Sara Dhooma crossing the remains of a railway Ottoman Bridge
Israel is an unbelievably stunning country with an extensive well-marked trail system. The 631-mile Israel National Trail was developed in mid-1990s to cross the nation to highlight ancient sites, explore cultural heritage, and showcase epic landscapes. At the end of February, I set out northbound to complete the entire thru-hike.
Sara at a Negev desert crater outlook
I was immediately humbled by the technical desert terrain in the Eliat Mountains close to the Red Sea. As a klutzy hiker with little rock climbing ability, I found it prudent to team up with other solo trekkers to tackle the challenging sections together. The Negev Desert is an isolated, barren place and climbing down steep, dry canyon waterfalls without safety equipment was definitely outside of my comfort zone. Despite the difficulty, the beauty of the unique geological desert features truly astonished me to continue forward.
Israel National Trail hikers working as a team in the Eilat Mountains
My normal hiking pace slowed as I crossed the Negev Desert due to tricky terrain, unexpected side-trips for sight-seeing, and to wait out bad weather. It became clear that I would not have enough time to comfortably complete the entire Israel National Trail before my flight home. Rather than race to finish the trail, I decided to save the northern section for a future trip. In Jerusalem, I spend a few days marveling at the Holy Land’s archaeological wonders. I also attempted to unravel the complexities of the current political situation with a two-day visit in Palestinian West Bank.
Sara sightseeing at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem
After completing the lush, green Judean Mountain section, I left the Israel National Trail to begin a different, shorter thru-hike. The 78-mile Golan Heights Trail stretches the length of this controversial Israel-occupied territory. The lovely Golan Heights region was consistently recommended to me by avid Israeli hikers. I spent five days sloshing through muddy, overgrown path blanketed with colorful spring wildflowers. Much of the trail weaves through military zones with gorgeous vistas into both Israel and Syria. Rusting tanks and abandoned crumbling bunkers serve as reminders of the recent conflict - and sometimes the trail sliced straight across fenced minefields. The Golan Heights Trail was an amazing contrast of natural scenic splendor, with modern military history.
Sunset on the slopes of Mount Hermon on the Golan Heights Trail
ISRAEL TREKKING LOGISTICS
Both trails were generally well-marked, but I managed to get misdirected on a few occasions. Israel has a labyrinth of trails crisscrossing each other, so paying close attention is essential. I used the GPS app MapsMe on my phone to confirm I was on the correct track. I was especially careful in military training zones with live fire, and near minefields.
Sara and an abandoned tank along the Golan Heights Trail
Carefully water planning must be done prior to attempting the Negev desert section. There are very few natural sources and hikers must utilize a water cache service, or haul water for multiple days. I opted for a service and was provided with videos to find the hidden desert water caches. My Six Moon Designs Flight 30 backpack carried my daily five to six liters of water comfortably. Hikers look out for each other and readily share their water resources with others in need.
Food resupply was problematic as most packages are only written in Hebrew. It was helpful to have an Israeli hiker with me to help translate the products and differentiate between the flavors. I was shocked by the expensive grocery prices as hiking staples like a small tuna packet could cost $5 USD. I adapted to eating mass qualities of calorie-dense tahini. Tahini is sesame paste and usually served as a condiment with salad and bread. Otherwise, I subsisted on pita bread, nuts, dried fruit, and chocolate.
Throughout my time in Israel, I was amazed by the friendliness and generosity of the local people. The Israel National Trail, and the Golan Heights Trail have a well-organized “Trail Angel” network that serves to assist hikers with lodging, showers, laundry, and sometimes more. I was also the recipient of numerous unexpected “trail magic”. One memorable encounter was when a young Bedouin family invited me for tea as I was passing by on the trail. They were very curious about why a Canadian woman would choose to walk long-distance in the desert alone. When I mentioned I didn’t cook or make tea while hiking, they generously offered to gift me their small kettle. I politely declined with a smile, and instead opened a small package of biscuits to share together with the tea.
Most Israeli hikers do not carry a tent, tarp, or any type of water protection. It usually does not rain during the spring months, but Israel experienced their wettest winter in decades. I was very glad to have brought by Six Moon Designs Skyscape X tent for a few evening rainstorms, and for warmth during the cold desert nights. The tent allowed increased flexibility, as the Israeli hikers would return home, or seek refuge at a Trail Angel’s home if any wet conditions were in the upcoming weather forecast.
Skyscape X in the Negev Desert (this shelter is no longer in production, please visit our Zero-Gravity line to see more options of similar tents)
Hiking Israel is an unforgettable, exceptional way to experience the country. I am looking forward to returning soon to complete the northern section of the Israel National Trail, and a few additional long-distance treks such as the Jesus Trail, Dead Sea Trail, and the Sea-to-Sea Trail.
About The Author
Sara Dhooma is an avid long-distance hiker and one of the Six Moon Designs Ambassador team who specializes in thru-hiking various trails around the world. Sarah has backpacked in over 75+ countries. Follow along with Sara on her Instagram Account @scifi-Sara to watch her journey along the Continental Divide Trail.
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