Nahal Snir - A river runs through it

bikers  road (photo credit: SHMUEL BAR-AM)
bikers road
(photo credit: SHMUEL BAR-AM)

The longest of the three major tributaries that feed the Jordan River, Nahal Snir features an unpredictable flow that creates some of the most fabulous scenery in Israel's north. Nature lovers who walk along the Snir enjoy tiny waterfalls, fiercely rushing streams, masses of thick foliage, brilliant blossoms and quiet spots for contemplation.

While the longest hike along the Snir can involve getting your feet wet up to your knees, most of the trail is quite easy to traverse and the whole trip takes less than two hours. At the same time the trek provides something of a challenge in parts, for you must clamber over rocks and stones, bend under tree boughs and climb up and down one very tricky riverbed wall.

Youngsters especially enjoy an outing by the Snir. Not only can they examine freshwater crabs and caterpillars, but they can horse around in a pool beneath a waterfall.

Youngsters especially enjoy an outing by the Snir. Not only can they examine freshwater crabs and caterpillars, but they can horse around in a pool beneath a waterfall.

Until recently, it all used to be free (even the litter that cluttered up the trail!). So when I learned that the Israel Nature and National Parks Protection Authority was charging admission for treks along the wild and wooly Snir River, I was really upset. That only lasted until I paid the reserve a little visit, however, and discovered that the INNPPA had developed wheelchair/stroller accessible paths that make it possible for visitors who can’t navigate the stream to enjoy the sight and sound of the Snir’s gloriously flowing waters and lush river foliage. Besides, when we took the river walk again, we found the trail as untamed, challenging and exciting as ever!

It is easy to reach the reserve. Take Highway 99 northeast of Kiryat Shmona and across from Kibbutz Hagoshrim a sign points to the ’Senir Stream Nature Reserve.’

Once you have paid and parked, you have a choice of hikes. All are circular, and start with a short wheelchair- accessible trail and large wooden bridge platform above the stream.

1) The short (wheelchair-accessible) trail (15 minutes): As you gaze into the water, you will spy all kinds of bugs and beetles. One insect races along the surface of calm water and is sometimes known as the ’water boatman’ or irreverently called the ’Jesus beetle.’ It never gets wet. According to local tour-guide legend, if it gets wet the beetle would drown! Watch its antics for a while before continuing on.

Look for tall, skinny loosestrife with pink flowers along the walkway. Nearby, the great willow herb sports large, pinkish/purple blossoms. Because they have plenty of water, river foliage can avoid competition for pollinators with winter and spring flowers like anemones and cyclamen, and only begin blooming when the rest of the country has become dry and brown.

Reeds are everywhere, growing straight and tall right out of the water with long leaves that stretch to the sides from the stalk. When the reed is in flower, from June through October, the top looks like a large, wavy brush.

One plant along your route, the great horsetail, is very rare in Israel. It has no spurs — only needle-like branches that spread out in whorls. It thrives in peat- filled marshes whose aquifer is near the surface. The bare stalk appears in February; the branches in March. Each month the horsetail grows taller, the branches spread out more, and finally slide down the side. By summer’s end the horsetail is about a meter high; in winter the plant begins to darken and during cold weather simply disappears.

The official accessible route ends at a lovely waterfall, a wading pool 40 centimeters deep and a puddle covered with lovely yellow pond lilies. If you are not able to hike, take the route that leads to the hiking trail for just a minute, then turn left and follow a dirt path to a point above the stream for a lovely view of the water. Afterwards, return to the wading pool and follow the sign- posted trail that circles back to your vehicle.

2) The 30-minute trail: From the waterfall, continue on a fun and challenging trail that may sound easy but has you climbing on boulders and tangled tree roots, and — most importantly — getting wet! To begin, follow the sign to the river and descend stairs directly into the water. You are at a junction with a rivulet from the Dan River, whose waters are five degrees colder than those of the Snir. Step inside to try it for yourself!

Now follow the trail, which offers a colorful mixture of pink and purple hues. Dozens of eastern plane trees line the banks, as do wonderfully cooling willows, so most of your hike will be in the shade. Some of the shade comes from travertine walls several meters high that line the east side of the riverbed in places where the channel is cut deeply into the ground. Travertine, light-colored limestone sediment, is deposited in fascinating stalactite- like layers.

The silk vine is a climber that you will find along the riverbed as you slosh through the water. Reaching up to 10 meters in height, it has dark green glossy leaves, star- shaped flowers in a strange brownish-purple, and poisonous fruit.

After half an hour of riverbed hiking, steps lead you out the stream. Afterwards, a sign in Hebrew announces that you have come to the ’sof maslul benoni’ which means ’end of the intermediate hike’. Follow the path back to your car.

3) The long trail, a 90-minute route, features rapids and wonderfully tranquil contemplation spots. Take this trail by continuing downstream instead of going back to your vehicle at the end of the previous hike. Every few minutes look behind you, to delight in the sight of the swirling torrents. Stop often to rest and savor the pastoral ambience.

As you pass the Dag Al Hadan restaurant you encounter wildly flowing waters. Then another tributary from the Dan appears on your left and joins the Snir’s main flow. Soon you will see a picturesque travertine wall, formed after water has receded from the banks and studded with basalt rocks. Sit here a moment and simply enjoy!

When the river widens, deepens, and quiets down, you know you have come to the end of your watery trek. Complete the trail by following the path left, to the east. It leads to an unshaded dirt road used by bikers. When you get there, turn left again (north) and hike about 20-30 minutes back to your vehicle.

Leading away from the main wheelchair-accessible trail are two just completed circular walks:

1) A first route, today covered with dirt and twigs, takes 20 minutes. It crosses the stream twice, with lovely views of rushing water, and leads you to a reservoir full of waterfowl. Among them are glossy ibises, pochard ducks with rusty-colored heads and white beaks, gray herons, redshanks and sandpipers. Jackal tracks that you will see in the sand are evidence of wild animals that live in the reserve. (Although this is officially a wheelchair- accessible trail, it is not yet covered in asphalt.)

2) A more difficult circular trail (40 minutes) includes a steep climb up a hill strewn with Chalcolithic remains. See if you can find ruins from a prehistoric house near a lone acacia tree. Perhaps the tree is the descendant of an acacia that stood here 8,000 years ago! You may find pieces of flint along the path that could have been parts of a scythe for cutting wheat, or perhaps a spear. If you do, take a good look but leave them where you found them!

Lots of little animals roam this area. You will know that porcupines have been here when you see the quills scattered on the trail. Follow the path to the northeastern edge of the hill and an overlook with a stupendous view in every direction. Most striking is the sight at the foot of the hill, where the Snir Stream flows through masses of dark green foliage. If it happens to rain while you are up here, you will be astounded by the tremendously loud noises you hear, like the sound of a racing train. This is the result of boulders tumbling downstream, pushed by the power of the water.