Israel National Parks And Nature Reserves
Israel has around 400 nature reserves and 115 national parks. The most popular reserves located in Galilee region such as Achziv, Meron, Nahal Ayun, Carmel, Tavor. Golan Heights is home to the bulk of others (Yehudia, Meshushim, Hamat Gader). If you find yourself in the Southern areas between Beer Sheva and Eilat or near Dead Sea shore make sure to visit Ein Gedi and Mitspe Shalem.
NATIONAL PARKS IN THE GALILEE REGION AND THE GOLAN HEIGHTS
The region near the Lebanese border is the place where mountains and Mediterranean sea meet each other, forming sheer cliffs made of white limestone similar to Dover cliffs in Britain. White cliff of Rosh Hanikra is visible even from Haifa that is 40 km away. Officially, the Israeli-Lebanon border divides the ridge into two parts, but in fact this territory is under control of UN observers, while the actual Lebanese authorities are about 15 km further to the North. This very place since the establishment of Israel was nothing but a front line. There are no general crossing points between Israel and Lebanon, so no tourist ever crossed the border. Nevertheless, Rosh Hanikra (or Naqoura as it called from Lebanese side) is a popular place for family vacations.
During the British Mandate period, there was a tunnel through the rock. Thus, the road and the railway line were connecting Europe with Egypt through Palestine. In 1942 the road’s main purpose was to supply British Armed Forces that fought against Rommel. After WW2 it was planned to let passenger trains through the tunnel. However, during The Arab-Israeli War of 1948, the tunnel was blown up by a Jewish sabotage group “Haganah” in order to avoid Arab invasion through it. The Israeli part of the tunnel nowadays contains a small museum of the country’s history.
Another most exciting sight of Rosh Hanikra is grottos with a maze of crevasses filled with sea water. To get there you can use cable car that runs from a border checkpoint. Caves are open for visitation from 9.00 a.m. to 6.00 p.m. from Sunday to Thursday. Friday and Saturday from 9.00 a.m. to 4.00 p.m. Entrance fee to the caves is around $12 USD for adults, $6,5 USD for children. This price includes visitation of caves and museum as well as cable car riding. In order to reach cable car use bus number 31 from Nahariyya.
Mount Hermon Reserve
Hermon mountain is the highest point of Israel (2210 meters). This reserve is the country’s only ski resort that can provide sufficient snow amount (season lasts from January to March). At an altitude of over 1,500 meters, you can find unique plants as well as wild animals.
This resort was founded several years after the end of the Six-Day War when Israel gained territories of Golan plateau and Mount Hermon. One slope was adapted for ski trail near the Neve Ativ settlement – ski village of chalet-style hotels.
Banias Nature Reserve
Banias Nature Reserve stretches along Hermon creek. While this place is rich in various sights such as the cave that used to be an ancient pagan temple and the Banias waterfall. Down the Hermon creek, you can find Saar Falls. Both waterfalls are deep during winter and early spring, while summer is the dry season here. A few miles from the waterfalls at the foot of Hermon mount Nimros fortress will reveal its secrets to travelers. There are several hiking trails between waterfalls along the creek bank. It might take about 1-1.5 hours to complete the route.
The entrance fee is around 10 USD for combined ticket (the reserve and the fortress), children ticket cost 5 USD. If your intention is to visit reserve only be ready to pay 7.5 USD for an adult ticket or 4 USD for children.
Open Daily: from April to September – 8.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m., from October to March – 8.00 a.m. to 4.00 p.m. Ticket office usually closes one hour before reserve closing.
Hula Nature Reserve
Hula is a unique ecosystem in the Jordan Valley that along with the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea form an unified natural water network. The valley was once known as a place where migrating birds stoped during their annual trip from Europe to Africa and back. But in mid 50′ it was decided to drain this area in order to solve malaria problem. As a result only fewer part of these wetlands survived till our days. Therefore, this place became a nature reserve in early 60′. Nowadays it gives shelter to numerous bird species such as pelicans, cranes, wild geese and herons. The lake has become home to freshwater turtles, catfish, various lizards.
To enjoy nature’s diversity it is better to visit the Hula Reserve from March to early June or late August – October. Hula’s new site has walking paths, observation points, and telescopes for observing birds that inhabit the reserve. Visitors can also go on guided tours that offer explanations about the birds that inhabit the Hula Valley.
Reserve entrance fee is 9 USD for adults, 5 USD for children.
Open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., last entry at 4 p.m.
Nahal Ayun Nature Reserve
Magnificent Tanur waterfall is one of the reasons to visit Nahal Ayun Nature Reserve . While you can find Tanur near the Israeli settlement of Metula, this picturesque waterfall is followed by several smaller waterfalls and a water mill. In order to enjoy some awesome views you can hike short or long trails. The short trail starts at the lower parking lot, which is on 90th road. By continuing small circular trail you can reach observation deck and the Tanur waterfall within an hour. Long trail starts at upper parking lot in the North Eastern part of Metulla, near the Bridge of Ayun. Winter and spring period is the best time to visit Nahal Ayun.
The entrance fee is 7.5 USD for adults or 4 USD for children.
Open daily from April to March, except Saturday, 8.00 a.m. to 5 p.m. On Fridays and weekends from 8.00 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Nahal Me’arot Nature Reserve
Western slope of Carmel mountain is home to the unique nature reserve of Nahal Me’arot. This place has three major caves – Gamal, Tanur and Hanaal that served as a shelter for ancient people. In these caves were found tools, traces of life and burials that date back to approximately 500 thousand years ago. The biggest Hanaal cave familiarize visitors with ancient people’s lifestyle by means of interactive exhibition. In addition to the caves you are welcome to walk along the hillside and enjoy spectacular scenery. In the park you will find a museum dedicated to the history of excavations which also introduce you to exhibits already found there.
The entrance fee is 5 USD for adults or 2.5 USD for children.
Open daily from April to September – 8.00 a.m. to 5 p.m. From October to March – 8.00 a.m. to 4 p.m. To reach the reserve use bus number 921 that departs from Haifa.
Gan HaShlosha National Park
The distinctive feature of Gan HaShlosha National Park is that it usually considered to be a natural jacuzzi because of hot springs. This park, as well as many other parks of the country’s North stretches along the Nahal Amal stream which originates in a cave in the western part of the park. Down the river there are two waterfalls forming something similar to swimming pool in the middle part. Ever since the Roman period it was noticed that the water flow is warm enough to swim there even in cold weather. It isn’t surprising that river bank is rich with baths and saunas. In case you want to see Roman buildings that outlive several centuries, visit the Archaeological Museum of the Mediterranean Sea on reserve territory.
The park is located near Nir David Kibbutz, use bus number 412 from Beit She’an to reach it.
The entrance fee is 10 USD for adults or 6 USD for children.
Open daily from April to September – 8.00 a.m. to 5 p.m. October to March, 8.00 a.m. to 4 p.m. Last entry occurs one hour before closing.
Mount Carmel National Park
The main pupose of Mount Carmel is to preserve wildlife. The mount was once covered with vineyards, when Muslims destroyed the vineyards and forests around Carmel. Nowadays, slopes of the Carmel mountain is covered by forests artificially planted by Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel. Destructive fire was responsible for serious damage caused to a forest in 2005 and 2010. Terrain revegetation is an important mission of the Society. National park is a convenient place to spend weekend due to numerous hiking and biking trails, perfect picnic spots, parking lot and WC. The Mount Carmel Reserve is also known as “Little Switzerland” for its resemblance to mountain scenery of Switzerland. The forest is dominated by Jerusalem pine, wild olive, pistachio trees, tavor oak and laurel.
Parking lot fee: around 10 USD per car, 31 per minibus or 63 USD per bus.
Gilboa Nature Reserve
Gilboa nature reserve located in the Northern District of Israel near the Gilboa ridge and includes several national parks – Beit Alfa, Gilboa Forests, Ma’ayan Harod National Park. National parks provide activities for backpackers so you can find several trails of varying difficulty there. You can enjoy all these places without paying the entrance fee except for Ma’ayan Harod National Park, which has a museum and ancient burial grounds.
The reserve offers an opportunity for observing wild animals such as wolves, jackals, foxes, wild boars as well as numerous bird species, including eagles. If you visit Park in spring, you would admire a variety of bright flowers and plants.
The nature reserve can be reached by car using highway 667.
National Parks And Nature Reserves in The Central Part Of Israel
Me’arat HaNetifim. The Stalactites Cave
Me’arat HaNetifim or Sorek Cave was accidentally discovered during mining works near the town of Beit Shemesh. Even though Sorek Cave is relatively small having size of 82 meters long and 60 meters wide it has gorgeous stalactites and stalagmites that make this cave one of the most popular in the world. Apart from natural sights visitors might find interesting attending light show called “Romeo and Juliet” with stalactites and stalagmites as “actors”.
In order to get inside the cave, you have to wait until a new group of visitors forms. Groups depart every hour.
Entrance ticket cost 7 USD for adults or 4 USD for children.
Open daily from April to September – 8.00 a.m. to 5 p.m., from October to March – 8.00 a.m. to 4 p.m. Cave entrance closes one hour earlier during Fridays and holidays.
Utopia Orchid Park
Utopia Park located 13 miles East from Netanya, next to Bahan Kibbutz. Having a total area of 4 square kilometers (or 1,5 square miles) this park is unique because of recreated nature of tropical jungle. While there you can admire the beauty of palm-trees, orchids, carnivorous and aquatic plants, exotic birds and fish. Don’t forget to visit stylized cave with mini-zoo inside, that will surely gladden you to observe various animal’s life. For plant lovers, there is an opportunity to purchase orchids and high variety of horticultural crops.
Entrance ticket is 15 USD for adults or 11 USD for children.
Nahal Alexander National Park
The territory of the Nahal Alexander National Park stretches several miles along a Nahal Alexander stream starting from the suburbs of Hadera and Netanya to the stream mouth near the Mediterranean Sea. This stream was once home to crocodiles that were brought here from Egypt. By the end of 19th century, there were no crocodiles left, while soft-shell turtles became main attraction here. Some species may reach up to 45 inches while having 50 kg weight. During winter months stream mouth is a place for spawning mullet.
North bank is far more interesting because of eucalyptus grove and the ruins of an ancient port near it. In order to admire the views complete a 2-mile long hiking trail. Best time to visit Nahal Alexander is spring and summer months, while in summer you can use the nice beach. There is no entrance fee, so the only thing you may have to pay is the parking lot.
Beit Guvrin National Park
Beit Guvrin is a unique natural and historical reserve, located near Kibbutz with the same name. Main attractions to see here are Crusader castle and the ruins of the ancient city as well as numerous caves and underground tunnels.
Entrance ticket costs 8 USD for adults or 4 USD for children. Open daily from April to September – 8.00 a.m. to 5 p.m., from October to March – 8.00 a.m. to 4 p.m. Park entrance closes one hour earlier during Fridays and holidays. You can get there by car using highways number 1 and 38 heading for Kiryat Gat.
THE DEAD SEA AND JUDEAN DESERT
Judean Desert starts at the mouth of the Jordan River and the Dead Sea. Hot sand, bare rocks and scorching sun all these things impersonate the Biblical land, a place of hermitages and hermits. Green Hills of Western Judea contrast drastically with sand and rocks of a desert. For several thousands of years this land was a place for many historical events while people engaged in these events influenced many cultures that in the end brought our entire world to the point where we are now. Nowadays Judean Desert is a land of numerous monasteries, some of them are worth visiting in the first place: The Holy Lavra of Saint Sabbas the Sanctified and Monastery of St. George of Choziba.
The Dead Sea
The Dead Sea is the lowest point on Earth that is 400 meters below sea level. Due to high temperature and low humidity level, as well as high concentration of salt in water, the Dead Sea is totally uninhabited. At the same time, the high salt concentration provides positive buoyancy for everyone so there is no chance of drowning. Seawater and healing mud are the main reasons why travelers come here.
The Dead Sea is a nice place for recreation that provides mild climate most time of the year. With average figures up to 40°C in summer or 25°C in winter. A region near Dead Sea would be also much appreciated by those fond of ancient sightseeing. As seashore is a kind of archaeological open-air museum. Visit the ruins of ancient Hebrew settlements and the caves of first Christian monks. In order to reach Dead Sea region use direct bus route from Jerusalem or Arad town.
Eshkol National Park and Nahal Habesor
Habesor stream is the longest one in southern Israel. Nahal Habesor forms the southern border of the Biblical Negev desert, including the ancient cities of Arad, Be’er Sheva, Gerar and Ziklag. The national park stretches both sides of the stream and form nothing but a flourishing oasis in the desert of the western Negev. The local hilly landscape is rich with Egyptian ruins and abandoned Byzantine churches. After hiking tour you may find relaxing to bathe in a natural swimming pool with warm water. There are several hiking trails along the stream of various difficulty, the longest one is 12 miles. To get to the park use highway number 241. Total ride will take about 15 minutes if you start it from the town of Ofakim.
Ein Gedi National Park
Ein gedi is one of the most famous national parks in Israel and should be on your bucket list while visiting the Dead Sea. The origin of this tropical oasis related to David and Arugot streams that flow nearby. Combination of hot climate with constant water evaporation created canyons with diverse plant and animal species. Rare animals and birds can be seen here such as hyraxes, wild goats and fennec foxes.
Hiking trail to waterfalls starts near Ein Gedi Kibbutz and lead you further to the mountains. Climbing process is not that easy as it might first appear so it would be wise to recommend this tour for trained persons only. Mind that summer temperature here might reach up to 40°C or even higher figures. So those who suffer from obesity, high blood pressure, heart diseases or musculoskeletal disorders should avoid upper hiking trail. To replace it prefer lower route among shady trees to natural pool near David waterfall.
Experienced hikers will find tempting to conquer Moab and Yishai mountains by using ancient trails. To do it safely mind that you wear comfortable athletic shoes and possess sufficient drinking-water. To get to Ein Gedi use bus routes from Jerusalem to Ein Bokek or Eilat.
Masada National Park
Masada fortress is one of the symbols of Israel’s independence. Originally it was built by Herod the Great to defend against neighboring nations and Romans. This fact determines fortress location on top of a sheer cliff that was the best place for observation. Nowadays, the only military purpose of the fortress is that it serves a venue for officers taking an oath of allegiance to the IDF.
Fortress and the surroundings are particularly picturesque at sunset and sunrise, so many people seek to found themselves there at this time. You can use either cable car or stairway to rise upwards, but mind that stairway takes about 450 meters up so it might be a nice idea to use the cable car.
Open daily from April to September – 8.00 a.m. to 5 p.m., from October to March – 8.00 a.m. to 4 p.m. Last entry occurs one hour earlier on Fridays. Ticket price for those who prefer stairway is 8 USD for adults or 4 USD for children. Cable car round ticket is 20 USD and 11 USD accordingly.
Makhtesh Ramon Nature Reserve
The Hebrew word of “Makhtesh” means “hollow”. The nature reserve territory is divided between Ramon Geological Park and Ha-Minsara hill. A giant natural crater is a main sight of the park. During your stay you can hear stories that the reason for crater’s formation was the meteorite collision. In fact complex geological erosion process and soil subsidence took place. Even though the rains are quite infrequent there it is now clear that crater have formed under the influence of water.
Within the reserve, territory various animals live such as Nubian ibexes, Dorcas gazelles, and striped hyenas.
In order to get there, you can use bus route number 64 from Beer Sheva to Mitzpe Ramon or 65 to get back. There is no direct bus between Mitzpe Ramon and Jerusalem.
Yotvata Hai-Bar Nature Reserve
About 25 miles to the North of Eilat in Arava desert there is a Yotvata Hai-Bar nature reserve. It was founded more than 55 years ago to preserve rare and endangered animal species. More than 25 animal species live there in environmental conditions that are as close to the natural ones as possible. So large territory of the reserve allows to release animals into the wild after certain moment as well as it will require from visitors to get there by car as it the most convenient way. For carnivores allotted separate territory of the reserve. During summertime you can attend night tours in the Park. For those who wish to participate in them, it makes sense to stay in Yotvata Kibbutz located nearby.
Open daily in summertime from 8.30 a.m. to 5 p.m. In wintertime from 8.30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Night tours are conducted on Tuesdays starting from 5.30 p.m. Entrance fee with no carnivores visiting is 8 USD for adults or 4 USD for children. Combined ticket that will allow you to visit carnivores is 12 USD for adults or 6 USD for children. To get to Yotvata Hai-Bar you can by using any bus route from Eilat to central parts of the country.
Eilat Mountains Nature Reserve
The mountain range that includes Eilat Mountains Nature Reserve actually originates at the border with Egypt. It stretches further to the North from Eilat along the highway number 12 to the Uvda Valley. As this nature reserve is the driest in the country just a few plant types can grow there. However, the bulk of travelers visit Uvda Valley and Red Canyon to see picturesque mountains that change their color depending on the time of day switching it from golden in the morning to dark brown in the evening. The only water supply of this region is Shani stream which dries up in spring but fills up with water again due to winter precipitation that is quite infrequent here. To admire all local views you can attend any of numerous hiking trails.
Coral Beach Nature Reserve
This nature reserve is a small stretch of sea that lies between Eilat and Taba checkpoint. The heart of the reserve is a coral reef around 1,200 meters along the beach. This is one of the most picturesque coral reefs in the world and the only one in Israel. The total depth of the reef is about 4 meters that makes it a nice place for beginners to dive. Just beyond the reef depth increases to 30 meters. The underwater world is rich with various creatures that live near coral reef such as sea urchins, several dozen of fish species, chitons and sea lilies. If you are lucky enough, you can watch dolphins that visit the nature reserve from time to time.
For those who visit Eilat in order to dive the Red Sea there are several diving centers. Prices for equipment rental and training depends on the school and the season.