7 sites to visit in Israel this winter

There are so many unique sites, places and experiences that this place can offer visitors and so many diverse regions, all in such a tiny geographic area.

Odem forest, at the top of the Golan Heights, is green after heavy winter rains (photo credit: HADAR YAHAV)
Odem forest, at the top of the Golan Heights, is green after heavy winter rains
(photo credit: HADAR YAHAV)
Israel is a small country, and does indeed have its fair (or even more than fair) amount of problems...
And yet there are so many unique sites, places and experiences that this place can offer visitors and so many diverse regions, all in such a tiny geographic area.
Below we have assembled seven of the most recommended places to visit in the winter months.
1. Mamshit
Sometimes, when you’re driving along the roads in the Negev, it seems like time has stopped, especially when you think about ancient times, when the region functioned as a meeting point for traders and merchants crossing from Asia to Africa. Israel was one of the most important crossover points for the spice trade.
One of the most impressive remains of that period is the Nabataean city Mamshit in the northern Negev, which was an agricultural village and popular stop for merchants traveling from Petra to Africa. In the Mamshit National Park, an entire city has been excavated that spreads over four hectares.
The name Mamshit comes from the original name, Memphis, which was built by the Romans in proximity to the Mamshit River. The Romans also built dams and aqueducts to bring water to the city, and the remains of two of these dams can still be seen today.
In the Byzantine period, a large number of the residents were converted to Christianity, and a number of churches were constructed in the city. When you walk around the Mamshit ruins in the national park and see all the homes of people who lived there, as well as the huge hall which apparently was part of a palace, it’s incredible to think back to how the people there must have lived.
Directions: Drive south on Route 25.
Soon after you pass Dimona, turn right and follow signs to Mamshit National Park.
2. Odem Forest
After the heavy winter rains we’ve been having, it’s wonderful to see all the green grass and colorful blossoms in the forests of northern Israel, and in Odem Forest in particular. Located at the top of the Golan Heights, there are lots of family-friendly trails in Odem where you’ll find lots of mushrooms and wild flowers.
One of the most interesting sites in the areas is a volcanic crater called Juba, which you can find by following the black trail markers. This huge forest covered the entire Golan Heights in ancient times, and dozens of craters were formed when volcanoes exploded.
The Juba crater is 60 meters deep and 500 meters wide.
Directions: Drive north on Route 99 and pass Mas’ada. Turn west onto Route 978 toward Odem. After driving three kilometers, you’ll see a path on your right with black trail markers.
3. Gamla Nature Reserve
Gamla, called such since the mountain looks like the hump of a camel, is home to varied flora and fauna – including many of Israel’s eagle population – and has an incredibly interesting history. The nature reserve is located just two kilometers from the Daliyot intersection, and includes Israel’s tallest waterfall, which is 51 meters high and flows all year long.
In addition to the Gamla and Daliyot streams, which flow through the reserve, one of the greatest attractions in Gamla is the Dolmens, a collection of Bronze Age burial mounds that were constructed from huge boulders about 4,000 years ago. I also recommend climbing up to the lookout point, which also happens to be the eagles’ nesting area. The path is pretty easy to climb and appropriate for families.
Directions: From Daliyot intersection, drive along Route 808 for about two kilometers, until you see the turn into the reserve.
4. Sa’ar Waterfall
When most people think of the Hermon, they picture skiing on white, snowy slopes, but we forget that Mount Hermon has so much more to offer.
There are rivers, waterfalls and beautiful landscapes which make hiking in the area one of the most enjoyable experiences.
One of my favorite waterfalls is the 20-meter-high Sa’ar, which is gushing with water this time of year. Sa’ar merges with the Banyas River further south, and a number of pools and a few smaller waterfalls have formed along the way. There is a tremendous amount of vegetation along the river that is currently in bloom, and many birds stop to rest in the trees.
But even if you don’t feel like taking a long hike, you can reach a wonderful lookout spot, where you can see the waterfall, that’s not too far from the parking area. You’ll notice that in actuality there are three separate waterfalls, but they’re all considered to be part of the Sa’ar Waterfall.
For those who are in the mood for hiking, a number of trails begin from this lookout area, some of which reach the pool down below.
Directions: Drive along Route 99.
Pass Sa’ar intersection and continue until you see the parking area for the lookout. You’ll find the paths to the lookout just across the street.
5. Ramon Crater
The Ramon Crater is one of the most remarkable geological phenomena in Israel, especially among desert lovers.
There are a number of trails that lead through the crater, some of which are shorter and some of which can take up to two days. Either way, winter is the best time to hike in the crater, due to the cool temperatures.
I recommend making a visit to the visitors’ center before beginning your hike, since this is an experience in its own right. You can watch a film about Ilan Ramon, Israel’s first astronaut, and also learn about the unique geological formations found inside the crater.
From the visitor center, you can begin your hike down into the large and small craters, which were created as a result of a crack in the ground, which later expanded from the constant flow of rainwater. In the end, the soft limestone collapsed and the crater was formed.
Make sure to be on the lookout for Haminsara (the “Carpentry Shop”), a fascinating geological phenomenon in which a sandstone hill with symmetrical hexagonal prisms was exposed.
After visiting Haminsara, go back to your car and drive to the Be’erot parking area, where you can choose from a number of trails. Whichever one you pick, you will have an amazing view of the unique desert topography of the crater.
Directions: Drive on Route 40 toward Mitzpe Ramon. Follow signs to visitor center.
6. Gilboa
It’s pretty incredible to see the difference rain makes on the landscape of the Gilboa. In the summer and fall the land is mostly yellow and brown, but this time of year it is carpeted in green and full of blooming irises.
You can see lots of these and other flowers along the Scenic Route that crisscrosses the entire Gilboa. The road is narrow and winding, so drive slowly and carefully as you (or preferably just the passengers) enjoy the view of the Jezreel and Beit She’an valleys, and the many kibbutzim and moshavim situated in the area.
The highest peak of the Gilboa is Malkishua, which sits at 536 meters high and from which you have an incredible view of the valleys.
The first stop, which is just two kilometers away, is the Nurit parking area, where you’ll find a memorial for Golani 13th Battalion second company fighters who fell during the First Lebanon War in 1982. A one-kilometer drive from there you’ll find an easy trail that leads to the Nurit Spring.
Another great place to hike is Mount Shaul, from which there’s an incredible view of the Harod and Beit She’an valleys. On a clear day, you can even see the church on Mount Tabor. There are a number of circular paths that start at Mount Shaul which cover the ground King Saul fought on during his battle with the Philistines, and where he ultimately fell on his own sword to avoid being captured alive.
Directions: Drive along Route 65 and then turn into Route 675. After about 10 km. turn left onto Route 667.
7. Bitronot Ruhama
For some Israelis, wintertime means the appearance of anemones, and there’s no better place to see the ground completely covered with anemones than Bitronot Ruhama in the Negev. In the fields surrounding Kibbutz Ruhama in the western Negev, you’ll see endless red, and if you like looking at weird geological formations, you’ll enjoy going to the Karkur Mountain Ridge, too.
Because the entire area is made up of loess soil, rainwater has caused some parts of the land to collapse, resulting in extremely unusual slopes. In addition, because of the high altitude and the unique terrain, a number of unique flora and botanical species grow in the area. I highly recommend stopping for a picnic here and enjoying nature.
Directions: Drive on Route 40 and then turn right onto Route 293. After about two kilometers, turn right onto Route 3344 until you see a sign for Bitronot Ruhama.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.