Avid hikers can now explore the far northern delights of the Golan Heights, thanks to the recently launched Golan Trail!
With many unique and beautiful species of flora and fauna dotting the Golan landscape, as well as the historical ancient ruins in the area, the Golan Trail provides the perfect opportunity for hikers of all ages to explore this amazing region.
First of all, for those who hear the proximity of the Golan Trail to the Syrian border, and who are aware of the wars that have historically been fought over this region, you’ll be pleased to hear that the route is SAFE. The trail is carefully monitored to ensure that it is always safe for travelers, and as long as you remain disciplined and use plenty of common sense, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t have an amazing hike.
Most visitors to the Golan Heights will be aware of the area’s history, especially the fact that the Golan is contested between Israel and Syria and as such, large portions of the Golan Heights remain military zones. This is why you must never deviate from the Golan Trail when hiking in this region. You could unwittingly stumble into firing zones or minefields, so this is definitely a case where going adventurous and heading off the beaten path would not be in your best interests.
Getting to the start of the Golan Trail requires some planning, though you could always attempt to join the Trail at various other points, such as at Mount Bental – we did with our kids and enjoyed a section of the Trail rather than the whole thing. See the map below for an idea of where to join up with the Trail. Note that hiking from north to south is recommended, and is a moderate hike – hiking in the opposite direction is harder as much of the route will be uphill.
Most hikers aiming to trek the complete route will probably opt to take a bus to Kiryat Shmona (from Tel Aviv take the 842 or 845, which both leave relatively frequently and make the trip to Kiryat Shmona without any stopovers).
Next, you’ll need to get to the Majdal Shams junction by catching Bus 58 from Kiryat Shmona’s central bus station. Before you do so, it might be best to arrange for a taxi to meet you at the junction and bring you up to the Trail’s starting point. Alternatively, if you’re feeling adventurous, you can hitchhike. The Trail’s starting point is only a 10 minute drive away from Majdal Shams. If it sounds like a lot of trouble, rest assured that the Golan Trail offers a travel experience that is well worth the effort it takes to get started!
What can you look forward to when planning a hike along the Golan Trail? Well, first and foremost, you can expect to see some truly magnificent and varying scenery; one minute you could be gazing upon a bleakly beautiful rock-laden valley, the next minute find yourself walking through a shaded grove filled with babbling brooks and stunning greenery.
You can also expect to gain a valuable insight into the history of the Golan Heights. Along the Trail, you’ll stumble across many ancient ruins left behind by civilizations of old. Treading stone paths laid down by ancient peoples centuries or even millennia ago is a deeply humbling experience.
You’ll also meet some of the Golan’s very finest sites along the way, including many of the ten you really have to see. Check out the map below for the main points along the Trail.
Just remember – keep following the white/green/blue markings!
The best time to visit is probably Spring or Autumn (March-April or October-November), as the summer months can get a bit too hot for hiking, and the winter months can see some nasty snowstorms.
Although the Trail sees hundreds of visitors each year, you should never forget that while on the Trail you are at the mercy of the elements. Hiking the Trail is essentially an uphill climb of over 1000 meters and with the steadily rising altitude comes falling temperatures. So we’d recommend you invest in a well-insulated sleeping bag and a warm tent to ensure that you don’t get chilly at night (guest houses and lodging is fairly expensive and hard to find along the route). You should also bring along plenty of warm clothing.
Even though the sun may be shining brightly when you first set out, the weather may not always be so kind and you want to be prepared for any eventuality. Remember – the Trail takes between 5 to 8 days to complete (it’s 125km in length), so the chances that you’ll encounter some dodgy weather at some point are fairly high, especially so if you intend to hike the Trail between November and March when snowstorms are not uncommon.
With some careful planning, hiking the Golan Trail will prove a rewarding and unforgettable experience for any visitor. The awe-inspiring scenery, rich biodiversity and historical value of this region may just be the main highlights of your entire trip to Israel!
See also the Wiki page for a full description of each section on the Golan Trail.