Jerusalem is well known for the Old City’s enchanting narrow alleyways and the boisterous peddlers, and the exotic scents of the Mahaneh Yehuda shuk. Because there are so many fascinating sights in the city, sometimes we forget to enjoy the beautiful natural surroundings located just outside of the city limits.
So, if you have booked an overnight vacation in the capital, or you are looking for a thrilling day trip to the Jerusalem Hills area, I would like to recommend two fantastic hikes where you will discover hidden caves and gorgeous scenery that are easily accessible and don’t require hiking on long paths.
The first destination is Tel Tzuba; the second is Sataf. I’ve visited both of these sites lots of times, and yet each time I discover something new that inspires me and leaves me feeling calm and happy. I especially love hiking in these two areas with friends who have never been there before, or with tourists who are visiting Israel from overseas. It enables me to see the surroundings with fresh eyes and really appreciate their beauty. Thankfully, neither spot was damaged during the recent fires that burned huge sections of forest in the greater Jerusalem area this past August.
Tel Tzuba, which not surprisingly is located within the boundaries of Kibbutz Tzuba, is a fascinating site that is full of history and has incredible views of the surrounding hills. Many families are familiar with Kiftzuba, a popular kids’ outdoor amusement park located nearby. The fact that these two sites are located within close proximity each another provides families with the perfect combination of being able to visit a historical and archaeological site, plus letting the kids burn off energy bouncing around inside the jumping castles at Kiftzuba.
There is a convenient parking area just below the archaeological park, and the trail begins where you see the blue trail markers. While its physical size is small, it is jam-packed with interesting historical artifacts dating back to 586 BCE, the year the First Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians.
You can see remains of a more modern Arab village that was built on top of the ruins of a Jewish community that had thrived there in the days of Joshua, who succeeded Moses as leader of the Israelite tribes. There are also remains of the Belmont Crusader fortress, which was constructed to help fellow Crusaders on their way to Jerusalem; as well as ancient burial caves.
When the Crusaders arrived in Tzuba from Europe in the mid-12th century CE, they realized how strategically important the site was, as it overlooked the route to Jerusalem. This road is more or less where the modern Highway 1 is situated today. However, just 20 years after it was built, the fortress was conquered by Salah a-Din, who was busy establishing a Sunni Muslim caliphate in the region.
Centuries later, in 1834, the Abu Ghosh clan settled in the area after rebelling against Egyptian forces, which ruled the region for a few years until control was returned to the Ottomans. During Israel’s War of Independence, Tzuba once again took on great strategic importance because of its strategic location overlooking the road to Jerusalem; it was the only path caravans could follow as they attempted to bring supplies to the Jewish community living in Israel’s future capital.
As you walk up to the archaeological site, you will find many signs along the way with explanations about the intense battles that took place on site. Continue walking up to the top of the hill, where you will enjoy an incredible panoramic view of Israel’s capital. I recommend walking around and viewing the water holes and other structures that remain from the destroyed village.
When you’ve finished examining the ruins at the top, return to the path you came on. Follow signs directing you to the ancient oak and olive trees. After a five-minute walk, you will come upon these two extraordinary trees, which are respectively 800 and 1,200 years old. Afterward, continue along the path that will take you back to the parking area where you left your car.
At this point, I recommend driving to another section of the kibbutz, which is the highlight of the visit: Ein Tzuba. This spring is open to the public, and is a popular place to visit, especially on weekends (a small fee is required to gain access). I recommend checking in with the Kibbutz Tzuba receptionist’s office to check on the spring’s status before setting out for the day.
Ein Tzuba is especially beloved by children, since the shallow pools filled with cold water are just deep enough for splashing around safely. To reach the spring from the parking area, follow the green trail markers until you reach a T intersection. Turn right, and walk another 50 meters until you reach the entrance of the spring.
To enter the spring, you will need to crouch down through the narrow opening, and continue crouching as you walk through it, since the ceiling of the tunnel is not very high. Soon, you will come upon a large stone structure, where you will see the spring water bubbling out of the ground.
Type of hike: Easy, appropriate for the whole family.
Directions: Drive on the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem Highway 1 and exit at the Harel Intersection. Follow signs to Kibbutz Tzuba. When you reach the entrance of the kibbutz, follow signs to Tel Tzuba.
On the eastern side of Mount Eitan, and just down the road from Kibbutz Tzuba, you will find Sataf. At this gorgeous oasis, you will see remains of an agricultural village that was built here 6,000 years ago, as well as the terraced side of the mountain that villagers built in order to grow crops more easily. And of course, they used the spring water to irrigate their fields.
There is a short path you can take from the KKL-JNF upper parking area that leads down to two pools: the Sataf Spring and Ein Bikora. If you are coming with two cars, you can leave one car in the lower parking area, and that way, you won’t need to climb back up the mountain when you are done enjoying your time in the swimming area.
As you follow the green trail markers down to the springs, you will pass by olive groves and fruit orchards, as well as remains from the village that used to exist on the site. You will soon reach the Sataf Spring, which flows into a large pool. From there, continue on to the Ein Bikora, where you will find another pool that you can swim in. From there, you can retrace your steps and go back to the upper parking area where you left your car.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.