Over 1000km long, the Israel National Trail spans from the green North of Israel down to the Red Sea in the very South. The trail passes by all important sights and cities of Israel on its way. This allows you to travel the entire country by hiking the INT. Although virtually every Israeli has either biked or hiked this trail already, not many people outside Israel know about it. No matter if you hike the trail on your own or in a bigger group: the Israel National Trail will certainly be a unique experience that you will never forget. There are not many trails which cross an entire country and provide such a diverse experience.
We hiked some parts of the Israel National Trail from early April until mid-May 2016. I wanted to share all resources that I used for planning and some tips that might be helpful for your trip.
Resources For Planning
- There is a lot of information on the internet about the trail, so the trip planning is quite easy. If you want to save time and effort just order Saar’s guidebook – it contains virtually all information necessary to hike the trail.
- http://www.israeltrail.net/ – is helpful for general information and first impressions on the trail.
- Jacob Saar’s Guidebook is the de facto “bible” for the trail. Even though it is a bit heavy and a bit costly, it is incredibly helpful. For any foreign tourist it is almost cumpolsary to get this book beforehand. Not only does it make planning much easier, it also gives a lot of background information about culturally interesting places along the trail. We found it very helpful on our trip.
Edit: The 2016 edition is completely restructured, updated, lighter and less expensive. So definitely worth to be checked out!
You can order the book on Amazon: Israel National Trail and the Jerusalem Trail: Hike the Land of Israel.
For international customers it might make sense to claim the 25% discount at http://israeltrail.myfastforum.org/about56.html.
You can have a look at the free preview of the preface here, to see if you like his writing.
- http://israeltrail.myfastforum.org – is a very helpful forum which was initiated by Jacob Saar.
- https://www.google.com/streetview/#israel-national-trail – Google did an amazing project and made the entire trail available on Google Street View online.
Route Variations And Alternative Treks
There is an infinite number of hiking trails in Israel in order to extend your trip or to take an alternative route.
- You can start the trek in Nimrod instead of Dan as recommended in the guidebook. It is just one extra day. We did this extension and it was absolutely beautiful.
- The Golan Trail is a hiking trail with 120km in length that goes through the Golan Heights in the northeast of Israel.
- Jesus Trail – a 65km kilometer hiking trail from Nazareth to Capernaum that passes the most important places of Jesus’ life. The Israel National Trail runs on some parts of the Jesus Trail or parallel to it.
- The Jerusalem Trail is a two-day extension of the Israel National Trail. It’s a great trek for discovering Jerusalem and the surrounding area. I never thought that hiking around a big city is even possible. This trail proved me different! You can even sleep at a hostel without leaving the trail because it leads right through the city. Highly recommended!
- The Abraham Path is a long-distance trek that leads through the West Bank and Jordan. It is over 2000km in length and it’s really an insider tip. We met one Italian who hiked some parts and he said it was amazing. This really could be an alternative to the Israel National Trail if you want to do something more adventurous and unexplored.
Getting Fit For The Trail
If you want to hike the INT, remember its conditions: a huge part of it runs through rock desert with very hot climate and a lot of challenging climbing sections involved. It is often necessary to hike at least 20km per day in order to get to the next water supply. This is true for a large portion of the trail – not only the desert section of it. In addition to that you have to carry food supplies for several days sometimes.
It is a very beginner-friendly trek as it runs close to civilization and it is very well explored. But physically it is certainly challenging, especially because of the water supply problems and the constant heat.
I think Jacob Saar’s training plan in the preface of his guidebook is a pretty good idea. You might even want to start two weeks earlier than he recommends to give your joints enough time to get used to hiking. You could also add some rock climbing to the training in order to gain more strength and make the training more diverse.
Accommodation & Food
- Take the recommended amount of water in Saar’s guidebook seriously. We always took 1l more than recommended and there wasn’t much leftover in the evening. There is often no possibility to refill water on the way so it is better to be safe.
- Wild camping is not a problem at all and completely normal in Israel. The are only a few places where camping is not allowed, for example in National Parks or on private land. But apart from that you camp pretty much anywhere you like.
- Trail Angels are people who host through-hikers for one or two nights for free. There is a list available on the internet. You contact the trail angle one day in advance and you can sleep at their place for free. What exactly is included when you sleep at someone’s house differs by every trail angel. One night we stayed at a place that was almost like a hostel and provided a whole fridge of free food. The next night we could camp at someone’s yard next to the Sea of Galilee. We only had good experiences with trail angels as the people are so hospitable and helpful. You can find the list of trail angels here: http://shvil.wikia.com/wiki/INT_Trail_Angels
- There is a small supermarket in many villages where you can buy food. We always bought food for a few days, so that we didn’t have to leave the trail that often.
Take in account the Shabbat and Jewish Holidays! Shabbat already starts at Friday around noon and goes until Sunday morning. During that time there is virtually no public transportation and all the shops are closed. Look up the Jewish holidays beforehand, too.
- Food and accommodation is pretty expensive in Israel due to high taxes. It is comparable to Switzerland in prices. For 1 kg of bread you easily pay $5 and for a small bowl of hummus $2.50.
- Although Jacob Saar’s states that the best time for hiking is from February to May, I would say that the peak of the hiking season is from early February to mid-April. In the desert maybe only until the end of March. At the end of April the days are already getting really hot and in desert it can be dangerous to hike at these temperatures.
- Many people write that the trek takes six weeks to three months in order to complete it. It depends of course on your physical fitness but hiking it in six weeks is really tough and you will have no time for sightseeing or side-trekking. Even as a very fit hiker I would plan at least to months if you want to hike the entire trail and have some days left for resting and sightseeing.
Israelis take hospitality really to the next level. We had some incredible experiences on the trail that can only happen when you hike in Israel. They love tourists and hiking; thus they will love you even more if a you are both a tourist and a hiker. It happened quite often to us that we entered a village along the trail and got approached by random people on the street who immediately invited us to stay at their house for one night. Or we asked for some water and got a 2kg lunch packet for free with us.
As it’s a the most famous trek in whole Israel, you meet a lot of young Israelis that just finished the army and are looking for a challenge. Even if you hike the trail alone you will meet plenty of people.
Many people are concerned about the safety situation in Israel because the news give a pretty biased picture of the country. So let me assure you that safety isn’t the first concern when hiking the INT. Israel has one of the world’s well-trained armies and the wars around do not affect the country’s safety. Concerning the assaults in the city you have to remember where you are hiking: most of the time in the nature and countryside. Which effectively means you are far away from all the incidents in the cities.
The biggest safety issue during our trip were wild animals. Up in the north of Israel there are a lot of coyotes that payed us some visits during the nights. So keep everything inside the tent or as close to you as possible – this will not only prevent animals but also people from stealing something.
Apart from that we heard of some things being stolen in the dessert because everyone sleeps at the same places so criminals know where to look for hikers. But I’m not sure if it’s really true and this can be easily prevented if you keep your things as close to your body as possible.
- Double-check if you want to bring a tent with you on the trek. This will mostly depend on the season that you go, your improvisation skills and how hardened you are. I know that there are people who will disagree with me but I believe a tent is not necessary in order to finish the trek. Actually, during our stay we haven’t met a single Israeli hiker who carried a tent for accommodation (in April). In addition to that, the people working at outdoor shops in Israel also gave us the advice to leave our tent at home. There is a quite good climate report available at http://www.israel-trail.com/klimatabellen-israeltrail/ to estimate the amount of rainy days during your stay.
- Here are some strategies how to cope with the rain if you want to save the weight for a tent:
- A waterproof bivy bag is a very good option for basic shelter. Most of the people we met used this as an escape plan for rainy days or as an emergency shelter.
- A tarp is less heavy than a tent and provides good shelter. If used in combination with a bivy bag, it will keep you dry even during the worst rain.
- You can sleep at a trail angel if you want to escape the rain.
- You could add an additional rest day.
- There are some very lightweight one-person tents available that keep you dry and usually weigh less than 1kg, such as the Vaude Bivi Tent or similar products.
- The same goes for any rain equipment. It’s totally fine to have only an ultra thin raincoat just in case there is rain for once. You don’t need gaiters or rain trousers.
- A hat and sunscreen are obligatory for the trek. It’s best to bring a big hat that also covers your neck to avoid a sunstroke.
- It’s best to leave your self-inflating sleeping mattress at home. Israel is literally full of thorns and spiky rocks. My Therm-A-Rest didn’t even survive the first week of the trek. Bring instead a foam sleeping pad. This might be less comfortable the first week but after that you get used to it. As the ground in Israel is not cold it’s fine to have less isolation at the bottom.
- Most people we met used normal trekking boots with ankle support. We hiked the trail with our Lowa Renegade GTX Mid and they were fine. You could also use trail runners but only do this if you’ve hiked with them before. The ground is sometimes very rocky and with a heavy backpack you could easily strain your ankle.
- Try to go as light as possible. While this is true for any trek, on the INT it is even more important because you have to carry so much water.
- The trail is well-marked with the famous three-colored flag: white which stands for the snow on Mt. Hermon, blue for the Sea and orange for the desert. (No idea if that’s true but this is what an Israeli told me, haha.) Generally, you find you way just by following these markings. In case you lose the trek, it’s good to have some sort of navigation system with you to find your way back.
- As the trek is under continuous construction, the maps and gpx tracks are never 100% correct. Overall the trek stays the same but it’s sometimes hard to find the trail if a construction work destroyed some flags.
- Saar’s guidebook has some very detailed maps which also give a good overview on the daily routes.
- The most precise solution is probably to take either take a phone or a GPS with the gpx track on it. It would recommend one of the two options in case you completely lose the trail. Like I said, this happened to pretty much any hiker we met on the way.
- Offline maps for Android/iOS/Garmin devices:
GPX tracks can be found here:
Getting To The Trail Heads From Tel Aviv
- Getting from Tel Aviv to Eilat is fairly easy as it is just a transfer between two big cities.
- Getting to Dan or Nimrod with public transportation is a little bit more tricky because it is a rural area. You first have to get to Kiryat Shmona and from there take a bus to Dan/Nimrod. The bus comes only every few hours so you might have to wait for a while.
We took bus 845 to Kiryat Shmona in the morning and continued with bus 58. There is no direct bus to Nimrod so we got out in Mas’ade and hiked from there up to Nimrod which was only 2-3km. Bus 58 also runs through Dan directly, if you want to start your hike from there.
Overview Of The Israel National Trail
I describe the route here from north to south. You can find a good map for an overview of the trail at http://www.israel-trail.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/map_israel-trail1.jpg.
Dan to Haifa – Galilee and the Golan Heights
The North of Israel is one of the highlights of the trek. In spring it is completely green and flowers are flourishing all over the place. In many parts you hike next to rivers and under trees. It is not as dry as further in the south. I can only recommend expand your trek by one extra day and hike from Dan to Nimrod, as suggested in the guidebook. The landscape is unique and was one of my favourites of the trek.
There are some climbing sections involved which are a lot of fun and not too difficult. They can be challenging though, especially with a heavy backpack.
Haifa to Tel Aviv – Along the mediterranean coast
We skipped this part because it is very flat and we rather wanted to see the Judean Mountains and Jerusalem. We heard that most people skip this part if they are short in time.
Tel Aviv to Arad – Judean Mountains
In the Judean Mountains between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem there were many people from the big cities on the weekend so it was a bit crowded sometimes. The area is amazing for hiking though with its
Near Jerusalem there is the option to expand the hike by two days and do the Jerusalem Trail. We found this trek very beautiful but I would maybe add even 1 or 2 days in order to have the time to explore Jerusalem a little bit. There is so much to see and you will literally have to rush through everything with two days only.
Arad to Eilat- Negev Desert
We did not hike this section on our trip because we were there too late in the season. So this section is based on what I heard from other hikers and research on the web.
What we heard so far is that the Negev depicts the biggest challenge of the trail. There are many tough days and a lot of climbing involved. And as every child knows – a desert is a place with almost no water supplies. So how do you hike through when you can’t find any water resources on the way? There are a couple of ways to solve this problem:
- Most people store water in the ground beforehand and pick it up when they hike through. There are companies that can store the water for you and they send detailed information about where to find the water. Or you rent a jeep and hide it yourself – this could be a lot of fun but probably also more expensive.
- In some places you can also order a taxi which brings the water for you. Taxies aren’t too expensive in Israel and if you split it up between enough this could be an option.
- I know that some people hiked through the desert without using any water caches and instead carried all the water with them. Only do this if you are really fit and if already have experience with hikes in the desert! The Negev is already challenging enough, even without carrying 5-8kg of extra weight with you.
Some tips if you want to try this:
- No matter for what option you decide – it’s always easier to solve the water caching problem when you are in a bigger group. So maybe try and join a bigger group of hikers (that you meet plenty along the trail) to solve the problem together.
- Beware of people stealing your water! If you hide the water on your own try and hide it really well. There are nomads in the desert who repeatedly steal buried water from the ground. The hikers only found a note left back which said they buy the water back and a number.