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June 22, 2012June 22, 2012  2 comments  hiking

Israel - arguably the world's largest small country and certainly its most diverse - is a hiker's paradise. Paths like the Bible Trail on Mount Gilboa,  the Gospel Trail or Jesus Trail in the Galilee, (published in the article "Hiking in the Spiritual Backcountry" June 23, 2012 published by the New York Times) link sites sacred to Jews and Christians while passing through breathtaking mountain landscapes. The Kinneret Trail and the Jerusalem Trail, both currently under development, will respectively encircle Israel's largest freshwater lake and the country's historic capital. Even more ambitious, the Abraham's Path links the route of patriarch of Jews and Muslims across, Turkey, Syria,  the Palestinian Authority territory, Israel and Egypt.



But the mother of all hiking paths in the Jewish state is the Israel National Trail, known in Hebrew as Shvil Yisra'el, a 940-kilometer long path that begins in Dan near the Lebanese border in the north and zigzags its way across the entire country before ending in Eilat at Israel's southern tip on the Red Sea.


Dan Nature REserve - Travelujah

Head waters of the Jordan at Dan; courtesy Travelujah


The trail, marked with its distinctive white, blue and orange stripes, takes between 30 to 70 days to finish if hiked continuously - depending on one‘s stamina and grit. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis are in the process of hiking the trail, one weekend at a time.



Tourists are equally welcome to start the process. For foreign visitors the Israel National Trail offers the chance to see the real Israel - without any coach buses, guided tours or crowds, and often no cell phone reception or running water. Instead, there is a chance to discover Israel's people, history and culture on the country's less-traveled paths.



Inspired the Appalachian Trail in the United States, the Israel National Trail was inaugurated by President Ezer Weizman in 1994. It was an intiative of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel conceived as a way to allow Israelis to experience the entire breadth and variety of their land firsthand. Parts of the trail follow camel or goat paths, while others follow dirt roads and others no recognizable path at all. In true Israeli style of improvisation, the various sections of the trail have been added organically over the years. Thus in 2003 a portion of the trail was diverted west from the Sharon coastal plain to run along the Mediterranean where it offers beautiful beach vistas.



This article details the trail in 11 sections, any one of which promises a challenging trek for hiking devotees. None of the sections traverse the Golan Heights or the West Bank.



Naftali Ridge and Ramim Cliffs (Upper Galilee) - On the eastern slopes of the Ramim Cliffs are a series of springs and observation points overlooking the Hula Valley - known by bird watchers as place to observe the spring and fall migrations from Europe to Africa and back. The Israel National Trail here passes through planted forests and natural undergrowth. The area ranges from a deserted sandstone quarry above the city of Qiryat Shmona, at the height of 280 meters above sea level, southward towards the Yesha Fortress, a Taggert fort built during the British Mandate that was the site of a bloody battle during Israel‘s 1948 War of Independence. In the autumn, the trail is rich with early blossoming cyclamens.



Kadesh Ili stream and Yesha fortress (Upper Galilee) - This challenging section passes through a limestone canyon shaded by the treetop canopy.



Meron stream to Ein Zeved (Upper Galilee) - This circular trail on the eastern slope of Mount Meron, Israel‘s tallest mountain, is blanketed during the spring with a variety of wild flowers including orchids. Towards summer different flowers appear and colour the area yellow, followed by the ripening of the raspberries as the fall approaches.

 Nahal Amoud - Travelujah


Mount Tabor (Lower Galilee) - As the Bible says in the Book of Jeremiah, "As Tabor among mountains", it's impossible to ignore the presence of Mount Tabor as it looms up from all directions. The hike up Mount Tabor offers staggering views while the peak is crowned by the Church of Transfiguration and various antiquities.

 Mt. Tabor-Travelujah


Tzippori stream (Lower Galilee) - The trail here covers one of the geographical areas least familiar to hikers. In this area of gall oaks (known in Hebrew as Alon ha-Tavor  - Tabor oak), you can also find birch trees and carpets of blossom in winter and spring. In the Lower Galilee there are Bedouin settlements. Along the trail are streams of flowing water, improvised water pumps and a castle which is named the Monks Mill and the remains of another impressive gristmill at Khurbat Alil.



Ma'apilim / Nakhash stream (Mount Carmel) - A walk through Nakhash Stream provides an almost complete representation of Mount Carmel's hidden treasures: From the top of the trail and while walking down the ravine, you can see an impressive view of the northern Coastal Plain and the Lower Galilee. The path exits near Kibbutz Yagur. You can also see a vertical karstic hole, the "Arbutus Curve" and at the end of the trail in Yagur, a slick (secret weapons hiding place) from the pre-state Haganah underground. "Nakhash" means snake in Hebrew though your chance of encountering the venomous Palestinian Black Viper are slim. Following statehood, the stream was renamed Nahal Ma'apilim after the illegal Jewish immigrants who attempted to slip ashore in defiance of the British Royal Navy's embargo on immigration.

 Hiking in the Carmel Mountains


After this section, the Israel National Trail continues south through the Sharon plain, through the urban sprawl of Gush Dan and greater Tel Aviv, and the Shephaleh lowlands. Those who prefer trekking in pristine landscapes will want to skip this section.



Shayarot Range (Judean Mountains) - Trekking along the Shayarot Range provides views down to the Coastal Plain and up to the Judean Mountains, hundreds of kilometers of mountain dirt tracks, walking routes, caves, and an abundance of flowers in the spring. The trail passes through the Burma Road - a goat path widened to barely allow trucks to pass that lifted the Arab siege of beleaguered Jerusalem in 1948. Here you can climb to the military posts overlooking Rte. 1, today the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv expressway but six decades ago the scene of savage fighting between Arab villagers and the soldiers of the Palmach's Har'el brigade.



Yatir ruins to Dragot Quarry - This segment of the Israel National Trail goes from Khurbat Yatir, one of the Levite cities in the land of Judea on the eastern brim of the Yatir Mountains ridge, through the Yatir Forest, the largest forest planted by the Jewish National Fund, to the Mount Amsha nature reserve, which has impressive views and unique plants. It also contains the remains of the Roman "freeway" Ma'ale Dragot.



Mamshit stream (Negev) - The trail passes through the 2,000-year-old ruins of the Nabatean city of Mamshit. Its alleys, churches, stables, houses and administrative structures, though damaged in the massive earthquake of 749, are still impressive. You can visit the ancient dams at Mamshit Stream - designed to capture every last drop of precious water in the desert, walk through the beautiful narrow canyon of the stream, and see the remains of ancient ancient agriculture.



Mitzpe Ramon and Ramon Crater (Negev) - The desert city of Mitzpe Ramon is a meeting place for artists, a station for people heading south to Eilat, and a base for visitors to the Ramon Crater - better known to geologists as a makhtesh or erosion cirque. Ibex - mountain goats with huge horns - scamper freely on the cliffs, while the crater's colours change with the passage of the sun.



Kisuy stream and Uvda Valley (Negev) - While the Negev is a rock desert, in the Uvda Valley you'll encounter towering sand dunes reminiscent of the Sahara. The Neolithic "leopard" temple here attests to early human occupation.



Shkhoret stream (Eilat Mountains) - The final section of the trail is the most geologically diverse: here you'll find Israel's only granite formations, as well as the more common limestone and dolomite. Hiking at night, one encounters a surprising array of nocturnal fauna proving the desert is hardly a lifeless wilderness.

Timna National Park - Eilat


Reaching the port and resort of Eilat with your dusty hiking boots, you'll realize civilization isn't necessarily such a good thing. In Israel, with all its varied attractions, nature is near the top of the list.


Interested in bringing your ministry or group on a biblical walking tour of the Holy Land or adding a one or two day hiking component into your Holy Land tour program? Contact Travelujah  at info@travelujah.com.


Israel National Trail

Gospel Trail - A 62-Km walking trail from the Mt. of Precipace to Capernaum in the Galilee 

Jesus Trail - a 65-km walking trail from Nazareth to Capernaum, to book a Jesus Trail tour click here

Abraham's Path - 1,200 km hiking trail from Syria to Egypt (currently 70-Km inside of the Palestinian territories)

Jerusalem Trail - A 42-Km walking ttrail around Jerusalem


For more information on arranging biblical walking or hiking tours of the Holy Land, contact Travelujah-Holy Land tours

All Photos: Courtesy: Travelujah

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Gil Zohar writes regularly for Travelujah, the leading Christian social network focused on travel to the Holy Land. People can learn, plan and share their Holy Land tour and travel experiences on Travelujah.



December 11, 2011December 11, 2011  0 comments  nature

He said to them, 'Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for.'" Mark 1:38


With a heart full of emotion, Valeries Ramirez, 24, looked out over the Sea of Galilee and the Genasseret Valley on the path Jesus likely took from his hometown in Nazareth to meet the residents living in the seaside villages along the Sea of Galilee.


"To walk where your savior walked - it's a very beautiful experience and something that will change your life," Ramirez said about her visit along a portion of the Gospel Trail, the newly completed 65-kilometer path inaugurated last week by Israel's Ministry of Tourism.


The Gospel Trail is part of the Tourism Ministry's effort to attract more Christians to Israel in general, but more specifically to the Galilee, which does not attract the high number of tourists that Jerusalem does, despite the fact that Jesus spent most of his life in this region and walked the very countryside that Ramirez was walking.


Ramirez was visiting Israel as part of a 70-person tour organized by Pastor Alberto Mottesi, a radio and TV personality and Evangelical minister from Santa Ana, California, who led a  group of 70 believers from Latin America and the United States on a 10 day journey to Israel on what he estimates is his 15th visit to the Holy Land.


Alberto Mottesi

Alberto Mottesi and Travelujah Founder Elisa Moed, Photo Credit Travelujah


Mottesi's radio program ‘Un Momento Con Alberto Mottesi' (A Moment with Alberto Mottesi) is transmitted approximately 2000 times daily throughout Latin America, USA, and Spain. His new television program Café Libre can be seen on 5580 channels in 57 countries.


"The first time I came to Israel I wanted to experience the Bible exactly as it is," said Pastor Mottesi.


And to do that one must feel the land. Even Jesus and his disciples couldn't rely on cars to take them around the Galilee 2,000 years ago, which is why Mottesi felt it was important to include the new Gospel Trail as part of his group's itinerary.


"When we walk here, Israel opens up in front of our eyes," explained Mottesi.


The Gospel Trail provides an unparalleled opportunity to replicate Jesus' probable footsteps from Nazareth to the villages in which he ministered along the Sea of Galilee.


The 65-kilometer trail begins at the Mount of Precipice in Nazareth where, according to Luke 4:14-28, Jesus was rejected by his townsmen who threatened to throw him over the mountainside. It crosses part of the Galilean landscape providing views of many important holy sites and places where Jesus performed miracles and taught. The trail dips into part of the Jezreel Valley and continues along the Nazareth Range providing views of Mount Tabor where Jesus was transfigured and the village of Cana where he performed his first miracle, turning water into wine.


It passes nearby to the Horns of Hattins, the site of the clash between the Crusader forces and the Muslim armies under Saladin, and past the antiquities of Magdala to Tabgha, and below the Mount of Beatitudes, eventually ending at Capernaum and the Sea of Galilee.


Those who prefer to add a bit more adventure to their Gospel Trail experience can do so by taking on the trail by bicycle or even horseback. Bikes can be rented in Nazareth and Tiberias. Horseback riding can be arranged through Vered HaGalil, about 5 minutes from the Mt. of Beatitudes. Gospel Trail maps can be viewed online and are available through Ministry of Tourism offices.


Trotting the Gospel Trail

Israel Minister of Tourism Staz Misechnikov trotting the Gospel Trail   Photo courtesy: Elisa Moed, Travelujah


Father Juan Solana, director of the Legionaries of Christ, said the Gospel Trail is "a great initiative."


"You can't follow the footsteps by car - only by walking or biking or horseback riding," he explained.


The Gospel Trail will pass by Father Solana's new Magdala project, Notre Dame du Lac, which is under construction just north of Ginnosar on the Sea of Galilee.

Sunset on the Sea of Galilee

Sunset on the Sea of Galilee; Photo Courtesy: Elisa Moed, Travelujah


The Ministry of Tourism spent 3 million shekels ($750,000) upgrading the trail, much of which is also part of Israel's National Trail. Separate signs, rest areas and other enhancements were added to the Gospel Trail in order to cater to the Christian tourists anticipated to hike the trail.

archaeological excavations by Tel Kinrot at the Sea of Galilee

Archaeological excavations at Tel Kinrot, on the Gospel Trail; Photo Courtesy: Elisa Moed, Travelujah


The trail was planned more than 10 years ago but was shelved due to the second intifada. It was revived a couple of years ago when, coincidentally, another hiking trail - the Jesus Trail - created by two young entrepreneurs, began generating much buzz and interest in the area. The Jesus Trail follows a similar route as the Gospel Trail and serves the same function and market, though the Jesus Trail encourages a bit more diversity and interaction with the local population as its path passes through some outlying Arab villages in the Galilee and passes many more churches.


The Ministry of Tourism route, which was planned and completed with the help of KKL, Israel's forestry organization, focuses more on exploring the indigenous nature of the region and includes many forests. Be forewarned though: The trail itself offers no infrastructure such as bathrooms, hotels or restaurants so travelers must bring supplies with them and carefully plan their journeys themselves or hire a specialist to coordinate the logistics of the trek.


While no one really knows the exact paths Jesus took, according to Yisca Harani, a Christianity expert, consultant to the Ministry of Tourism and instructor at the Avshalom Institute, it is quite likely that he traveled on or near either of these paths. 


Jesus spent most of his life and performed many of his miracles in this very region yet  the Galilee attracts far fewer tourists than Jerusalem.  Although if it was up to Pastor Mottesi, all Christian tourists would some spend time in the Galilee.


"People must come here to walk the same trail Jesus (walked)," he explained. "That's all I have to say to convince them (to come to Israel)."



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Elisa L. Moed is the Founder and CEO of Travelujah, the leading Christian travel network focused on connecting Christians to Israel. People can learn, plan and share their Holy Land tour and travel experiences on Travelujah.



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