A forest of ancient whispers

The Kula Forest offers visitors a plethora of activities, from wildlife viewing and hiking to exploring archeological sites.

Kula Forest (photo credit: MEITAL SHARABI)
Kula Forest
(photo credit: MEITAL SHARABI)
Between Shoham and Rosh Ha’ayin, there’s a road called Kvish Hamahtzevot (“Quarries Road”) that borders the impressive Kula Forest. Named after an ancient Crusader fortress that was built in the area, the Kula Forest was planted by the KKL-JNF and spreads out over 300 hectares. Hikers visit this forest all year long, but this time of year Kula is especially popular due to the beautiful spring blossoms that cover every open space.
Due to its strategic location between the mountains and the sea, this area was an important stopover for merchants in ancient times who were transporting goods between Egypt and Syria. Of course, there were no super highways in those days.
There are a number of fantastic trails in the forest, most of which are circular and suitable for the whole family. The two most popular trails that cross the Kula Forest are the Israel National Trail that traverses the country, and the From the Sea to Jerusalem biking trail that goes from Tel Aviv all the way to Jerusalem. Kula Forest is full of typical vegetation for the region, such as cypress, eucalyptus and pistachio trees.
And of course there are lots of interesting animals in the forest, too, like gazelles, foxes, porcupines, red falcons, partridges and guinea pigs. The forest is right under the path migrating birds take on their way to Africa, so don’t forget to look up every once in a while. In addition to all the incredible vegetation, flowers, animals and hiking trails, you’ll also find lots of quiet corners in the forest, as well as picnic tables and archeological findings.
Alexandroni Monument
The first site I recommend visiting – especially if this is your first trip to the Kula Forest – is the Alexandroni Monument. Located near the Israel National Trail, the monument was erected in memory of the 28 IDF 3rd Brigade soldiers who died in the War of Independence in 1948. This forest is also known as the Forest of the Kaf Het (28 in gematria), in memory of these fallen soldiers. The monument is located on the top of a hill overlooking Samaria, and if you look down below, you can even see remains of the trenches the fighters used to scoot around during the battles. There’s also a huge stone with the names of all the fallen engraved on it.
After viewing the monument, I recommend walking along one of the trails in the forest and stopping for a picnic in one of the designated areas. The Kula Forest is not very large, and so you don’t need to worry about getting lost if you go off the trail. You can just veer off in any direction you want and enjoy yourselves. You’ll see that the area is filled with cyclamens, lupines, anemones and lots of other seasonal flowers.
Kula Fortress
If wandering around aimlessly is not your style, then I suggest you follow KKL-JNF signs for the ancient Hospitaller Fortress in the western section of the forest.
You can drive part of the way there, and then continue on foot. On the way, you’ll also notice stones from old Arab homes that used to stand there. Just be aware as you’re climbing up toward the fortress that cyclists like to use this path too. So if you see one coming, be prepared to jump out of the way. When you reach the top of the hill, you will see the remains of the fortress and the nearby tower right away. It is absolutely forbidden to climb on any of the remains.
Roman mausoleum
Another amazing site to visit is the Roman mausoleum, which is situated in the northern section of the forest. You can park on the road that leads to the northern section and then continue by foot. The 2,000-year-old mausoleum is five meters high and has been relatively well preserved. The structure is made up of two rooms: In the first one, which was used for burial purposes, archeologists discovered ancient sarcophagi; the second room was used as a columbarium for cultivating pigeons. When you go inside, take a look at the magnificent columns and arches. Obviously, the individuals who were buried there were important people.
Luckily, the structure has been well preserved, and was not destroyed during Muslim rule. Some people even claim that the remains of the Prophet Yahya (known to Christians as St. John the Baptist) were placed inside the mausoleum.
Tzarta Pool
Not far from the Kula Forest there are a number of charming nature spots that I recommend stopping at if you have the time. One of them is the beautiful Tzarta Pool, which has a stone floor and was built on the remains of the abandoned quarry. The pool fills up with rain water in the winter and is covered with white water-buttercups. Inside the clean water you’ll find crabs and other crustaceans that need to find a new home each summer. There are plenty of large rocks surrounding the pool where you can lie down and relax.
Don’t wait too long to make the trip to the Tzarta pool, though, because soon it will get hot and the water will evaporate.
It’s pretty easy to get to the Tzarta Pool by car. All you need to do is turn on your smartphone and Waze will bring you right there. If you’re not technologically inclined, turn left when you come out of the Kula Forest onto Road 444, and after about four km., there will be a left turn toward the Israel National Trail and the industrial zone. Continue straight and then turn left at the end and you will see the pool in front of you.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.