Hiking in Israel is simple – the country has one of the best networks of trails in the world, with more than 9000 km (5500 miles) of marked trails for hiking, biking or jeep driving, and sometimes even for horse or camel rides. The trails cover most of the country including the West Bank. Alongside the trail system are topographical maps which provide a full coverage of the country on a 1:50,000 scale. But, that’s a big but, for now the maps are only available in Hebrew, not very useful for anyone that can’t read it. Having said that, the trails are very well marked and even without the best map, you’ll be able to find your way.
Hopefully after reading this introduction you will learn that hiking in Israel is easy, safe, and can be an amazing way to explore the country in a different way.
Planning your hike in Israel
Israel has many different hiking options, from very short hikes that can take less than an hour to multi-day hikes that can take up to many weeks. The first thing to do is find the right thing trail for you.
If you hiking in Israel for the first time, it will be best to start with something simple, a short trail will enable you to understand and become familiar with how the Israeli trail system works. Short hikes don’t have to be easy but usually provide a safer starting point. Places like Ein Gedi, Sde Boker, Banias, and Mount Arbel can be a good starting point for a day walk, each with a good range of hiking options – some very easy but other can provide a more challenging full day hike.
When to go
Hiking is possible in Israel all year around but consider that the summer can be very very hot not only in the desert but all over the country. If you do go out on hot day, try to make an early start and make sure you have plenty of water with you. If you are doing a full day hike it is best to find a place to rest for 2-3 hours at noon and then keep on hiking when it’s a little cooler. Keep in mind that most places don’t have water along the way.
Northern Israel can be a better place to hike in the summer, it’s still hot but at least you can find some good shade and trails that have springs and water sources to cool off in. Eilat and the Dead Sea are the hottest places in Israel, and you’ll want to avoid hiking there during the Summer (May-September).
What to bring
For a day hike you don’t won’t need much – the most important things are water, sunscreen, and a hat. Take no less than 3 liters a day, and if it’s a hot summer day, take 4-5 liters for a full day. Even if you take a short hike, take at least 2 liters with you, and never start any hike without water.
Understanding the trail markings
The method of trail marking in Israel is very simple – there are marked trails in 4 colors: red, green, blue, and black. The color has no meaning, it’s just a way to help you understand which trail goes where.
This is what it looks like: the color on either side is always white. This is a blue trail:
The marker tells you not only that you are on the trail, but also which direction to go: a straight mark means you should keep on walking straight, but there can also be a turning point that looks like this (a red trail turning right.)
Sometimes we will have a junction like this: a blue trail meeting black trail and crossing it
Or a T junction like this
Once you know which color trail you are hiking, it’s very easy to know where to go.
On a single track (a narrow path for hiking only) you should expect to find a marker ever 20-30 meters. On a wide dirt track, expect one every 150-200 meters, and after every junction. If you don’t see markers for a long time, there is a good chance that you are not on the trail, in which case the best thing to do is to return to the last marker and look for the right way to go, any other way can lead to losing a lot of time and energy.
Shai Yagel is head of trail marking in Israel for the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel. He can be contacted for any questions via Facebook.