Hiking in Israel – A complete guide

Israel is a small country, but despite that fact, it has many types of landscapes and microclimates. The country is full of hiking and trekking trails, from day hikes to the 1000km Israel trail.

Hiking in Israel will take you through forests, deserts, mountains,  flat plains, and beautiful beaches.

Some photos to show the diversity on this small piece of land:

Trail marks and maps in Israel:

A map is good only if you know how to use it...
There is a comity which its job is to mark trails and put them on maps. Israel is divided into twenty 1:50,000 maps which are very detailed and contain all the marked trails around the country. The ultimate tool for hiking in Israel.

In Israel, the hiking trails are well marked by a distinctive sign which is a 20cmX15cm rectangle. The trails are marked with 4 colors:
blue, red, black, and green. Those 4 colors are being used to mark trails all over the country, so if you see a blue trail in Jerusalem area, it doesn't mean that there is no other blue trail in the country or even just a few kilometers from there. The rule is that if there is a junction of trails, 2 trails with the same color will never collide.

 

Hiking in Israel? The Israeli trail mark, nice to meet you. In this case a blue trail.
The marking can be on almost anything, from rocks to polls to small plates, photos from Lifta:

Arrow points a red trail mark.

Type of trails as marked on the map:

  • Single broken line - A hiking trail which you can pass through only by foot.
  • Double broken line - A trail which a 4X4 vehicle drive on (it doesn't mean it is only for vehicles, it is also for hiking).
  • Double continues line -A paved road.

For example, a 4X4 green trail will be marked the same as a hiking blue trail. The white square with the green line in the middle.

Missing color marking - indicate a way to a point of interest with a dead end. let's say if there is a nice cave or a view point next to a trail, a transparent trail will come out of the main trail to the point of interest than you will have to go back to the main trail.

Special long hiking trails in Israel:

Hiking in Israel also includes some long multi-day hikes.Except from the 4 colors, there are more signs which represent special long hiking trails:

  • Israel Trail-  A 1000 kilometer trails which go all over the country from the border with Lebanon all the way to Eilat. Takes between 6-8 weeks to complete. The trail is recommended by many long trail fans as the landscape changes all the time. Forests, streams, beaches, and a desert, all create a unique experience.
  • Golan Trail - A 130km trail in the Golan Heights, takes about a week to do.
  • Jesus Trail- A 65km trail from Nazareth to the Sea of Galilee. walks between important sites to Christianity like Capernaum, Tiberius, Cana, and more.

Each of those trails has a specific special marking.

Those signs are sometimes "riding" existing trails. For example when they planned the Israel trail, most of the time they connected existing trails.  In the connection section there will be only Israel trail marks but when it goes on existing trail there will be both the Israel trail mark and the color of the trail that was there before. On the map, the Israel Trail and all the other long trails are marked with a transparent color which shows you the trail it rides.

The Golan trail (green, blue, white) overlapping a red trail and "rides" it. A turn left.
By Shai Magnezi (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

How do I know where each trail leads to? using the Israeli hiking maps:

like I mentioned before, basically, the whole country is mapped. while hiking in Israel, in order to know where each trail leads to you will need to have a look on the relevant map to the area.In some areas and nature reserves, there are signs which indicate the destination of the trail but it is quite rare. the maps are 1:50,000 topographic map and you can see the length and the heights.

Nature reserves in Israel

An area which for many reasons was announced as a nature reserve.Most of the times it will be because the area is really nice and is a habitat for special animals, and sometimes it can be because of some special plant that grows there once a year or something you wouldn't guess.

On the field most of the times there is no marking of a nature reserve. How do you know if you are in a nature reserve? well, it is marked on the maps with a transparent green line. sometimes it is just obvious you are going to a reserve like in Ein Gedi for example as they charge you at the entrance and the place is highly maintained. On a nature reserve, you are not allowed to walk outside of the marked trails and you are allowed to camp only on specific points (more about it later).

On nature reserves, there are rangers who walk/drive around taking care of the reserve and monitoring the wildlife. If they see you break one of the nature reserve rules they might give you a fine.

 

Sleeping outside and camping in Israel:

While hiking in Israel, you can camp and sleep anywhere except nature reserves or some specific beaches. In some reserves, they will dedicate a small place for a camping grounds. Don't expect a fancy camping ground and facilities, most of the time it will be just a marked spot in the middle of nowhere with no facilities at all.  The idea behind it is that at nights animals go around the reserve, decrease the interruption the authority want to concentrate the hikers on specific locations.

Tips for sleeping outside in Israel:

  • Except for winter, I and my friends don't use a tent. A good sleeping bag will be enough to keep you warm, just sleep on a yoga mat for making it a bit more comfortable and isolation from the ground. Not taking a tent can save you a few kilos which are crucial, especially if you are into multi-day hiking in the desert when sometimes you will have to carry water for 2 days.
    How people usually sleep outside on multi-days hike. No tent, saving weight.

  • Be aware of the direction from wich the sun will rise. If you will sleep behind an object that will cast a shadow on you as the sun will rise, you might get an extra time of a good sleep before the sun will start boiling you. 
    Reminder: Sun rises in the East.
  • Use your socks to seal your shoes. During the night all kind of creatures might find your shoes as their new home. You don't want to put your leg inside your shoe and discover that a scorpion just made it his new home. Soldiers learn it in boot camp.
    Making sure no one uses your shoes as their new home.
     

When is the best season to go hiking in Israel?

because of the variety of landscapes and microclimates, it depends on what do you want to do. each area and its perfect season. 

Hiking the Desert:

Best time to hike the desert is from November to March.

  • Low chance of rain.
  • not too cold and even hot during the day. Can be very windy.
  • you might also see the desert blooms with flowers.

Rest of the time:

  • As it gets closer to July-August it becomes extremely hot. multi-day hiking is not recommended
  • Take more water than you think you will use, then take a bit more.
  • start hiking very early and have a break during the heat hours 13:00-16:00.

Hiking Northern Israel:

Hiking in Northern Israel can be done all year around, each season with its own pros and cons.

Winter :

  • Medium chance to rain.
  • can be cold, 8-15 Celsius degrees during the day and close to zero during the night.
  • The scenery is much better, everything is green and blooming.

Summer:

  • Zero chance of rain. can get up to 30 Celius degrees.
  • scenery is dry yellow landscape.
  • Best time to explore streams and springs and have a swim to chill.
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