Tour Israel: Healthy hikes in Nahal Ashalim

The area surrounding Nahal Ashalim is full of magnificent rock canyons, breathtaking views and an impressive waterfall. After a winter full of rain like we had this year, the stream is still gushing.

Nahal Ashalim (photo credit: HADAR YAHAV)
Nahal Ashalim
(photo credit: HADAR YAHAV)
After having been closed to the public for three years due to a serious environmental incident that left it contaminated, Nahal Ashalim is now once again open to visitors.
Located on the seam between the Judean Desert and the northeastern edge of the Negev, Ashalim was closed down in June 2017 after a phosphate holding pool belonging to Rotem Fertilizer collapsed.
The Environmental Protection Ministry and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority have now completed an in-depth examination of the nature reserve and found that it is once again safe for hikers and visitors. If you’ve never been there, this is a great opportunity to enjoy another one of Israel’s best sites to visit and cool off on hot summer days.
The area surrounding Nahal Ashalim is full of magnificent rock canyons, breathtaking views and an impressive waterfall. After a winter full of rain like we had this year, the stream is still gushing with water. In fact, there is a deep crevice in the stream that holds back water for several months a year. In the past, the stream fed into the Dead Sea, but a canal was built that redirects the water to the south toward Nahal Admon and the Dead Sea Works in Sodom in an area that covers 80 square kilometers.
Three years ago, the area was closed off to the public when dangerous acid and other pollutants spilled into the stream from a pool operated by Israel Chemical subsidiary Rotem Amfert Negev. The spill caused great ecological and environmental damage to the animals and plants throughout the region. Thankfully, the area has been rehabilitated and we can finally return there to enjoy two wonderful nature trails – one that is short and the other quite long.
The circular trail is best suited to experienced hikers since it takes nine hours to complete. It requires climbing through a long, narrow canyon, with lots of steep ascents and descents, and of course water. There’s nothing better after a boiling hot day of hiking than arriving at a pool full of cool refreshing water.
If you do decide to take the long trail, make sure to arrive at the starting point bright and early, since a good portion of the hike is in open air without shade from the hot sun. I do not recommend walking in these sections at the hottest point of the day. Needless to say, you must bring a minimum of 3 liters of water per person. You might think this will be too heavy to carry, but you’ll appreciate having all this water once you start walking and realize how much fluid your body is losing under the blazing sun. It’s during hikes like this that you really appreciate how amazing camels are that they can store water. Of course, wearing a good hat and generously applying sunscreen are also a must.
If you’d rather do the three to five hour linear hike, you can still enjoy the beautiful surroundings and stream. Of course, the amount of time it takes you to complete either of these trails depends on how fast you walk and how much time you choose to spend lounging at the pools. My recommendation is that you take your time and really enjoy yourselves.
Both trails reach the area with the pools, but the shorter path is much easier to walk than the long circular path. The shorter path does, however, involve a number of steep ascents and descents. But boy are you in for a treat when you reach the cool and refreshing pools that look out onto a beautiful scene of breathtaking cliffs. And who knows – you might get lucky and catch a glimpse of one of the deer that live in the area.
The shorter trail is located 500 meters from the Nahal Amiaz camping site, which is the closest place you’re allowed to drive with a car. We’ll be taking the path with the black trail markers. Turn right at the bend in the road and then after a few meters, turn left. Make sure to be watching out for this turn so you won’t have to turn around and retrace your steps, which is a waste of time and energy – critical resources when walking in the hot desert. The black trail markers will lead you past the pumping station. Once you pass it, you will know that you are on the correct path.
Continue on the path with the red trail markers, which is the shorter linear path. Another great way to know that you’re on the correct path is if you see happy people walking toward you in the opposite direction who are all wet and who have big smiles on their faces. This is the best incentive to keep going forward. Soon, the path will start to descend and then will intersect with the green path that goes off to the right and leads to Nahal Azgad.
We’re going to remain on the red path. We’ll cross over the cute mini waterfall and then begin to ascend on the other bank of the river. Then, the path comes upon a steep descent that leads into a wide, open space. When you see the blue trail markers, turn right onto this path, which leads down to the pools. After you’ve walked a few meters, you will see a large tree. This is a great place to stop for a quick rest and water break.
At this point, you are only 15 minutes from the first pool. From here, the trail climbs and dips as it follows alongside the stream, until finally the terrain becomes rockier and then all of a sudden you will see the first pool. This pool is not as deep as the others – at the deepest point, it will reach your waist. It only takes about 20 more minutes to reach the deepest pool, so you can decide if you’d rather stay and relax here, or push on to the bigger pools.
When you’re making up your mind, don’t forget that this is a linear trail, and if you continue on to other pools, you’ll have all that added time onto your return walk back to your car. My advice is that it’s not necessary to be heroes in this weather. If anyone in your group would rather not add on any unnecessary walking, just hang out at the first pool and enjoy yourselves there. The walk up to the first pool is gorgeous, and you don’t need to feel like you’ll be missing out on anything by not continuing on to the other pools.
Type of hike: Medium-easy linear trail, appropriate for the whole family. It’s best to keep valuables in waterproof plastic bags.
Directions: Drive south on Road 90. When you see the Dead Sea Works on your right, look for a dirt road on your left with red trail markers. Turn there and follow the road until you reach the overnight camping parking area with black trail markers. Continue driving along this road until you reach the narrow path. Park your car on the side of the road.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.

Tags travel hiking