There are more than 60 national parks and natural reserves in Israel. All of them are managed by the “Israel Nature and Parks Authority” (“Ratag” in Hebrew). These parks cover a wide range of sites connected to nature and heritage.
The parks variety include many natural parks, alongside historic and archaeological sites dating from the prehistoric era up to the 20th century.
The nature wonders span over a wide range of climates and geographical areas. From dry harsh deserts to gushing rivers.
Selecting a “Top 10” list is a tricky and very personal task. In this list I have tried not only to select the most notable, but also to encompass a wide range of categories that can display the wide range of sites that Israel offers.
The Hermon river (Banyas) is one of the 3 tributaries of the Jordan river. It starts at the foot of mount Hermon. With the Banyas springs. In the first section it runs through a deep canyon with many cascades and one large waterfall. The park covers this section of the river and enables the visitor to walk directly above the gushing water on a “suspended trail. You can make a short visit to the springs or the waterfall or walk the full length of the park which is 2.5 Kilometers.
The “Lonely Carob” observation point at the tip of the Arbel Cliff is one of the most photographed spots in Israel and justly so. The panorama spans from Mount Hermon in the north across large areas of the Golan heights and the Galilee and down to the lake Kinneret 400 meters below. The park offers something for every taste and ability. Besides the views, you have an ancient synagogue from the 8th century BCE and a fortress carved into the Arbel cliff by the Galilean Jews who barricaded themselves during the great revolt (37 BCE). You can visit the park with a very short and easy walk, go down the cliff to visit the fortress or go on a full day hike up to the summit all the way from the Sea of Galilee.
Bet Shean is one of the oldest and most important ancient cities in the Land of Israel and one of its top archeological sites. It was inhabited since the Chalcolithic era (about 6000 years ago) and has remained continually inhabited since then. The main attraction of the National park are the extensive remains of the Roman city. The visitor can get a clear picture of what the city would have looked like. This former Roman metropolis was home to 30,000 citizens and was part of the Decapolis (a group of ten cities on the eastern frontier of the Roman Empire in the southeastern Levant). Main sites are: The main street lined with colonnades, Roman amphitheater, rare mosaics, public baths and a Roman temple.
If you want to do a real hike, but still stay in the protected environment of regulated national park, the Yehudia is your best choice in Northern Israel. The park includes the 3 biggest and most attractive streams of the Golan heights. The Yehudia, Meshushim and Zavitan streams. There is a large selection of trails to pick from ranging from very short, up to 10 Km long. The park includes some of the best trails and some of the most beautiful pools in the Golan Heights.
Masada is an ancient fortress on the top of an isolated cliff, on the eastern edge of the Judean Desert, which rises steeply about 450 meters above the Dead Sea. The cliff was chosen by King Herod to serve as a retreat and a royal fortress. On its flat summit were built magnificent palaces, public buildings and pleasure facilities. A System of water collection and storage systems ensured constant supplies throughout the year. But what makes Masada so famous is its tragic ending. Masada was the last Jewish stronghold at the time of the rebellion against the Roman empire. After a long siege, when all hope was lost, the 960 rebels, trapped in their fortress, preferred to die rather than surrender, setting fire to all the buildings and committing mass suicide. You can go up with the Cable car, or hike up Masada on foot via several different trails.
The national park has two main sites:
The walls of old Jerusalem, built by the Ottoman sultan Suleiman the Magnificent in 1536. The promenade is built on top of the walls offering unique views on the old city from all directions.
The City of David is an archaeological site outside the city walls, where ancient Jerusalem was located from the beginning of its days, during the Middle Bronze Age, and continued to be inhabited until the Middle Ages.
The area of the Judean plains is also nicknamed “The thousand caves land”. All the caves in the area were carved by humans in ancient times, utilizing the convenient chalk rock for quarrying. Caves were hewn for a variety of purposes: residential caves, water cisterns, columbarium caves, hiding places. The most notable and accessible place to experience this is at the Beit Guvrin National Park.
The reserve is located just 30 minutes’ drive from Jerusalem in the northern edge of the Judean desert. It is one of the most beautiful and easily accessible spots in Israel to experience the unique phenomena of running water in the desert. In ancient times it supplied drinking water to Jericho via aqueducts. In modern times until 1967 it supplied drinking water to the eastern parts of Jerusalem. Today the visitor can enjoy a real desert oasis with cascades and pools filled refreshing water. The more adventurous visitor can embark on on a hike in Wadi Qelt in various difficulty levels.
On the shore of the Red sea, a few kilometers south of Eilat lies under the water, the northernmost coral reef in the world. The colors and shapes of the fish, corals and other underwater creatures is overwhelming. What makes it so attractive is that you don’t need to be a professional scuba diver. Just hire a snorkel and a diving mask and immerse yourself in the magic. No nature lover should skip this amazing experience.
Ein Avdat (Avdat Spring), is set in a deep canyon within the incredible landscape of the Zin Valley in the center of Israel’s Negev Desert. When looking from above at the barren Zin valley, it is hard to imagine that even a single drop of water can be found in the area. However, an oasis with streams, springs, pools and even a waterfall can be reached by a very easy short hike. A great option to get a feel of a desert hike for those that are not up for a big effort.