Experience Israel's Other Holy Land

Many who visit Israel are deeply moved by the religious sites of Jerusalem. Yes, Jerusalem is extremely fascinating. But for me, my spiritual revelation occurred in the country's stark natural beauty. Much like the first Israeli president Ben Gurion, the desert's solitude and haunting silence was my Holy of Holies.

Sunrise, top of Masada

After a whirlwind Israel adventure trip of rappelling, biking, hiking, riding camels, archery and snorkeling with dolphins, here are my top four Southern Israel hikes to do in the other Holy Land - the God-made one.

Ben Gurion's Tomb National Park

En Gedi Lower Wadi David Trail – This hike is great for three reasons. Your kids or your grandma or both can join in, the animal interaction is unreal and at the end of the yellow dirt road is a striking 30 foot David’s Fountain from fresh water springs. This hike may be the only one in the world below sea level at -400 meters.

Friendly Ibex poses for the camera, En Gedi

Level: Easy to Moderate

Length: 1 hour

Highlights: Up close photo ops with very tame Ibex & Rock Hyrax, Three fountains, See new terrain going and coming (trail is a loop)

David's Fall, En Gedi

Masada Snake Path – There are very few reasons I will get out of bed before 7 am, but hiking Masada is definitely one of them. Best to hike to the ancient ruins before daybreak (park opens one hour before sunrise) to experience the sun coming up from King Herod the Great’s summer home/fortress.

Worth getting up at 5 am for... Snake Path, Masada

A guide is well worth it here to learn of the architectural brilliance (how they made a bathhouse and swimming pool on top of a mountain in the middle of the desert), historical relevance of the Egypt-Roman struggle and the moving story of the Jewish freedom fighters that committed mass suicide rather than be enslaved by the Romans. Masada was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001.

Level: Moderate to Difficult

Length: 1 hour

Highlights: 360 Desert views, Touring the ruins, Cable Car ride down

Mount Zefahot – This trail, just outside the seaside resort town of Eliat, feels like a hike on the moon with its jagged, barren rock landscapes. For the huffing and puffing up the slippery terrain, the reward is sweet. Like the United States’ Four Corners of the Southwest where you can be in four states at once, from Mount Zefahot’s vista – take in four countries at once. It gave me geographical perspective to see Egypt, Jordan, Israel and Saudi Arabia all in a half turn glance. You can also pretend you completed the Israel National Trail as its Southern point starts/ends here.

Views of Four Countries from Mount Zefahot

Level: Moderate to Difficult+

Length: 1:30 – 2 hours each way

Highlights: Stark desert solitude, Four country view

Ben Gurion National Park Nahal Havarim Full Moon Hike - North from the Dead Sea a bit and 45 minutes away from Mitzpe Ramon's stunning crater lies a magical hike in the Negev Desert. When the full moon is out, no need for a flashlight. The moon reflects the white sands and no doubt you'll be singing your rendition of Dean Martin's "When the Moon Hits Your Eye, that's Amore." Adam Sela Negev Desert Tours offer amazing off-road trips, contact them for an insightful Full Moon hike guide.

Moon shines like the Sun, Nahal Havarim Full Moon Hike

Hike for the Hardcore

For bragging rights that you walked all of Israel, the Israel National Trail (INT) is 580 miles and runs the entire length of the country from the Lebanese border in the north to the Red Sea in the south. Because of the way it traverses Israel's diverse physical, ethnic, and religious landscape, the INT is gaining a reputation as one of the world's great long-distance treks. It takes roughly 30-45 days to complete.

Blaze of Hiking Glory

Every hike I went on throughout Israel, vibrantly painted stripes of different colors (official name: blazes) dotted the rocks along the way. When I asked our expert historian/geological guide, Ofir Jacobson, what they were, he explained they were markers indicating what trail you were on and a way to know which trail to continue on. Much like leaving a trail of colorful breadcrumbs to the help the next sojourner find their way.

Tour guide Ofir Jacobson, Eliat Mountain.

The orange, blue and white striped rocks designate the Israel National Trail and even tell you if you’re hiking towards the desert or south (orange color will be farthest) or towards snowy mountains or north (white color will be farthest).

Israel Trail Angels

Hot Tip for Surviving the Israel Trail: Trail Angels! Israel's Trail Angels generously take in weary Israel Trail hikers into their homes, for a shower, and some for a night's accommodation or a hot meal, which are in close proximity to the trail.

Israel Hiking Resources

To arrange an indepth guide with one of Israel's most knowledgable tour guides, contact Ofir Jacobson directly at: [email protected]

For other Israel Adventure outdoor ideas, visit Go Israel.

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