Hiking in Israel is a national pastime – youth groups, the scouts, the army connect to the Biblical land with their feet. Schools have an annual, end of year hike. Many young people when they finish their army service reconnect with friends by hiking together on the Israel Trail, a 945 km trail that crisscrosses Israel, from Dan in the north to Eilat in the south. There is also a Golan trail, a Jerusalem trail and a Gospel trail, in the footsteps of Jesus. If you want to really experience and understand Israel you should take to the trails. Hiking takes you off the beaten track and besides the beauty of nature you will often come across archaeological ruins from thousands of years ago. If you don’t have a lot of experience hiking or don’t know Israel well I’d recommend you hire a guide. Besides knowing the trail a guide will explain the nature, history and archaeology on the hike and can suggest what to bring, help with logistics and transportation.
Because Israel is located on the land bridge between Europe, Asia and Africa and extends from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River in the Great African Rift Valley and from the Red Sea to mountains in the north it has a diversity of climates and habitats. These unique conditions are the main cause for the rich diversity of Israeli flora, more than 2500 species (compared to 1500 in the British Isles for example which is 10 times the size). This incredible diversity leads to many different hiking experiences.
Jerusalem is a great base for day hikes because of its location in the hills and on the edge of the Judean desert and only a half hour drive to the northern edge of the Dead Sea.
For starters I’d recommend hiking Nahal Og, with its rugged desert landscape. You hike in a narrow canyon and climb on rung ladders that have been hammered into the rock cliff – a classic Israeli hike. Nearby is Wadi Qelt another desert hike that takes you to a monastery hanging on the cliff, with its chapel and gardens, that was first built in the 6th century.
Although you are in the desert there are two places with natural springs, Ein Gedi and Ein Feshka. Ein Gedi is a kibbutz (collective agricultural settlement) named after a Jewish settlement from 2000 years ago. Besides the excavations of the town with a synagogue there are ruins of a much earlier Chalcolithic temple. The surrounding area, a nature reserve, is a great area to hike and you can choose various trails, from 20 minute family hikes to challenging 4-6 hour hikes, that will take you to pools and waterfalls in the middle of the desert.
A little farther south there is hiking at Mount Sodom, a salt mountain that is connected to the Biblical story of Lot’s wife who looked back while fleeing Sodom and turned into a pillar of salt (a guide can show the pillar of salt standing to this day). If you still have energy at the end of the day try, a night hike by the light of the full moon in Nahal Peratzim, a canyon of white chalk cliffs in the Amiad plain.
Make your own itinerary from these choices and still be able to be back in Jerusalem in time for dinner and drinks in the evening.