With its unbelievably diverse terrain – ranging from the alpine slopes of Mt Hermon to the parched wadis (river bed) of the Negev – and almost 10,000km of marked trails, Israel offers some truly superb hiking. The country gets little or no precipitation for at least half the year so Israelis can plan outings without having to worry about getting rained on – and, because water is so precious, they love nothing more than to spend a summer’s day sloshing through a spring-fed stream shaded by lush vegetation. Whenever you hit the trails, don’t forget to bring a hat and plenty of water, and plan your day so you can make it back before dark.
At many national parks and nature reserves (www.parks.org.il), basic walking maps with English text are handed out when you pay your admission fee. In other areas, the best maps to have – in part because they indicate the precise boundaries of minefields and live-fire zones used for army training – are the 1:50,000-scale topographical maps produced by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI), sold at bookshops, SPNI field schools and some nature reserves.
The website http://www.tiuli.com, run by Lametayel, Israel’s largest camping equipment store, has details in English on the hiking options around the country (the Hebrew website is much more extensive). The SPNI’s Mokedteva (www.mokedteva.co.il) has up-to-date information in Hebrew on weather, hiking routes, trail difficulty, trail closures and special events.
Popular long-distance trails (from north to south):
Israel National Trail (Shvil Yisra’el; www.israelnationaltrail.com)
Rambles for 940km through Israel’s least-populated and most-scenic areas, from Kibbutz Dan in the north to Taba on the Red Sea. Trail blazes are orange, blue and white.
Sea-to-Sea Hike (Masa MiYam l’Yam; http://www.seatoseatrail.com)
A 70km route from the Mediterranean (Achziv Beach) to the Sea of Galilee (near Ginnosar) via Mt Meron and Amud Stream. Takes three to five days.
Jesus Trail (www.jesustrail.com)
A 65km route from Nazareth’s Church of the Annunciation to Capernaum, on the Sea of Galilee. Passes through Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Bedouin and Druze communities.
Gospel Trail (www.goisrael.com)
The Israeli Ministry of Tourism’s 63km-long version of the Jesus Trail runs from Nazareth’s Mt Precipice to Capernaum, avoiding built-up areas.
Sea of Galilee Circuit (Shvil Sovev Kineret, Kinneret Trail)
Circumnavigates the Sea of Galilee. Of the planned 60km, 45km have so far been marked with white-purple-white trail blazes.
Stretches 160km from Nazareth to Bethlehem, mostly through the beautiful landscapes of the northern West Bank. Must be done with a guide – for details, contact Hijazi Travel (hijazih.wordpress.com), Walk Palestine (www.walkpalestine.com) or Green Olive Tours (www.toursinenglish.com).
Abraham Path (Masar Ibrahim al-Khalil; www.masaribrahim.ps)
It may be many years before this planned trans-Middle Eastern walking trail is fully operational, but one section that’s already open goes from Nabus via Jericho to Hebron.
Jerusalem Trail (www.jerusalemtrail.com)
A 42km circuit that connects the Israel National Trail with Jerusalem, meandering through the Jerusalem Hills and around the Old City. On the West Bank, for security reasons it’s generally not a good idea to wander around the countryside unaccompanied. Consult local organizations such as Walk Palestine (www.walkpalestine.com) to find a guide and for up-to-date information
on areas considered safe; Jericho and environs are usually a good bet. You might want to pick up a copy of Walking Palestine (www.walkingpalestine.org) by Stefan Szepesi or Walking in Palestine by Tony Howard and Di Taylor.