Hiking with kids can be a challenge but can also be one of the best ways to engage your kids with a trip and bring the family together. Kids like challenges; let them feel that tackling the hike is an achievement. Try to spice up the walks with attractions that your kids love; Natural pools for wading/swimming opportunities, challenging gorges with ladders and rockslides for adrenaline, or camping overnight with a campfire and outdoor cooking.
Hiking with kids in the Middle East can add additional challenges, since in some countries, hiking infrastructure, trail markings, and emergency services are not up to western standards.
In Israel, hiking is a very popular activity for locals, and the country is crisscrossed with well-marked hiking trails. Where needed, the nature authorities will also build a ladder or handrail to enhance safety and security. The emergency services are attentive to hikers and promptly assist a person in need, even if he is stuck in the wilderness, far away from any infrastructure. All of this together makes Israel an excellent country for your first, middle eastern hiking adventure with kids.
When to come to Israel for Hiking?
Like most Middle Eastern countries, Israel has an arid and hot summer that’s not hiking friendly and, in some areas, even dangerous. The autumn remains dry and dusty. Conditions begin to get better only in November.
December-March is the most attractive season. However, the “sweet spot” is between mid-February until mid-March, when wildflower blossom is at its peak and lots of streams and springs that are dry throughout the year are filled with water.
From the end of March until May, it’s still possible to hike. However, the weather gradually becomes hotter, and the landscape dries out.
Where to go hiking in Israel?
Israel is situated on the globe at the transition between the “Desert Belt” and the “Green Belt”. Thus, although the country is tiny, there is a huge difference in climate and scenery between the north and the south.
The north is green, covered with forests and crossed by many water streams. Drive just 3 hours south, and you are in the middle of the desert surrounded by a wild landscape characterized by rocky terrain and deep dry gorges.
It is a paradise for hikers, as you can enjoy in one short vacation different experiences.
Where to take your kids to hike in Israel?
Eilat Red Canyon
Eilat is the southernmost town in Israel, located at the Red Sea’s tip, just opposite Akaba on the Jordanian side. It is a great city to visit with children since it is full of kid-friendly attractions; Underwater Observatory, Dolphin Reef, Camel ranch, and King’s city theme-park, to name just a few.
However, unknown to many tourists, it is also a great hiking hub. Within a short drive from the city, you can find fantastic desert hiking trails. The Red Canyon, one of the most famous hikes in the area, is excellent for kids. It is short and easy, but also very exciting. The walk is down a deep and narrow gorge using rockslides and ladders, surrounded by red sandstone.
- Starting Point: On road #12 20 Km from Eilat
- Distance: 2-5 Km.
- Grade: Easy, but with a short technical section rockslides and ladders.
Makhtesh Ramon (Crater)
“Makhtesh” is a crater-like geological formation created by erosion. There are only 7 such craters in the world, and all of them are located in Israel (Negev Desert) and Egypt (Sinia Desert).
The largest makhtesh in the world is Makhtesh Ramon; Over 40 km long, 10 km wide, and about 400 m deep. There are plenty of hiking trails for all skill levels in and around the crater.
To get your kids excited, there are many activities offered by local providers that can be linked to a hike; jeep tours, rappelling, mountain biking, star gazing, and field cooking. To pick a walk that is suitable for you, head to the amazing visitor center, ask for a map, and the local staff will help with any advice you need.
- Starting Point: Mitspe Ramon.
- Distance: 1-10 Km.
- Grade: From very easy to very hard.
If you choose to visit one beach during your stay in Israel, Dor-Habonim nature reserve, on the Mediterranean coast, is the most scenic one. This 5 Km strip is scattered with attractions. Magical coves, an ancient harbor from the biblical period, an old shipwreck, and the beautiful “Blue Cave”.
A well-marked trail connects all the attractions and makes a great hike all year round. During the summer, the bonus is swimming, and during the winter, the reward is colorful wildflowers.
- Starting Point: Dor Beach Parking.
- Distance: 3-8 Km.
- Grade: Easy.
Jordan River Tributaries
The northernmost part of Israel is the “Galilee Panhandle” (Finger of the Galilee), also nicknamed in Hebrew “Eretz Palgey Maim”, translated to English as “The land of water streams”. It is by far, the richest area in Israel with natural water streams and a perfect destination for enjoying a day outdoors.
Three streams are merging in this area and form the Jordan River that flows south all the way until the Dead Sea. Each stream has a separate Nature reserve and different hiking options.
- The Dan stream is the largest Tributary of the Jordan River. The stream starts from Tel Dan nature reserve. It is a huge spring, the largest in the middle east. The spring output is very consistent all year round and generates alone 50% of the Jordan river’s water flow! The spring area is a well-organized natural reserve with a straightforward short hike (1-2 Km). However, it’s a magical spot, and even if you opt for a longer walk, it is well worth a short visit.
- The Snir stream (Hazbani) is the longest of the 3 and the only one starting in Lebanon. The hike in the Snir stream is a lot of fun with children because a long stretch of the trail passes inside the water, and you must get wet to pass it. (There are several hiking trails are ranging 1-4 Km)
- The Hermon stream (Banyas) originates at the foot of Mount Hermon. The first section of the river runs through a deep canyon with many cascades and one large waterfall (The Banyas waterfall). It is the most scenic and “wildest” of the 3 streams. You can make a short out and back walk to see the waterfall or go for an 8 Km hike along the river.
This hilly area in-between the coastal plain and the Judean mountains is nicknamed “The thousand caves land” since the ground is filled with hundreds of caves.
All the caves in the area were hewn by humans in ancient times, utilizing the convenient chalk rock for quarrying. Caves were hewn for various purposes: quarries, cisterns, storerooms, dovecotes, tombs, storage chambers for produce, and shelters for farm animals.
You can visit several caves in the Beit Guvrin National Park. However, if you want to take your kinds on an unforgettable adventure, head to Hurbat Midras. The well-marked 7 Km long hiking trail passes through several caves and archaeological sites.
The highlight is an underground maze of tunnels and caves dating to the Bar Kochva Revolt. The authorities prepared a marked underground path requiring crawling in narrow and dark tunnels between ancient rooms from thousands of years ago (Bring a flashlight).
- Starting Point: Hurbat Midras.
- Distance: 7 Km.
- Grade: Easy, but requires crawling in underground caves.
With thanks to our guest blogger Erez Speiser from Israel By Foot for sharing his insights and expertise with Family Travel in the Middle East