Do you want to complete a thru-hike but looking for something different? How about a long distance trail in a foreign country? The Israel National Trail runs around 680 miles (1,100 kilometers) the length of Israel, offering up the chance to enjoy plenty of cultural experiences in addition to great natural beauty.
Avraham Tamir initiated the idea of a long trail in Israel in 1985 after hiking the Appalachian Trail in the US a decade earlier–his vision was to create a similar trail and experience in Israel. The marking of the trail began in 1985, with the then president Ezer Weizman officially inaugurating the trail in 1995.
I visited Israel a couple of weeks ago and had the opportunity to interview numerous hikers along both the Tel Aviv and Jerusalem sections of the trail. A wide variety of people hike the trail for different reasons, from an American 60-something year old couple looking to celebrate birthdays at the end in Eilat to a bunch of young men just out of military service wanting to see the country before starting work. I spent an enjoyable few days hiking a couple of sections of the trail–you will be happy to note that Google is currently working with the Society for Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) to document the entire trail, meaning it will be on Google Street View within a few months. You can experience the INT from your desk before ever stepping foot in Israel.
The entire trail takes on average 7 weeks to complete. The recommended route is South-North, starting in Eilat on the Red Sea and finishing at Kibbutz Dan in the North, with plenty of side trips available to iconic places such as the Dead Sea and intersecting many other trails along the way. You will hike through different geographical zones, including the 2,800 meter high Mt. Hermon, Upper and Lower Galilee, Mount Carmel, the shores of the Mediterranean, Jerusalem, Judea Mountains, and the mesmerizing Negev Desert. In addition to an abundance of flora and fauna, historical and archeological sites line the trail, including plenty of ancient Roman and Nabatean ruins.
Unlike thru-hikes of the PCT or even AT, you don’t have to worry so much about planning food shipments, as much of the trail passes through small towns or kibbutz. The Negev Desert, arguably one of the prettiest parts of the trail, is where the most planning is required. The key is of course, water.
For those of you interested in hiking the trail, one book is all you need–Israel National Trail and the Jerusalem Trail by Jacob Saar and Yagil Henkin. The book contains everything from detailed maps and general information on the best time to hike, to day-to-day guides that include the amount of water you should bring, elevation profiles, places for resupply, where to camp or stay, as well as historical facts on sites you pass by on the trail. It’s fantastic. Even if you don’t have 7 weeks to complete the entire trail, the book comes in handy for day hikes or overnights in areas such as Jerusalem, Nazareth, and Haifa.
For any questions you may have before the trip, there is an online forum, albeit one that does not seem often used. You can also find more information from the Israel National Trail website, including gear lists and recommendations on dealing with probably the most important part of logistics–water.
Anyone up for a 7 week hike this fall?