Timna Park in the very south of Israel is perhaps one of the country’s most incredible sites, combining desert views, geological wonders and ancient history with great hikes, cycling routes and even flamingo-shaped pedal boats.

Timna Valley, where the park is situated, is rich in copper ore, and as such has been a hub of human activity and particularly mining since the fifth millennium BCE.

It has been connected to ancient Egypt, the biblical kingdoms of Solomon and David and the Roman and Muslim Empires, and has attracted people of different cultures and backgrounds who left their mark – quite literally – on the geologically unique desert landscape.

Nowadays, no mining is required to enjoy the wonders of Timna. Instead, you can wander around and pick whatever activity suits you – be it hardcore hiking and cycling or more relaxed glamping. Just be warned at the height of summer, the area is no stranger to temperatures of 105°F and up. Check out our top recommendations below.

1. Marvel at ancient local cultures

Since Timna dates back so many thousands of years, the site boasts archeological evidence of the people who once populated it.

First, you can check out the temple of goddess Hathor, dating back to the 14th to 12th centuries BCE, built for the benefit of the Egyptian miners working there. As the years passed, it came into use of the Midianites who converted it into a tent-like shrine.

Then, you can also get up close to graffiti dating back to the same era that illustrates a hunting scene and chariots, all before grabbing a more modern chariot of your own in the form of a bike.

2. Cycle through the desert

Timna Park boasts over 40 miles of cycling routes. Some of them are suitable for the whole family and last about an hour, while other, four-hour trails are reserved for more professional bikers.

You can bring your own bike or rent a simple one onsite. Make sure to adhere to the marked trails, which will take you past some of the park’s most spectacular landscapes.

3. Snap a pic under a mushroom

Timna’s most recognizable landmark is the mushroom – a mushroom-shaped rock created through the weathering of sandstone.

This is sort of an Israeli version of the leaning tower of Pisa, in that it makes for a perfect selfie spot, with you trying to hold up the mushroom in a cunning visual trick. Since this is a very popular site it might require some patience, but you can practice while you await your turn.

4. Peek through majestic arches

Another geological highlight of the park is its arches, or large stone windows, created by millennia of winds that swept through the rocks. The place is not just perfect for photos, but also apparently for extracting iron ore. The world’s most ancient known copper mines reside just underneath.

5. Admire Solomon’s Pillars

Solomon’s Pillars are yet another geological wonder gracing Timna Park.

The 130-foot-tall pillars may look as if they were taken straight out of a temple, but are in fact a natural phenomenon that is another example of sandstone weathering due to water and wind.

Still, they looked majestic enough to the ancient Egyptians, who located their temple right here.

6. Camp in style

Since Timna Park is in the very south of Israel, it doesn’t make for a convenient day trip from other parts of the country. Many visitors tour it for a day while staying in nearby Eilat, but another option is to spend a night onsite in what promises to be a unique experience.

The park offers different levels of accommodations, from private rooms and caravans to glamping tents, bring-your-own-tents and desert-style khans.

Timna’s kosher vegetarian restaurant serves packed breakfasts for adults and children. Visitors staying overnight can pre-order meals or eat at the restaurant, which offers indoor and picnic seating options.

7. Hike to your heart’s content

Timna is home to 25 hiking trails, most of which are short and family-friendly and take you through the park’s geological highlights.

Longer, more professional hikes are also an option, as are guided tours (English-language tours can be pre-arranged here).

Other great options include sunset tours at dusk, or lantern tours later in the evening, when Solomon’s Pillars are dramatically lit up and desert skygazing becomes a must.

8. Create a perfect memento

There is probably no home in Israel without a little glass bottle filled with colored Timna sand lurking somewhere on a shelf. Visitors to the park receive a small glass bottle upon arrival, which they can later fill up with sand of different colors at a designated spot along the shores of Timna Lake.

While the sand is meant to reflect the richness and diversity of the minerals on site, it is in fact regular sand that’s been tinted. This, the park promises, is not a scam, but a step taken to preserve the natural wonders of Timna. Still, it might be time to throw out the bottle hiding in my parents’ basement.

9. Go rock climbing

In Israel, where there are rocks, there is rock climbing. Timna Park boasts over 80 climbing routes offering breathtaking views. But these are available only to people with a background in climbing – that is, this is not an activity offered to all visitors.

Those interested in rock climbing have to sign a waiver and bring their own equipment, but will be rewarded with an unforgettable experience.

10. Pedal in a flamingo boat

While Timna is very much situated in the desert, it does boast a manmade lake that makes for an incredibly fun stop in the middle of an otherwise sweaty day.

Rent a flamingo- or swan-shaped pedal boat and relax on the water, surrounded by magnificent desert scenery.

11. Get married

Private or business functions can be booked at the park. While this sure beats a hotel banquet hall, it does require an overnight stay – something this writer will shortly propose to management.

Originally posted at israel21c.org