The Israel National Trail (INT), listed by National Geographic as one of 20 most epic trails, runs the length of Israel from Dan in the north, near the Lebanese border, to Eilat in the southernmost tip of the country, on the shores of the Red Sea. Or Ben Yehuda went on a 630-miles and 3-months adventure with a couple of brand new friends, and is here to recommend some of the must-see spots along the way.
I have to start on a personal note, as the INT has has held a special place in my heart for a very long time. When I was nine years old, my father went hiking on a section of the Israel National Trail and never came back. He suffered a cardiac arrest and the rescue attempt was unsuccessful. Out of my family tragedy came the desire to finish what my father started and never got the chance to complete, so I embarked on a physical and mental journey across the Land of Israel, together with Ohad the Nomad and Alon Jorji, two people I did not personally know four months ago.
A most diverse experience
The Israel National Trail, marked with three stripes (white, blue, and orange), crosses mountains and valleys, passes through streams and deserts, and provides a unique perspective on the cultural and historical diversity of Israel, exposing hikers to places, cultures and stories running the whole gamut of Israeli society. It is worth noting that while INT was inaugurated in 1995, it has acquired a special meaning during the current pandemic, as a temporary alternative to the modern day Grand Tour that is so popular among young Israelis; since we all found ourselves in lockdown in our own country, INT has been a lifeline for many.
One of the things that was most important to me and my new buddies was not to finish the hike as fast as we could, but to walk the trail both physically and mentally, to really take it all in, to feel as one with nature and absorb the local culture wherever we go. An integral part of the INT experience and culture is the “trail angels,” people who live in proximity with the trail and volunteer to host and feed the hikers. Surprisingly, some of the “angels” even have a special room at home specifically reserved for hikers, and staying with them along the way is the best way to get to know and converse with such a wide variety of people, with their singular life stories, opinions, thoughts and perceptions. The “trail angels” are without a doubt what gives the INT an added value, at least in my opinion. Now let’s check out some must-see spots along the way, north to south.
Mount Arbel is located in the Lower Galilee, overlooking the city of Tiberias. It has great historical significance, dating as back as the Second Temple period, but most people climb the mount to reach the cliff, affording breathtaking views of the blue Sea of Galilee. You might find yourselves standing there for a long time, just admiring the beauty in front of you. And here’s a tip: bring a portable coffee set wherever you go, preparing and drinking it with the world at your feet is a fabulous experience.
Beit Yanai Beach
The beautiful beach is located in the Sharon area, on Israel’s coastal plain. Approaching the shoreline, you immediately take in the striking scene – in front of you the Mediterranean in all its glory, with impressive shades of blue like I have not seen anywhere else in the country, and behind you some cliffs that seem to have been taken from the famous Lion King scene. Definitely a place worth a dip!
The beautiful desert pool is by far one of the most spectacular points in the Judean Desert. After days of rain and floods, it fills with crystal clear water and you find yourself sitting in the hot sun, admiring the view from high above next to a cool body of water. It is a breathtaking sight, but mind you, the ascent is not long, but involves some climbing and ladders, and the descent might be a bit challenging.
The Dead Sea
The Dead Sea is well known as the lowest point on dry land, and boasts a rich history as well as healing properties, attracting travelers from all over the world (pre-COVID-19, of course). We decided to deviate a bit from the INT in order to reach the Dead Sea, and were left speechless in front of a crazy sunset like the one you can see in this picture. If you’re walking the trail, the Dead Sea and its many sights is a must-see for sure.
This beautiful oasis, en route to Eilat, seems to have been taken from Jasmine’s palace in the movie Aladdin. The local organic community of the kibbutz leads a slightly different lifestyle than ours, but most people come here for the architecturally unique Art Center. It is insulated with mud bricks, with “air conditioning” supplied by a desert cooling tower. In the picture below you can see the lake created by kibbutz members, a beautiful place to sit and relax.
‘Mount Crest’ is the most difficult and challenging section on the INT. From the moment you start you must finish the hike, as there is nowhere to stop on the way. The loop is 11 miles long, with a difficult ascent and steep descent, combined with walking on pointed rocks and bodies of water. But once you overcome the grueling part, you’ll be rewarded with the most impressive desert view. A physical and mental challenge, like the INT itself.