Nahal Ammud is perhaps the most famous river in the Galilee. Many hikers are familiar with its twists and turns, but the Israel Trail does not follow the usual route along Nahal Ammud, offering a different view of it.
By: ERETZ Staff
One of the Israel Trail’s most beautiful segments runs along Nahal Ammud, which happens to be one of the Galilee’s most beautiful rivers. The most scenic and best-known part is between the spring of Ein Yakim and the Sekhwi Pools. The Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA) turned this well-traversed area into a national park long ago, erecting a ticket booth to collect entrance fees and enforcing official hours of operation. The park closes for the night an hour or two before sunset and in the afternoon, INPA inspectors make their way from pool to pool, nagging visitors to depart before closing time.
Hikers along the Israel Trail, part of which runs alongside Nahal Ammud, are subject to the park’s hours of operation and entrance fees in theory. However, since they enter the park via Nahal Meron and descend to Nahal Ammud, instead of entering at the ticket booth, they generally are not asked to pay the entrance fee.
Nahal Ammud’s highlights most definitely include the Sekhwi Pools. The series of 1.5-meter-deep pools, small waterfalls, wooden bridges, and remains of ancient mills are picturesque. Plus huge plane trees shade the pools. Even in an arid year, the pools are full of water – just not as full as they are in rainy years.
The upper reaches of the Nahal Ammud Riverbed is known in Arabic as Wadi al-Tawhin, which means river of the mills, due to the many mills that once operated here. Most were not grain mills, but fulling mills that flourished during Safed’s glory days in the sixteenth century, when it was known for its wool industry. The Sekhwi Pools take their name from the riverbed that descends to them from the east, Nahal Sekhwi, which means roster riverbed in Hebrew. Its Arabic name, Wadi al-Jaj, has the same meaning.
This hike is almost a ring route: it descends to the Sekhwi Pools via Nahal Ammud and then continues along Nahal Sekhwi. It is for those who already are familiar with Nahal Ammud and want to see it from a different perspective. It is not difficult, but does include some dramatic descents and challenging ascents. This trail should not be hiked on rainy days, when the descent to the river becomes slippery and dangerous.
The hike begins by the spring of Ein Koves, south of Safed’s industrial zone. To reach it, hikers should enter the industrial zone (which is under the bridge on Route 89 when coming from within Safed), take the first left, and continue along the road, following the blue trail markings. The road leads to a municipal sewage treatment facility, which prevents sewage from Safed from flowing into Nahal Ammud. About 100 meters before the facility’s entrance is a small spring that is not visible from the road. This is Ein Koves, which in recent years has become known as the spring of Benjamin the saint. The source of this new name is unclear, but it is used by the yeshiva students who come to ritually immerse themselves in its water; most visit on Fridays, but some also visit on other days. The water is clear despite the muck in the channel running out of the spring. It has become a de facto religious site, with some religious visitors preventing women from approaching the water. Over the past few years, praying and taking a ritual dip here at night has become popular, especially among Braslav Hasidim.
The trail begins slightly north of Ein Koves. It is marked in blue and descends westward, next to the grove, towards Nahal Ammud. In addition to the trail markings, the INPA has posted a plethora of signs along the trail warning visitors against hiking here in rainy weather or on especially hot days.
The trail leads to the grave of Sheikh Koves, who the spring is named after. Little is known about this handsome sheikh’s tomb, not even who the sheikh was or when he lived and died. Be that as it may, the structure built to memorialize him is impressive (even with the hole in its ceiling). It is situated right on the cliff overlooking Nahal Ammud. Those who wish to can end the hike here and pull out a book, spread a blanket on the ground, or unpack a picnic to enjoy at the grassy area around the tomb.
Those who wish to continue can follow the blue-marked trail into the riverbed. It twists and turns on its way down the cliff. Hikers should be careful while descending – those hiking with children should hold onto them tightly here (as they should near the tomb). The small rockfalls and fallen leaves along the trail make it quite slippery. In the tangle of greenery along the path, hikers can see where wild boars dug up the earth in their search for roots and acorns.
It takes about half an hour to descend the cliff and reach the main trail that runs alongside Nahal Ammud. To reach the Sekhwi Pools, turn right onto this trail, which is marked both in black and with the Israel Trail markings, and follow it for about three kilometers. On the way, it offers an opportunity to savor the wild beauty of Nahal Ammud, the shade of the plane trees growing over it, and the natural forest of oak and pistachio trees that surrounds it. The trail also wanders through the remains of ancient mills and the channels that once led to them.
The Sekhwi Pools are a natural place to stop for an indulgent dip. There are not many places like this in Israel and the odds are that visitors will not find themselves alone here.
The challenging part of the hike comes after the pools: ascending Nahal Sekhwi. The ascent is not complicated, but it is still a climb. A trail marked in green runs along the riverbank. At first, the trail leads through a handsome area with small cliffs, rockfalls, and impressive crevices in the rocks. Then the path leads through the remains of the orchards of the village of Ein Zeitoun, which has been abandoned since 1948. Further on, the marked trail splits. It is best to follow the trail’s main branch, which continues alongside the riverbed and ultimately reaches Route 89 about a kilometer south of Ein Zetim junction. There is a small parking area for the convenience of hikers on the road’s western side.