Tour Israel: Nahal Darga & Muraba'at Cave

Nahal Darga is an extreme route, but the route to Muraba’at Cave is suitable for families.

Nahal Darga is the largest of the seasonal streams that cross the northern Judean Desert. (photo credit: HADAR YAHAV)
Nahal Darga is the largest of the seasonal streams that cross the northern Judean Desert.
(photo credit: HADAR YAHAV)
The wonderful rains falling now fill the streams of our country with a magical scent. There is nothing like running water, a bit of history and a lot of breathtaking scenery to make any trip perfect, and this is exactly what a trip to Nahal Darga and Muraba’at Cave feels like.
I will warn in advance – Nahal Darga is an extreme route, but the route to Muraba’at Cave is suitable for families.
Nahal Darga is the largest of the seasonal streams that cross the northern Judean Desert. With many of the streams in this area, it is full and raging during the rainy season. The stream, whose flow begins in the area of Mount Hebron and ends in the Dead Sea, also drains water that comes from several streams, including Nahal Tekoa and Nahal Amos. The massive flow of water carved magnificent step-like works of art into the rocks (hence its name). As mentioned, Nahal Darga is one of the most dangerous but spectacular hiking trails in our country and is intended for the best and most professional among us as it includes descents with ropes (that need to be brought), swimming in deep water sources on parts of the trail that cross waterfalls and pools, and a supervisor from the Nature and Parks Authority who supervises hikers. There are also specific hours when it is allowed to walk the route as it is complex and dangerous.
But we chose to hike the lighter and more friendly route that is also suitable for families, and includes a fascinating history and spectacular scenery (entry for children aged 10 and up and no pets allowed). Before we embark on the trail, it is important to note and emphasize that most of the trail is exposed to the sun, even in the non-summer seasons, so a hat and water are a must. There are not many hiding places from the scorching sun, so it is advisable not to take this recommendation lightly. In addition, it is important to stay updated and register in advance on the Nature and Parks Authority website, as the number of hikers in the area is limited, and to make sure that the site is open and there are no floods. It would be a shame to arrive and find that there is no entry due to a flood.
We will reach the beginning of the trail with the vehicles. After climbing the road leading to the resort village from Metzuke Dragot and admiring the amazing view that is revealed with every meter we ascend, we will continue and reach a dirt road marked with green trail markers. At this point, you will also see a guard booth belonging to the Nature and Parks Authority. It is important to stop by it to get a map of the stream and the trails. Continue with the trail, which in my opinion is more suitable for 4x4 vehicles, but our company vehicle was also successful, you will go through a first fork along the black trail leading to an observation point to Nahal Darga and continue until you reach another fork on the black trail, which has a small parking lot to the right. This is the stage where it is worth leaving the vehicles, and this is also the end point of our route, as it is a circular route.
From here, we will continue on foot with the dirt road while following the green trail markings. For this we will continue for about a kilometer and a half until we notice a red trail marker leading to Nahal Mashash. Nahal Mashash is part of Nahal Darga, and through it we descend to the route of the stream. Don’t get confused, the descent seems pretty simple at first, but later you will find that it becomes narrower and steeper. This is the challenging part of this trail. Another kilometer and a half along the trail and we will reach the first waterfall, which is about 10 meters high, where we will use pegs.
Note that there are small and large descents along the entire route, with the higher ones secured with pegs. In some places the pegs are a bit crooked and look shaky, but I guess if they were not safe, they would have been replaced. Anyway, even I who hike quite a bit, would not object if the descent in certain sections of the trail would be made accessible and easier. But I’ve already said it’s a challenging route, so you should consider this before setting out. In any case, those who suffer from a fear of heights, this is not the place for him.
Nagal Darga is an extreme route (Photo: Hadar Yahav)Nagal Darga is an extreme route (Photo: Hadar Yahav)
AHEAD OF us is another 15-minute walk until we see in front of us the great confluence of streams. This is the stage where Nahal Mashash and Nahal Tekoa meet, and together they join the lower Nahal Darga. At this point we must choose the black trail marker that leads away from the creek bed. We will climb with the black trail marker for about 10 minutes until we see a “transparent” trail marker, which has two white stripes, on the left side of the path. This ascent will lead us to the Muraba’at Cave (which received their name thanks to their shape), which reveal a rare and fascinating piece of history.
The caves were discovered by Bedouin who realized that letters and scrolls they found in the cave were worth far more than any goat sale, so they began digging and searching for the scrolls, and sometimes even tore up any scroll they found into several pieces to increase their fortune. This rare discovery led to a special expedition of archaeologists led by French archaeologist Roland de Vaux in the 1950s, when he spent about a year searching and excavating the area.
The letters and scrolls that were found belonged to the Bar Kochba period and some were even written by him. Until this discovery, it was unclear whether Bar Kochba was an urban legend or not. The letters were not there just by chance, rather archaeologists believe the caves served as a hiding place for Jewish warriors who fled from the Romans during the Great Revolt. They hid the letters there, so that they would not get into the wrong hands. Today, the letters and other finds are in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
At the end of the hike in the caves we will descend back to the black trail. The climb on the black trail, toward the car and the end of the route, is long and slow, and takes about half an hour, depending, of course, on the amount of stops you make. This section of the trail is not shaded at all and therefore must be prepared for both in terms of water and mentally. Go up calmly and take comfort in the fact that at the end the pampering air conditioner of the vehicle awaits you. 
Location: Northern Dead Sea area
Type: Circular trail, includes climbing on steep ladders
Level: Difficult
Duration: 4-5 hours
Directions: Take Highway 1 from Jerusalem toward the Dead Sea (Highway 90). Turn right towards the Metzoke Dragot Resort Village, continue with the road that later becomes a dirt road and leave the vehicle by the fork along the black trail.
Translated by Tzvi Joffre.