Yom Kippur is for bicycles: What are Israel's best bike trails?

Below, you’ll find a list of fantastic bicycle paths where you can enjoy a physical workout and get some needed fresh air. 

 Yeroham Lake (photo credit: OR ALEXENBERG)
Yeroham Lake
(photo credit: OR ALEXENBERG)

Now that we have welcomed in the New Year, we find ourselves in the Ten Days of Repentance leading up to Yom Kippur. This period is a wonderful opportunity for introspection and contemplating self-improvement. What could be a better way to jump-start this type of thinking than to go out on a bike ride with friends or family in the breathtaking Negev desert or the majestic Golan Heights? 

Using our muscles to push ahead on a bicycle as the wind rustles through our hair can be an extremely refreshing experience, which for many of us brings back memories of childhood. 

Some Jews spend the day of Yom Kippur fasting and going to synagogue, while others celebrate the modern Israeli tradition of riding bicycles on Yom Kippur, since most of the streets around the country are traffic-free on this holy day. In recent times, bike riding on Yom Kippur is enjoyed by people who don’t fast – both young, as well as the young at heart. Below, you’ll find a list of fantastic bicycle paths where you can enjoy a physical workout and get some needed fresh air. 

NORTHERN ISRAEL 

1. Odem Forest

An  ideal place for cycling all year round, at Odem Forest there is a circular path that makes a full loop around the forest that is perfect for young cyclists and families. This 13-km. clockwise bicycle path is mostly made up of old jeep trails and has two entry spots. The first one is Mivo’at Odem, located inside Moshav Odem. The second is Mivo’at Palsar 7, located near Elrom Forest on Road 92. 

 Odem Forest (credit: ISRAEL ESHED) Odem Forest (credit: ISRAEL ESHED)

If you’re beginning at the entrance of Moshav Odem, at the parking area next to Mount Odem Winery, you’ll find that it’s an easy start toward the moshav’s northern gate. Pass through the narrow gate and turn toward the east to the path at the foot of Mount Odem. After riding for a few minutes, you will see that the path merges with the Golan Path. This section of the road, which will take you in a southeastern direction toward the eastern side of the forest, is 3 km. long. 

Once you’ve reached the bottom of this stretch, the path will continue toward the east inside the Elrom Forest. Then the path will turn west, back toward Odem Forest. Along the way, you will have incredible views of the surrounding scenery. After about 3 km., you will reach the main path that cuts across the forest. From this spot, there remains another 3.5 km. of riding until you reach the spot where the road begins the ascent up to the observation point at the top of Mount Odem. This is a great spot to stop and relax (and let your pulse return to normal) before riding back down to the starting point of the trail. 

2. Southern Golan Promenade

One of the most amazing promenades in Israel that is perfect for family bicycle rides is the Southern Golan Promenade. This 30 km.-long paved walkway, which goes along the cliffs of the southern Golan, connects a number of Israeli communities, passes over El Al River, and reaches the Susita Lookout, from which you’ll have a beautiful view of the Kinneret. Throughout the entire bike ride, you will have incredible views and opportunities to stop in any of the communities, wineries or dairies. 

The starting point for the bike ride is Moshav Natur, and the ending point is Mitzpe Mevo Hama. Even if you do only part of the ride, you can still have a wonderful outing. 

CENTRAL ISRAEL 

3. Yarkon River

There are lots of places to sit and relax or walk along the Yarkon River. But my favorite way to enjoy this area is on bicycle. Luckily, there’s a great bike path that runs alongside the river, crisscrossing in and out of natural and urban areas, as well as passing by a number of historical spots. People who live nearby enjoy this nature park all year round, but those coming from farther afield will certainly enjoy this area more, now that the level of humidity has dropped to reasonable levels. If you take a look at the Yarkon River National Park map, you’ll see that there are a number of bike paths. 

My favorite Yarkon biking trail is a linear trail that will take you through the streets of Tel Aviv as you ride toward the Mediterranean Sea. Not surprisingly, you’ll need to ride slowly most of the time on this path and make numerous short stops, since it passes through a mostly urban area. This trail begins at Hill Square, which is located at 33 Shimon Hatarsi St. in Tel Aviv, and is named after British Maj.-Gen. John Hill. There’s a monument made up of three marble columns – each in a different location – that commemorates the success of the British over the Ottoman army during the First World War. Apparently, Hill led his troops in a surprise attack for which they needed to cross the river.

From there, the path cuts across Shimon Hatarsi Street and continues on until it reaches the river. Ride over the bridge to Ibn Gvirol Street, and pass by Gan Habanim on the way to the Tel Aviv Port. Then continue along the sea line until you reach the Reading Power Station and the beach promenade. You’ll pass by Tel Qudadi, at the mouth of the Yarkon River, where remains of an ancient fortress can be seen, as well as one of the columns erected by Maj.-Gen. Hill. This is a great place to take a rest and enjoy the gorgeous beaches of the Mediterranean Sea. 

The best time of day to enjoy this bicycle ride is the afternoon, arriving at the ending point before sunset. 

It takes about an hour to complete this 4-km. trail. 

SOUTHERN ISRAEL 

4. Yeroham Lake

Yeroham Lake is an oasis in the heart of the desert. It is not surprising, then, that a number of tourist attractions have been created in nearby locations. One of my favorites is the Vitamin C Biking and Activity Center, which also has outdoor exercise equipment and a mobile escape room. The bike path, which takes you all the way around the lake, begins at the parking area. 

During the ride around Yeroham Lake, you will pass by lots of pine trees and Hagar’s Well, an ancient well that is dry this time of year. There is also a pier that leads to an outlook spot from which you can look out over the entire lake, as well as picnic tables with sunshades, making this a great place to go for a family picnic. Later on, you will pass by the Mount Avnon observation point just before you arrive back at the starting point. 

If you haven’t brought your own, you can rent bicycles at Vitamin C Park (but not on Yom Kippur), which is located at the upper entrance of Yeroham Lake Park. 

Price: Starts at NIS 45

This easy 3 km.-long trail takes about 1 hour to complete. 

5. Nahal Shu’alim 

If you’re touring southern Israel and you’d like to go on a bicycle ride that’s a little more adventurous than just riding around Yeroham Lake, I recommend the bike path that will take you alongside Nahal Shu’alim, a dry riverbed that fills up with rainwater in the fall and winter months. The trail begins at Yeroham Lake. If you are there in the fall after the rains have begun, you’ll see loads of yellow flowers growing wild alongside the path. There are also a number of small natural pools and waterfalls where you can stop to cool off and relax. At some of these spots, you’ll have a view over Yeroham Lake. The end of the trail will bring you to the Shaked neighborhood of Yeroham. This bike path crosses through IDF training land, so if you’ll be riding there on a weekday, you’ll need to coordinate with the IDF to check access times. (No permission is required on weekends and holidays.)

This medium-level 12 km.-long trail takes about 90 minutes to complete. 

 Sde Tzin (credit: GeoFun) Sde Tzin (credit: GeoFun)

6. Sde Tzin

The Sde Tzin circular bike path begins at the gas station at Midreshet Ben-Gurion. Follow the red trail markers, then return along the trail with green trail markers. Sde Tzin is located just above Bik’at Tzin and between Midreshet Ben-Gurion and Kibbutz Sde Boker. In addition to riding in the open air and enjoying the exceptional desert landscape, you will also pass by a number of heritage sites, such as the Nabataean Tzin Stronghold and the Desert Sculpture Garden. 

This easy 7 km.-long trail takes about two hours to complete. 

Translated by Hannah Hochner.