Desert soul: Hiking in Ein Avdat National Park

In addition to the multitudes of human visitors at the Ein Avdat National Park, eagles and gazelles also enjoy spending time in these beautiful canyons.

Ein Avdat (photo credit: HADAR YAHAV)
Ein Avdat
(photo credit: HADAR YAHAV)
Gazing out at a desert landscape can cleanse your soul. The quiet peacefulness of the open space seems to stretch endlessly toward the horizon and has attracted nomadic communities since ancient times. Luckily, we don’t need to lead a nomadic lifestyle to enjoy a few hours or days in the midst of this desert beauty. There are dozens of fantastic trails in Israel’s Negev region that are perfect for family outings where you can spend the day discovering gorgeous desert landscapes, splashing around gushing streams and gazing out at stunning canyons.
One of the most magnificent canyons in Israel is Ein Avdat. It’s pretty easy to get there – all you have to do is type the name in Waze, get in your car and you’re on your way. This national park is home to steep canyons, refreshing pools and powerful waterfalls. Nahal Tzin is one of the longest rivers that has water only in the winter – it’s 120 kilometers long – and its water empties into Ein Avdat. Ein Avdat and the large canyon inside of it are located on the northern edge of the enormous Tzinim Cliff, which stands 100 meters high, between Ramat Avdat and Bikat Tzin. Due to the unique topography and difference in altitude between the areas above and below the cliff, visitors to the site (as well as the animals that live there all year long) can enjoy the natural beauty and gushing waterfalls.
In addition to the multitudes of human visitors at the Ein Avdat National Park, eagles and gazelles also enjoy spending time in these beautiful canyons. But have no fear, the trails are constructed in such a way that it’s very easy to stay on the path and not lose your way, which means there’s less chance of us harming the animals who live in the canyon or trampling on their habitat.
Because the trail I will describe to you today is linear, the easiest way to enjoy the hike is to come with two cars and leave one of them at the ending point of the longer trail, located in the upper parking area. An alternative option if you only have one car is to hike the shorter path that leads to the Ein Ma’arif Pools and the waterfall and then retrace your steps.
If you choose the second option, you can drive around at the end to the upper parking area to visit the caves that were inhabited by monks in the Byzantine era. If possible, I recommend hiking the entire trail, which includes climbing up ladders and incredible views. Either way, make sure you begin the hike early enough in the day so that you don’t get stuck there in the dark, and of course you should always check the weather forecast before setting out to make sure rain isn’t expected.
 Ein Avdat National Park (Hadar Yahav)
To begin the hike, start at the lower parking area at the entrance of the Ein Avdat National Park. As soon as you start walking, you’ll see tons of desert poplar trees covering the countryside. These trees can also be seen all along the Jordan River. In the fall, the desert poplars begin changing colors and turn yellow by the time winter rolls around. You’ll also find these trees providing plenty of shade at Ein Mor, another spring in the nature reserve right next to the parking area.
After taking a deep breath of the clean air, begin walking along Ein Avdat Canyon. This high-walled canyon was created naturally and there are numerous caves hidden in the walls, as well as stones jutting out where you can sit and rest. If you raise your eyes, you might just catch a glimpse of gazelle prancing around or eagles gliding through the air. This path eventually leads to the waterfall and refreshing pools, but there are a number of interesting points of interest along the way.
The first is a tall 250-year-old Mount Atlas mastic tree (Pistacia atlantica). Soon after, you’ll reach the shallow pool, which you should cross over to the other side, from which you’ll have a gorgeous view of the 15-meter-high Ein Avdat waterfall. Although you can’t swim there, this is a great spot to stop for a rest or a snack (there’s even a little shade).
After you’ve rested and enjoyed the view, it’s time to continue on. If you’ve only brought one car, this is probably the best time for you to head back to the starting point. If you have enough energy, you can continue on to one more important stop: the poplar grove.
For those who are continuing on to the end of the trail, you now get to climb up the narrow stone steps that were carved out of the limestone. At times, a bottleneck forms here, since it’s not possible to pass the person in front of you, so if this occurs, please be patient. But fear not – the incredible view at the top will make the wait well worth it. Here you will have another view of the waterfall from a different angle.
As you continue along the path, you’ll come upon a dense grove of desert poplars. These trees are common in northern Israel, and this is actually the southernmost area in Israel where you’ll find these trees. After you pass through the canyon, you’ll reach the grove. Once you’re inside the grove, you’ll find benches where you can sit and have a view over the stream. This is a great place to rest, catch your breath, have a drink of water and enjoy the nice view.
The next section of the hike is considered fun and exciting for some people, while mentally challenging for others. But don’t worry – climbing up the ladders is not at all difficult and it’s quite safe. While you’re climbing up you can (carefully) look out for the caves that were carved into the side of the walls of the canyon. Some of them are prominent and clearly visible, while others are tucked away behind crevices. At the edge of the cliff there is an observation deck where you can overlook the Ein Ma’arif waterfall, which is 60 meters high. From there, continue along the path until you reach the upper parking area where you’ve parked your second car.
Directions: Drive south on Road 40 toward Mitzpe Ramon. Enter Ein Avdat from the lower entrance adjacent to Midreshet Sde Boker.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.