As the brutal heat of the Israeli summer transitions to cooler autumn temperatures, new vistas open for hiking in the Holy Land.
The Dead Sea area – essentially off limits from June through September due to the succession of 100-degree plus days – should be back on the agenda for fall trekkers, especially before the winter rains, which bring the possibility of flash floods.
Here are ISRAEL21c’s 10 favorite hikes in the Dead Sea area.
1. David’s Waterfall
Hardy hikers and families with young children can all enjoy the easiest and most accessible hike in the Dead Sea area. (It’s even wheelchair accessible at the beginning.) Nahal David is located within the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve, so there are official opening hours (8am to 5pm weekdays, shorter on Fridays and weekends) and an entrance fee.
Just 30 minutes from the entrance is David’s Waterfall – a great picture spot. (You can dip your toes but swimming is not allowed.) Along the way you’ll see plenty of ibex and hyraxes. There’s a large parking lot outside with a small cafeteria and ice cream truck.
2. Upper Nahal David (David’s Stream)
Intrepid hikers will want to do the entire Nahal David loop – a nearly five-hour hike that ascends above David’s Waterfall for some of the most stunning views in the area. Our recommended route starts behind the Ein Gedi Field School. The first half hour heads up a tough mountain before reaching a narrow canyon that can only be traversed by hanging on rungs hammered into rock wall.
At the end of the canyon is a rock formation called “the window” that looks out on the Dead Sea. Double back and continue until you descend past a Chalcolithic-era temple and into the Ein Gedi spring, exiting through the entrance gate. (Please pay the entrance fee; it supports the upkeep of the entire area.)
3. Nahal Arugot
If you drive just a few minutes north past the Nahal David parking lot, you’ll come to the entrance of Nahal Arugot, which is also part of the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve (and thus has the same entrance fee).
The path splits at several points into a dry and a wet route. The latter leads you into the water and is popular with children. The dry path winds above the stream and is more difficult. Both paths pass “the hidden waterfall,” the highlight of the hike (unlike David’s waterfall, it’s open to bathers) and the glorious “upper pools.” Allot two to three hours for the round trip.
4. Nahal Dragot
The lower part of Nahal Dragot (popularly known by its Arabic name, “the Darja”) is a rite of passage for many Israelis with its 50-meter-high walls, dry waterfalls and pools of water that you have to swim across. You must bring a rope to climb down the rocks – even better, make sure you have an experienced rappelling guide.
Start at the parking lot of Metzukei Dragot and give yourself the entire day to traverse the Darja’s 12 kilometers. The hike ends at Highway 90, so you’ll need a second car to get back to the parking lot. Much of the hike is shaded.
If ropes aren’t your thing, there are also several tamer routes. The views are just as spectacular and no one has to know which part of the Darja you really did.
5. Masada Snake Path
Masada is almost a cliché – everyone climbs it at one point. That doesn’t mean you should skip it. The Snake Path that zigzags from the base of the mountain to the plateau that once housed King Herod’s palace is one of Israel’s most iconic trails. And when you make it to the top a couple of hours later, you can thumb your nose at your less fit friends who took the cable car. (As an alternative: take the cable car up and walk down.) To be really Israeli, hike to the top at sunrise.
6. The Runner’s Route (Shvil HaRatz)
If the Snake Path is too crowded or too passé for your taste, you can still climb to the top of Masada via the Roman Ramp on the other side of the mountain. Start on the Snake Path but veer off on the red trail, which circumvents the mountain following the line of siege camps constructed by the Romans. You can see Herod’s palace and the water cisterns on the side of the mountain – a view not available from the Snake Path. Continue up to Masada itself on the Roman Ramp – this is where Masada was finally breached in 73 CE. Give yourself 2.5 hours and bring lots of water – there’s no shade at all.
7. Nahal Salvadora
Five kilometers south of the now closed Mineral Beach is this rugged but beautiful circular hike. There is a marked trail from the parking lot. Walk under the highway and in the direction of the mountains for about an hour until you reach the Salvadora tree from which the stream gets its name.
If you venture a bit further, you’ll reach a dry waterfall. You won’t get wet but the views looking out on the Dead Sea are splendid. Nahal Salvadora is big on boulders, so be ready to climb. Return the same way you came but take the blue trail back to Highway 90. It takes two hours total; more if you picnic at the Salvadora tree.
8. Einot Tzukim
Also known as Ein Feshka in Arabic, this hike – three kilometers south of Kibbutz Kalia – doesn’t go into the mountains but runs adjacent to the Dead Sea waters. Einot Tzukim is the lowest nature reserve in the world. The central section is filled with lush foliage and plenty of shade – not what you’d expect from the Dead Sea – and has several sweetwater pools in which you can swim (they’re still too salty to drink).
The highlight of Einot Tzukim is the “hidden reserve,” a 45-minute stroll, which winds through sparkling springs with a jungle-like atmosphere. To keep the reserve pristine, it’s open only with a guide (Fridays and Saturdays, midweek for groups by reservation). There is an entrance fee. Information: +972-(0)2-994-2355
Close to Einot Tzukim on the other side of Highway 90 is Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. The scrolls are now stored in Jerusalem (some are displayed at the Israel Museum), but the multimedia center at Qumran is an excellent way to start a hike in the area. You’ll learn all about the ancient Essenes who lived here and see artifacts of their lives.
A short trail leads above Nahal Qumran with views of both the Dead Sea and some of the caves where the scrolls were found. You’ll have to crawl on your hands and knees when you wind through the Qumran aqueduct.
The multimedia center and first part of the trail are wheelchair accessible. There is an entrance fee. For a more extended hike, you can climb through Nahal Qumran, returning to Einot Tzukim. That takes four hours.
10. Nahal Tze’elim
This 12-kilometer trail between Masada and Ein Gedi is challenging but rewarding for good hikers. It’s named for the tze’el (lotus tree), which in biblical Hebrew means “a tree that gives shadow.” You’ll pass caves and several pools of water. Give yourself the entire day for this hike and bring plenty of water.
Start at the Nahal Tze’elim camping grounds off Highway 90 and hike into the canyon until you find the Anava Spring followed by the Namir Spring. At Gei HaSla’im (Valley of the Rocks), there are rocks to climb over in the riverbed. If you have a rope, you can rappel through Gei Barak, which includes drops of up to 14 meters. The trail returns you to the parking lot.