Summer is here and it is a beautiful time to get outdoors and to hike Israel’s Negev and Arava deserts. The temperature is just perfect for climbing the rough-and-tumble mountains of Israel’s south. With the beautiful weather right now, here is Israel’s top 9 desert hikes.
1. Mount Zefachot (also spelled Tzfachot)
This is the quintessential trip for hikers staying at the Eilat Field School. Starting just east of the building, it’s known for being the southernmost tip of the 1,000-kilometer Israel National Trail. The Field School is on the road that leads to the Egyptian border at Taba.
The hike starts with a pretty steep ascent, starting at sea level and climbing straight up. It’s definitely an exhausting trek! However, once you get to the top, the payoff is a spectacular panoramic view of the entire Red Sea region. In fact, you can see four countries from a single vantage point – Israel, of course, but also Jordan, Egypt, and the tip of Saudi Arabia.
2. Amram’s Pillars
You don’t have to trek the entire Israel National Trail to hike some of its most beautiful parts. A little over 30 minutes north from Eilat is Amran’s Pillars, a natural rock formation at the end of a short canyon.
After reaching the pillars, you can continue up Mount Amir to the peak where you’ll be treated to some great views. As you descend, catch the Israel Trail going south. An alternative route goes through a canyon filled with ancient copper mines and digging shafts. All-in-all, the trip is roughly three hours.
3. The Red Canyon
Heading north from Eilat on Highway 12 you will reach the Red Canyon, which is, as its name implies, unquestionably red from the Nubian sandstone that comprises the majority of the area. Be ready for a “traffic jam” at peak hiking periods because the canyon is not wide enough to allow more than one person to pass at once.
The canyon itself is relatively short; the rest of the walk through Nahal Shani is less scenic and without shade, but has a challenging finish involving a steep climb for some amazing views into Egypt. This is a loop trail that takes roughly three hours. When you return to your car, be sure to take advantage of the ice-cream truck, which is usually parked at the entrance.
4. Timna Park
There’s so much to do and see in Timna Park that your best bet is to simply arrive early in the day, grab a visitor’s map at the entrance, and decide what you’re in the mood for.
You can drive to Solomon’s Pillars – two rock formations formed by centuries of water erosion through fractures in the sandstone cliff – and walk around, peering in all the nooks and crannies. You can choose to follow a more challenging four-hour path that goes above the pillars for some magnificent views. It’s only 4 kilometers, but there are some steep ups and downs so be prepared for a workout!
For a more family-oriented hike, visit the Pink Canyon, which leads to the “Roman Cave” – an old structure with a Nabatean burial inscription. The only downside to Timna Park: there is an entrance fee, so coming back again over several days can get expensive.
5. Ein Avdat National Park
Many visitors to Israel’s south pay a pilgrimage to the grave of David Ben-Gurion, the country’s first prime minister, on their way to Mitzpeh Ramon or Eilat. If you’ve already stopped at Sde Boker, the kibbutz where Ben-Gurion lived, there’s a short and lovely hike starting adjacent to the gravesite into Ein Avdat, a canyon filled with surprising springs and waterfalls – a hidden desert oasis!
Ein Avdat is named for the Nabatean city that was located on the ancient spice route. On the hike, which is part of Nahal Zin, you will pass several caves that were used by Byzantine monks starting in the sixth century, as well as an observatory at the upper end. Expect to commune with the local ibex. The one-hour trek is not a loop, but it can be done in only one direction, so if you can park a second car at the second parking lot at the end, you’ll save having to walk back on the less scenic road above the canyon.
6. Nahal Peres
Nahal Peres is the most challenging hike on the list – taking six to eight hours to complete and includes some of the steepest climbs you will encounter. But it’s an Israeli classic that includes desert cliffs, waterfalls, and water holes. You need two cars for this – park one at the gas station where Highways 90 and 25 meet and the other at the start of the hike.
The water holes are a detour about 6 kilometers into the trail. Do not skip them, as you may be able to swim if it’s warm enough! Before the final ascent out of the canyon, walk a bit further to a “window” overlooking a waterfall with a fabulous view. If you only have one car, you can also switch back on a black trail just after the water holes, although you’ll miss the “window”.
7. Pura Nature Reserve
One of the best reasons for hiking during this time is the preponderance of flowers that bloom in this weather. Flowers are rare in most of the desert, but not in the Pura Nature Reserve .
The three- to four-hour walk is mostly flat, although there is a climb to Tel Nagila, a settlement that was established in the Chalcolithic period. You will pass the remains of a Turkish railway bridge that once connected Beersheva with Lod, a seasonal lake, a dam, and plenty of red anemones. For a different experience in the same area, try the nearby Philip Farm which offers carriage tours pulled by donkeys.
8. Ein Saharonim
The last two hikes on our list are both in the Ramon Crater. You will drive toward the Be’erot camping site off of Highway 40 near the middle of the crater. Be’erot also has a Bedouin tent serving coffee, tea, and other refreshments.
For this first hike, the easier of the two, continue driving another 3 kilometers until reaching the parking lot for Ein Saharonim. You will see an old Nabatean weigh station there and a spring, which is where you are most likely to see animals in search of water.
An ancient Nabatean caravanserai (fort) is nearby and can be explored before setting out on the hike itself – a two- to three-hour trail on Parsat Nekarot. The picturesque loop winds through the white limestone of the Nekarot canyon.
9. Mount Ardon
For a more challenging (seven-hour) hike in the Ramon Crater, start at the same Be’erot camping site, but head towards Mount Ardon. It’s beautiful but steep, which makes its 11 kilometers feel that much longer. Start early in the day – sunrise if possible. The top of Mount Ardon is at the very heart of the crater with stunning views of multicolored sand as far as the eyes can see!
At 702 meters above sea level, Mount Ardon is what geologists call “relief inversion” – originally not a mountain but a valley. Over time, the surrounding mountains were washed away by rain and erosion, leaving just the former Ardon valley as the area’s high point. The descent from the top can be slippery, so take it slow.
Originally posted at Israel21c.