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Hermon: Hazori to Hula

Golan: Devora &  Gilbon

Golan: Nahal Meitzar

Galilee: Nahal Kziv

Galilee: Nahal Amud

Galilee: Nahal Rosh Pina

Galilee: Ramat Adamit

Coast: Dor to Caesarea

Judean Hills: Ela Valley

Judean Desert: Masada

Judean Desert: Peres

Negev: Mount Zaror

Negev: Hatira Coxcomb

Negev: Ramon Ridge

Negev: Hatzra Ascent

Negev: Nekarot Hike

Negev: Ada Canyon

Arava: Barak Canyon

Arava: Maok & Nekarot

Eilat: Israel Trail Finale

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Mighty Oaks and Watefalls

A route for good hikers on the slopes of Mt. Hermon, from the Nebi Hatzori grove to Moshav She'ar Yashuv


Midway along the road leading up from Banyas to Majdal e-Shams, beside the grave of Nebi Hazori, is a grove of large kermes oak trees with unusual shapes. One tree, for example, has a hollow trunk, which someone has gone to the trouble of bolstering with stones. Another has a bowed trunk, but still affords a great deal of shade. But most important, between the trees you can see Mt. Hermon, its slopes covered with a dense grove of kermes oaks that is the “ancestral homeland” of the trees of Nebi Hazori.

Some botanists say that in their natural form, kermes oaks are only shrubs. Others maintain that in the right conditions, they would grow and flourish like the oaks of Nebi Hazori – which have certainly been given special treatment, due to the site’s holiness for the local Druze population.

Sheikh Othman el-Hazori was a Druze holy man who was known as an ardent seeker of peace. Legend has it that he would present people passing through the area with a special kind of salt: it tasted good to peace lovers, but made warmongers so confused that they forgot their target.

The Jewish National Fund has installed a pleasant picnic site in the shade of the grove. Don’t be alarmed at the fence surrounding the site: all you have to do is open the green gate and go in. If you prefer, you can stop at the little picnic site a bit further along, on the dirt road that is marked in red. This is a newly marked trail, which will appear in the next edition of the Golan and Hermon Trail Map, Dany Gaspar, coordinator of the Israel Trails Committee, promises us. When we visited, we were happy to be among the inaugurators of the trail, which leads to Nimrod’s Fortress.

Narrow paths branch off from the red trail and take you to secluded little corners where visitors can commune with the memory of the fallen of Sayeret Egoz, an Israeli Special Forces unit. It’s a monument that is striking in its simplicity: in the shade of the limestone rocks characteristic of Mt. Hermon, small basalt stones bear the names of  the fallen.

The dirt road leads up to a large plaza beside a grove of olive trees with impressive trunks. One trunk looks as twisted as a floor mop that has just been squeezed out. You can already see the eastern part of Nimrod’s Fortress across the way.

The trail leads through the grove, exiting beside another grove of ancient olive trees, growing among the wild trees. At the edge of the olive grove, the red trail meets up with the blue trail, which ascends from the depths of the riverbed of Nahal Hazor. Now you are opposite the fence of the fortress. Follow the sign with the arrow pointing left and you will soon reach the road, and the gate of Nimrod’s Fortress National Park. Take one of the leaflets at the gate.

Nimrod’s Fortress

Nimrod’s Fortress was built by Almalek Alaziz Othman, the Ayyubid governor of Banyas, in 1228. Later, when Baybars became the Mameluke sultan, he presented Nimrod’s Fortress as a gift to Bilik, his loyal friend and second-in-command. Historical sources relate that Bilik built several towers, a mosque, and a palace in the fortress. After his death, his son arranged for Bilik to be murdered, apparently because he feared his power.

Construction work in the fortress then ceased. Not only was it no longer needed, since the fortress was large and strong enough, but its strategic value declined after the Crusaders were expelled from the Holy Land in 1291. After the Ottoman Turks conquered the land in 1517, they used the fortress as a luxury prison for Ottoman nobles who had been exiled to Palestine. The fortress was abandoned later in the sixteenth century.

The right way to visit Nimrod’s Fortress is not to continue on the road, as the vehicles do. Instead, immediately after going through the gate, cross the little olive grove that is on the right and you’ll come to a sign warning that this route should be attempted only by experienced hikers accompanied by an authorized guide acquainted with the site. If you’re used to hiking, don’t be intimidated by the sign – you’ll manage without any difficulty.

Continue on the trail, which is well marked with stones along the side, and make your way up the steep slope, on a stepped path with a clear route, until you are at the foot of the eastern tower of the fortress. In the northern part of the tower, you’ll see a small opening, which you can get through by crawling.

Beyond the opening is a passageway built of large, well-chiseled stones, which leads straight to the donjon (a massive inner tower), which is also the highest part of the site. The view is splendid: from here you can easily see the slopes of Mt. Hermon, the northern Golan, and the Hula Valley.

A proper stroll through the fortress takes about an hour and should end up on the western side, where you’ll find a snack bar, rest rooms, and several tables under a thatched roof – an appropriate place for a break.

 To the Sources of Nahal Hermon

At the edge of the parking lot, set out on the trail marked in green. The route was marked only recently and it helps you to negotiate the rocks.

Climb up the low ledge and then continue down the green trail to the Banyas Spring. The trail descends on the watershed line of a gentle slope, where you’ll find a sparse olive grove, which is accompanied by a large number of spiny broom bushes.

The view is magnificent. The mountains of southern Lebanon, the Hula Valley, and the Naphtali Mountains are with you all along the way. A green line of plane trees meanders through the valley, marking the route of Nahal Hermon.

The trail leads directly to the observation terrace offering a lovely view of the Banyas Spring from atop the cliff, over the temple to Pan. The gleaming white building beside the grave of Nebi Hadar is on the slope to the right, and the old mosque is clearly visible on the left, beside the ruins of the Crusader fortress.

From the observation terrace, the trail leads down through a forest of Mt. Tabor oaks and reaches the fence of the nature reserve. Walk to the left, along the fence, until you reach an abandoned house. Beside it is a little opening in the gate. You can enter, but first pay at the ticket booth and take the leaflet describing the routes in the reserve. (Members of the Matmon club of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority are admitted free of charge.)

All of the information you need is in the leaflet. Just make sure your first stop is the ruins of the temple to Pan, where the Israel Nature and Parks Authority has carried out impressive reconstruction work. Then continuealong the riverbed.

To the Banyas Waterfall

From here on, the route is replete with water – the water that flows through Nahal Hermon. Head for the Banyas Waterfall. The trail crosses over to the right bank via a wooden viaduct, and then goes back across to the left bank. This passage runs under the arches of a Roman bridge. Note the true laurel tree in the western part of the bridge.

After passing the abandoned hydroelectric station, you’ll come to a nicely reconstructed flour mill. You can take a break here and enjoy thin Druze pita baked on the spot.

Before setting out for the trail to the Banyas Waterfall, make a detour to the left to the site of the Roman-period city of Banyas, large portions of which were exposed in archaeological excavations. Allow for a visit of about an hour.

Follow the trail to the waterfall along the left bank of the riverbed. You’ll come to an observation terrace offering a view of the most impressive waterfall in Israel. You can replenish your own water supply at the tap beside the observation point.

After you have enjoyed the view of the waterfall from above, go down to it by crossing over to the right bank of the riverbed. You’ll come to a junction of trails, with the trail on the right leading to the waterfall, a two-minute walk. The trail to the left, with black markings, leads to Moshav She’ar Yashuv.

Down Nahal Hermon

Once you’ve been refreshed by the spray of the waterfall, continue down the riverbed in the direction of She’ar Yashuv. Don’t be alarmed when you come upon a locked gate: just ask the the reserve ranger standing beside it to open it for you.

This trail may be the only one in Israel that features a walk of several kilometers along a flowing riverbed. After crossing a basalt barrier, the riverbed enters a black canyon about 3 meters wide, and the stream turns into a rushing river. You get to view it from above, on the high ramp you’re walking on.

At the end of the narrow canyon, follow the trail leading down to the channel of the riverbed. It will take you to a beautiful, shady spot beside the riverbed, where you’ll find an overturned Syrian tank, with water lapping at it. During the Six Day War, five Syrian tanks tried to attack Kibbutz Dan, about 2 kilometers to the west, but were fended off. This tank was apparently beating such a hasty retreat that it ended up falling into the channel. Its belly makes a good dining surface, but please don’t leave any leftovers behind.

Go back up along the trail and continue to walk on the high bank of the riverbed. When you come to a lovely cluster of large Mt. Tabor oaks, look at the opposite slope, on the eastern bank. Usually, you can see the waterfall of Nahal Pera, which descends from the ruins of the village of Ein Fit and splashes into Nahal Hermon in a series of three steps with a total height of some 70 meters. In especially rainy years, such as this one, a nice amount of water flows through the riverbed even in August.

The trail continues on the western side of Nahal Hermon, high above the channel. After about 300 meters, it passes beneath large jujube trees. Above the trees, on the slope of the riverbed, is a travertine step hewn with burial niches from the Roman period.

Continue down the riverbed; large plane trees grow alongside it here. Cross over to the left bank and you’ll see a dirt road (suitable for jeeps) that climbs left on the step above the channel. Rather than trekking along the dusty road, take a new trail marked in red that branches off to the right. It continues alongside the riverbed, between fig, willow, and plane trees, and sometimes through a “tunnel” of reeds.

When you see the three gigantic Mt. Tabor oaks to the left of the trail, you’ll know that you’re nearly at the end of the route. This used to be the site of the tomb of Sheikh Mahafi, near a small spring that flows in a narrow rivulet to Nahal Hermon. Take a moment to enjoy the shade of the trees and marvel at their size.

Now all that remains to be done is to continue a bit further, meet up with the dirt road, and follow it to the bridge that leads to She’ar Yashuv, the ending point of the hike.





Useful Information: 

Length: 12 km

Difficulty: For good hikers. A relatively relaxed hike, on an incline.

Starting: Sayeret Egoz monument. Access from the Banyas-Hermon road.

End: Moshav She’ar Yashuv

Duration: 8 hours, including a visit to Nimrod’s Fortress National Park and sites in the Nahal Hermon Nature Reserve.

Fee: There is a charge for admission to the national park and the nature reserve. (Members of the INPA’s Matmon Club enter free of charge.)

National parks and nature reserves are open:

April to Sept.: 8 a.m. - 5 p.m., Fri. and holiday eves until 4 p.m.

Oct. to Mar.: 8 a.m. - 4 p.m., Fri. and holiday eves until 3 p.m.

Locked gate on trail from Banyas Waterfall to She’ar Yashuv: Ask ranger to open it for you. If you wish to make arrangements in advance, phone (04) 695-0272.

Pickup point for cars: She’ar Yashuv bridge.

Buses should wait for hikers at the edge of the moshav and not try to reach the bridge.

Map: Golan and Hermon Trail Map (No. 1; Hebrew only).

For map click here






© ERETZ Magazine 2016