(photo credit: MEITAL SHARABI AND MENO GREENSPAN)
When you plan a hike in the winter, it’s difficult to know ahead of time if the weather is going to be mild enough. So it’s best to choose a location with easy access and great views that will interest everyone who joins. Many times nature reserves get muddy from winter rains, but one place I love visiting in the winter that is always convenient, regardless of how much rain we recently had, is the Ein Afek Nature Reserve. This popular site offers pastoral views, flowing water and interesting archaeological remains. And it even has wheelchair-accessible trails.
Located on the outskirts of Kiryat Bialik, Ein Afek is a wonderful place for an enjoyable Saturday morning family outing. Since it’s not far away, many people like to end the day with a visit to Old Acre. Taking a nice hike and then spending time in one of Israel’s most fascinating ancient port cities certainly makes for an invigorating day.
Ein Afek, which was officially declared a nature reserve in 1979, includes a cluster of springs, a tel (archeological mound) and an ancient flour mill. There are also many species of animals that make their home in the reserve. And this time of year you will find the grounds bursting with colorful flowers.
The Ein Afek Nature Reserve is truly a gem of nature. In the 1920s and 1930s, kibbutz members worked hard to drain the swamps, which were rife with malaria. They channeled the water from the springs to flow into the Na’aman River instead of the swamps.
The trail to Ein Afek starts in the parking area. From this spot you can reach every point of interest in the nature reserve: the pools where humans and birds alike love to gather, the flour mill, and the numerous wooden bridges that crisscross over the reserve.
The reserve is relatively small, so you’ll soon come to the springs after which the reserve is named. In recent years, the springs dried out because water was taken from wells that were filled from the springs. Now, some of that water has been channeled back to the springs, and the Na’aman has once again become a perennial river.
The next stop along the trail is the flour mill. This impressive relic dates back to the Romans. The structure there now was heavily fortified by the Crusaders who conquered the area in the early 12th century. Inside the two-story building you can watch a short film that depicts the region during different periods in history, with an emphasis on local fauna and flora.
AFTER WATCHING the film, you can climb up to the roof of the mill and look out over the valley. On clear days you can see all the way to Acre. You can also see the lake, which was the source of water that operated the flour mill, as well as a number of stone fortifications built by Crusaders, which served as watchtowers to help protect the mill from intruders.
After taking in your surroundings, you can climb down from the roof and continue along the circular trail. You can stop for a rest or a quick picnic at one of the many benches along the path. Plant enthusiasts will certainly be impressed by the large variety of water plants that adorn the pools. Bird watchers will be happy to know the reserve is a popular stopover for a tremendous number of birds during the migration season.
Israeli authorities are currently in the midst of bird-banding, in which a small, individually numbered metal or plastic tag is attached to the leg or wing of a wild bird to enable individual identification. December is not one of the heavier months for bird migration over Israel, but there are still plenty of birds to see this time of year, such as common cranes and Asian desert warblers. White-headed ducks can be seen floating on the water. There are also catfish lingering in the pools to be looked at. And if you’re especially lucky, you might catch a glimpse of a turtle searching for quiet corner in the sun.
If you still haven’t had enough of animals, you’ll be happy to know that in the northernmost section of the reserve you can find buffalo. They were brought here from the Hula Valley and introduced into the nature reserve inside a pen with electric sensors to prevent them from wandering into the swamp. Buffalo love water, so a separate watering hole was dug for them.
When you’ve had your fill of watching the buffalo idly grazing and drinking, you can make your way back to the trail, which will lead you to a narrow bridge that crosses over the massive reservoir. Just be aware that the bridge is a popular selfie spot, so it sometimes gets a little bottlenecked. Once you reach the other side, continue along the trail, which will take you to Tel Afek.
Tel Afek is located in the southern part of Ein Afek. Archaeological excavations here are spread out over 17 acres and contain remains found from three different periods: Roman, Canaanite and Hellenistic. Remains can be seen of a wall that surrounded the ancient city of Afek, which served as a crucial stop on the ancient highway from Egypt to Mesopotamia. In addition, artifacts show the local community produced purple color by extracting it from snails. Archaeologists speculate that people lived here some 5,000 years ago.
Directions: Take Road 4 until you reach the Ein Afek Junction. Turn onto Road 7911 toward Shfaram, after which you will soon see a sign for the Ein Afek Nature Reserve. Translated by Hannah Hochner.
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