Walks and waters in Ein Hemed

All year long, a number of springs flow through the Ein Hemed reserve until they reach pools, which are surrounded by picnic tables and shaded green areas.

COOLING OFF in Ein Hemed. (photo credit: MEITAL SHARABI)
COOLING OFF in Ein Hemed.
(photo credit: MEITAL SHARABI)
On Highway 1, just 10 minutes from Jerusalem, you’ll find a natural treasure with cool springs that flow gently beneath the shade of the bountiful trees. As you drive along the highway, the Ein Hemed National Park will be on your left, hidden down below in the valley at the foot of the Jerusalem Hills. All year long, a number of springs flow through the reserve until they reach pools, which are surrounded by picnic tables and shaded green areas that are popular relaxation spots for families and hikers.
During hot summer days, these springs offer a welcome respite from the heat and humidity. However, on chilly winter days as well, hikers can also be seen traversing the reserve as they listen to the water trickling by and the birds chirping. When this region was full of Crusaders, this land was a farm that was protected by the nearby fortress, which has been almost fully preserved. The crusaders called the area Aqua Bella (beautiful water) and the largest spring in the reserve has also been given this name. Local Muslims also apparently liked the name and so call it by the Arabic equivalent: Khirbet Iqbala.
The stream that passes through the national park is the continuation of the Kesalon River, which starts high up in the mountains near Mevaseret Zion, and then winds down through the nature reserve and finally joins with Nahal Sorek. The section of the river that passes through Ein Hemed is only 600 meters long, but this is enough to fill the pools with water and make the nature reserve one of the most popular nature attractions in the country.
Some of the springs are visible to the eye, whereas others hide inside the mountain that is covered with unique rock formations that are formed by two types of rocks: yellow dolomite and gray marlstone. These rocks explain the unique coloring of the Jerusalem hills.
Although many of the people who visit Ein Hemed come specifically to enjoy the cool water of the springs and pools, others come expressly to hike the circular path and visit the fortress. Not much documentation about the fortress has been found in crusader records, but it was mentioned in a document dated to 1163 that it belonged to the Knights Hospitaller Order, which functioned to establish hospices and fortresses throughout the country. Researchers estimate that the Ein Hemed Fortress was built during the reign of Fulk the Younger, who was the Count of Anjou. Apparently, the fortress in Latrun was built at the same time. Some researchers claim that the land was not used for agriculture, but as a convalescent home for members of the Hospitaller Order.
The circular path through the park is easy and comfortable for families with small children and takes only about an hour to complete.
In any case, almost the entire path is shaded so that even if you’re walking there on hot days, you’ll be comfortable. Start the trail from the parking lot, which leads down to the stream. Soon you’ll pass by the first pool that is filled by a spring flowing out of a rock. It’s absolutely thrilling to stand there watching the water flow out so quickly.
On your left, you’ll see a cliff and a wall, behind which lies Ein Hemed, the spring the national park was named after. The water from this spring, which is channeled through underground pipes into a large pool, has been considered to have special supernatural powers. Some Jewish communities used to come to this spot for tashlich, the ceremony in which Jews ceremoniously cast away their sins on Rosh Hashanah, and the water was believed to bring good luck to women about to give birth (and influence their chance of having a boy). Whether you believe any of this or not, it is a really nice place to enjoy the cool water.
To continue on the trail, cross over the pool and turn right towards the olive grove and the fortress – a two-story rectangular structure surrounded by a wall. To enter inside, continue along the trail and enter through the doorway that leads into the main courtyard. There are large halls on either side of the courtyard that show remains of ornate decorations. You’ll see that there are stairs that lead up to the second floor, which you can ascend and have a nice view of the area. After you’ve exited the fortress, you’ll see an ancient Muslim cemetery, which is not open to the public.
There are two ways to return to the parking area from the fortress. The first way is walking back the same way you came. The second way is to continue walking alongside the river and then cross over a small bridge that you’ll come to. From there, you’ll cross over a dirt path, turn right and then left and come upon a pleasant grove of trees. Here, the path begins twisting and then you’ll find yourselves at an observation point from which you can see nearby communities. From the observation point, it’s just a short walk down to the parking lot.
To reach the Ein Hemed National Park if you’re driving east towards Jerusalem, exit Highway 1 at Hemed Intersection and turn right. After driving another 150 meters, turn right at the next intersection. This will take you right through the gate of the national park.
Ein Hemed is a really fun place, but it can get overcrowded at times, especially on weekends and holidays. So, an alternative spot to go hiking that is also amazing is Ein Limon, which sports a spring and a small 2m. x 2m. pool that’s a great place to cool off.
The name of the spring apparently comes from the Arab name Ein Al-Amur, which then became Ein Lamur, and then finally Ein Limon. Of course, others claim that the spring was called such after a lemon tree in the area. In addition to the pool, which is a popular attraction for people looking to take a dip in the cool water, lots of people spread out sheets and enjoy picnics here, as well as climb up the hill to the cave where the spring water bursts out of the ground.
Drive on Highway 1 and exit to Ein Hemed. Drive toward the Ein Hemed National Park and turn right at the sign for Ein Nakuba. At the entrance to the village, take a right at the fork in the road and follow the red trail markers. Pass the mosque and after the street turns into a dirt road, take the right at the fork in the road. Soon you’ll see the spring in front of you flowing from the side of the mountain.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.