Route 4 and again a quick turn right onto 721. A hundred meters down the road you’ll see a parking lot on the right with bathrooms and picnic tables after a (usually) closed park ranger’s booth. This hike shouldn’t take more than two hours. Find the bridge that spans the dry river bed of Nahal Oren and cross it.

Head up the trail with the sign “Etzba Ridge Loop Trail” and up a semi steep incline.  Soon you will get to the Etzba Cave where evidence of prehistoric man lived over 40,000 years ago. Check out all three rooms with flashlights and look out for bats. Continue on the trail and make your way towards the top. This area was a strategic asset to the British due to Haifa’s refinery, airstrip, port and industrial area. Mt. Carmel would have been difficult to capture if the Nazis invaded so first the British, and then the Haggana, fortified the area in order to make a last stand here if needed. From the summit at 178 meters above sea level you can make out the ruins to the south of the crusader fortress of Atlit jutting into the sea, as well as all the kibbutzim on the coast below. The views are superb. Continue following  the black trail markers back down to the parking lot.

3. Judean Desert - Ein Gedi Nature Reserve

Many of us have been to this beautiful nature reserve but most trek through Nahal David to the falls and leave after a short while. They never explore beyond. The hike described here is a four to five hour excursion suitable for families.

Take Route 90 to the nature reserve and park in the Nahal David parking lot. Get there as early as possible. The park opens at 8:00 a.m. As you walk into first stretch of Nahal David trail, keep an eye out for hyrax (“rock rabbits in the Bible), Tristram’s grackles (whistling black birds) and ibex (Judean mountain goats). On the other side of the stream in the cliff face you can see caves where David might have hid from King Saul and where Bar Kochba’s soldiers dwelled in the 2nd century CE. You will come to a fork in the road. Skip the lower falls to your right and go up as you bear right over to the other side of the stream. Notice the caper bushes growing out of the crevasses of the rock. Follow this path up to two or three more famous swimming holes and water falls. The last fall, David’s Falls, is the highest and eventually we will get to the cave that you see high above. After a while, follow your steps back then take the trail on the southern side of the stream, and you will soon come to the trail that takes you up the mountain to several springs and the Dodim cave. If the climb isn’t too strenuous for you it’s a fantastic journey. As you climb make sure to soak up the views of the Dead Sea and Judean Desert. Use the trail map you received by the park ranger to explore and enjoy.

4. Negev Desert - Ein Avdat

Photo: Yoni CohenThe ancient Nabateans were the masters of the desert. With their capital city Petra, hidden in the canyons of the Arabian Desert, their caravans would stretch overland through the Negev to Gaza where they would trade their goods & spices to Europeans, Asians and Africans alike. One of their major cities dating back to the 3rd century BCE was Avdat.

Take Route 40 south past kibbutz Sde Boker where Ben Gurion lived his last years in a hut (now a wonderful museum) and turn left into “Ben Gurion College”. David & Paula Ben Gurion’s tombs are here perched over the Wilderness of Zin in an oasis-type setting and it is well worth a visit.

Descend after entering the national park of Ein Avdat to the lower parking lot at the end of the road and follow the blue trail for an easy and beautiful walk in the canyon to falls and a pool at the end. From there you can continue up the stairs another six kilometers to Hurvat Ein Avdat if you have parked another car there or return to your car and continue down Route 40 to Huvrat Ein Avdat to check out the wonderfully restored Nabatean city which is unto itself a hike.

5. Eilat Mountains – Mt. Tzfahot

Start your behind the Eilat Field School just across the street from the Coral Nature Reserve (also check in at the field school to see if all is well with the trail). Follow the green trail about a kilometer and a half up from sea level to 278 meters above and check out the awesome view of the Red Sea, Israel, Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

The views aren’t the only thing interesting on this hike, but the rocks are as well. Notice the difference between the makeup of the mountains in Israel and those in Egypt. Har Tzfahot means “Slate Mountain” and this is one of the few regions in Israel where slate rock is abundant. From the summit follow the blue trail along the ridgeline, and after a kilometer descends into a dry riverbed  that will still fill up with water on occasion during the rare flashflood. The trail will take you straight to the coral beach and some of the best snorkeling in the world.

Joe Yudin became a licensed tour guide in 1999. He completed his Master’s degree at the University of Haifa in the Land of Israel Studies and is currently studying toward a PhD.

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