With international travel off the table for the last year, my wife, Jody, and I have been exploring what’s closer to home. It’s been fabulous.
Up until the start of the most recent lockdown, we were taking off one morning or afternoon every week to get out into nature for a local tiyul (Hebrew for hike) of two or three hours’ duration. Because we live in Jerusalem, most of our “Tuesday tiyulim” and “Wednesday walks” have been in the hills around Israel’s capital.
These brief excursions have made all the difference in getting through the pandemic. Once the current lockdown lifts, we’re looking forward to hitting the trails again. I hope that even when overseas destinations are accessible again, we continue our Israel trekking adventures.
Here are eight of our favorite trips in the Jerusalem area:
1. Shvil HaErez. When we’re looking for a short and easy hike within the Jerusalem city limits, Shvil HaErez is our go-to tiyul. The circular route starts in the Jerusalem Forest below Yad Vashem and can be hiked in one to two hours, depending on how much you want to stop and smell the cedar trees. (“Erez” is Hebrew for cedar.) There’s plenty of shade, picnic tables and beautiful views. No car? No worries – take the Jerusalem Light Rail to Yefeh Nof and start the hike from there.
2. Emek Ha’arazim. We’d seen this valley hundreds of times as we drove into Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, but never hiked it. It’s totally worth getting out of the car – as long as you don’t mind that you’ll never be far from the sounds of traffic from the nearby highways. We parked at the New Kraft Stadium in the Jerusalem Park (entrance is from Golda Boulevard near Har Hotzvim) and walked along the bike path to Einot Telem, once a small Jewish settlement that was abandoned during the 1929 Arab riots. To make the walk more challenging, you can climb up to the 9/11 memorial which has the names of all those who died in the terrorist attack.
3. Motza Valley Park. Also a part of the expansive Jerusalem Park that encircles the city, this hike starts where we ended the previous trek, at Einot Telem, and continues under Highway 1 along the bike path in the opposite direction until you reach the Beit Zayit Reservoir. It’s not much of a reservoir – it fell out of use years ago – but there are pretty picnic spots and the scenery is stunning. When there’s no more corona, a brief detour will score you lunch at popular dairy café Derech HaGefen.
4. Nahal Halilim. Our final hike from Einot Telem took us up the green trail in the direction of Mevaseret Zion. The main attractions for this hike are the two caves that branch in multiple directions and are worth the laundry you’ll have to do the next day (you must crawl through parts on your hands and knees). If caves aren’t your thing, the trail is filled with flowers (especially in the spring). The higher you climb, the prettier the views.
5. Hidden Ein Kerem. We’ve been visiting Ein Kerem for years but there’s a less traveled side between the picturesque village and Beit Zayit to the North. You start on the Israel Trail, walking down the lovely “Gan Eden” staircase (literally, “stairway to heaven”) until meeting up with our old friend, the bike path, that takes you to the other end of the Beit Zayit Reservoir. Backtrack a few minutes and head up into the hills for a longer walk, returning to Ein Kerem on Shvil HaHaruv (“the carob path”). Any Ein Kerem walk must finish with ice cream at Golda’s, one of our favorite sweet shops in the country.
6. Shvil Hadassah. The staff at Hadassah Medical Center realized they had a treasure of trails surrounding the hospital. Volunteers cleared land, painted signs and created a loop around the campus. We like to start this hike in Ein Kerem. Walk up toward Mary’s Spring and turn right. You’ll eventually end up in one of Hadassah’s parking lots. That’s OK. You can cut through and get back to the trail to return to Ein Kerem. Ambitious walkers can combine this loop with Shvil HaMa’ayanot, which is dotted by natural springs that fill up in winter.
7. Sataf. There are so many great hikes in the Sataf area; the most popular is Har Eitan, which loops around the mountain with 360-degree views. You can also hike down from Sataf to Ein Kerem (two cars recommended if you don’t want to hoof it back up), trek nearby Mount Heret, climb to Mount Tayasim, or walk through neighboring Kibbutz Tzova, with a stop for a picnic at a charming oasis. The 12th-century Crusader fortress of Belmont is nearby, too.
8. HaMesila Park to Ein Lavan. When Israel’s third lockdown hit, we were unable to drive in our car to a trailhead. But you can exercise freely on foot without a distance limit, so we walked from our home in southern Jerusalem through HaMesila Park (“Train Track Park”), past the Biblical Zoo and the Aquarium, ending at the popular spring Ein Lavan. The train tracks are exquisitely landscaped, more than making up for the more urban flavor of this hike. It’s a nearly two-hour walk from the First Station to Ein Lavan. We were pooped and considered taking a taxi home but, you know, corona. We registered 18 kilometers on our health app.
We look forward to doing this one again – in one direction only!
The writer’s book, Totaled: The Billion-Dollar Crash of the Startup that Took on Big Auto, Big Oil and the World, is available on Amazon and other online booksellers. brianblum.com