Israel National Trail, Israel

Photograph by Yagil Henkin, Alamy
Photograph by Yagil Henkin, Alamy

Best For: Long-distance hikers with a love of both ancient and contemporary history

Distance: 580-620 miles

Passing through vast empty desert and winding into kibbutzim, the Israel National Trail (INT) delves into the grand scale of biblical landscapes as well as the everyday lives of modern Israelis (with opportunities to stop in the cities of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem). But beyond the immense sense of history and breaking news, the trail powerfully connects to something that often gets lost in all the headlines—the sublime beauty of the wilderness of the Middle East. The southern end of the trail crosses the harsh and lovely Negev, still populated by wandering Bedouins and long-horned Nubian ibex and filled with wildflowers in spring. There’s not much water to drink along the way, though the trail crosses plenty of wet spots. It dips into the 600-foot-below-sea-level waves of the Sea of Galilee, flanks the baptismal River Jordan, and runs along Mediterranean beaches north of Tel Aviv. The southern terminus ends in the resort town of Eilat on the Red Sea.

Of course, the INT does take hikers to spots that have immense significance in the Judeo-Christian world and beyond. Among these is the sheer climb up the 1,929-foot peak of Mount Tabor, where Barak and 10,000 Israelites defeated Sisear and the Canaanites as recorded in the Bible’s Book of Judges. The heights of Mount Carmel are sacred to Jews and Christians as well as to Ahmadiyya Muslims and followers of the Bahá’í faith. More modern sites, such as the Metzudat Koach memorial, commemorating 28 soldiers who died taking a fort in the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict, speak to the still ongoing tensions between Israelis and Palestinians. But life on the trail is safe and far from current hostilities. In fact, the joy of the trail is meeting the Israelis hiking it and spending some time in small kibbutzim where the local people will take hikers into their homes. On the trail, there is peace and friendship.

When to Go: The early spring (February to May) is the best time to enjoy the trail. Avoid the heat of summer.

Shortcut: The trail is divided into 12 smaller sections, each of which makes a worthwhile shorter trip. For a one-day excursion, the three-mile climb to the top of Mount Tabor and the Church of the Transfiguration overlooks the Jezreel Valley to Mount Carmel, the Galilee, the Golan Heights, and Mount Hermon.

Insider Tip: The biggest blessing here comes in the form of “trail angels” along the INT who give a helping hand and often offer a place to stay free of charge to thru-hikers. The updated list of trail angels with contact information is located here.