In the middle of the Judean Desert in Israel stands Mount Sodom. You’ll have heard of it if you ever read the Bible; in the famous story, Sodom used to be a thriving and green city, but also chock-a-block full of sin. God came along and punished the city by sending fire and brimstone to consume it – which would explain why it’s now only a big dry hill of salty rocks.
As people fled the burning city, one woman (Lot’s wife) dared to turn for a last look on her home and was instantly turned into a pillar of salt. This pillar of salt and stone is still there on Mount Sodom, and it’s naturally called Lot’s Wife (you can see her in the image to the right, the large pillar of rock in the top right; she actually stands over the Lot’s Wife Cave, a great salt cave to explore – but only with a licensed guide – see our clip below for a taste of what to expect from inside those caves!).
OK, so after a quick and joyous introduction to Sodom’s biblical history, let’s take a look at how to hike up Mount Sodom, where you not only get to take in all that amazing sin-filled history but also enjoy the amazing viewpoints and the incredible landscape of the Judean Desert!
How to hike up Mount Sodom?
There are two trails going up Mount Sodom.
The first one, called Ma’aleh HaSulamot translates as “Ladders Ascent”. As you can guess from its name, this is a pretty steep hike of about one hour and a half, but with many stairs to help you out. You can get to this trail on Road 90, across the highway from the sun-blasted huts of the Dead Sea Works’ first workers’ camp (built in 1934).
The second trail available is Shvil HaDagim, also steep and with no stairs. This trail’s name translates as the “Fish Trail” because of the many fossilized fish still embedded in the rock on either side of the trail. This trail is also accessible from Road 90.
As you go up, you’ll find yourself in one of the driest places on earth, but with some spectacular views (especially late afternoon). Mount Sodom is made of almost completely of rock salt and if it was in a climate that was less dry, it would have melted by now!
Inside the hill, it has actually started to melt away, creating a huge network of caves. We even explored the legendary Lot’s Wife Cave, as you can see in the video below. Many of these caves are in danger of collapse (a month after we filmed the video, the cave actually collapsed), so you should always go with a guide who knows the area extremely well.
A word of warning
This is where I should add a word of warning for newbie hikers: hiking a desert is not like hiking through a peaceful forested trail. First, it’s dry, so you need to make sure you take a lot of water with you. Second, it’s a desert, which means that there might not be anyone around if you get into trouble. Third, it’s confusing. Places tend to look alike, especially around Mount Sodom where there’s a big network of trails going every which way.
I strongly advise against hiking this place alone or without a map. In fact, Mount Sodom is one of those great hikes that it’s best to do with a guide or a tour. For safety reasons, but also because a local guide will be able to tell you so much more about the history of the place and the geological particularities of the Judean Desert. Also, you might need someone to point out Lot’s wife to you, as it’s not completely obvious and it would be a shame to miss this piece of history!
Is the hike worth it?
Yes! The summit of Mount Sodom is well worth the sweat! When you get to the observatory point at the top, the view opens out across the Dead Sea, with the incredible Jordan’s Moab Mountains in the background. Take your time to enjoy this once in a lifetime view! It’s also funny to think that, although you might feel very high up at the moment, you’re still almost 200 meters below sea level!
And here’s one last reason to go hike Mount Sodom: you can do it as a day tour from Jerusalem! Many Israel tours go from the city to the desert, you just have to pick one. If you do only one hike in Israel, this is definitely one to consider thanks to all that historical baggage, but mostly because of the view.
Other things to do around Mount Sodom
If you’re going to be in the area for a bit longer, there are some great options to consider in the area:
- Obviously, you can start by relaxing and taking a dip in the Dead Sea, the saltiest and most buoyant water in the world! Ein Bokek is a great place to check out (only a few minutes north of Mount Sodom) and includes some free beaches to access.
- Close by, you also have a lot of hiking opportunities in the beautiful Ein Gedi Park. The park has a couple of very nice trails and you can find surprising little rivers and waterfalls along your hot little hike (again, don’t walk around alone and without a map).
- If you’re up for even more adrenaline, Wadi Sodom (a little west of Mount Sodom) is the perfect place for mountain biking!
- Lastly, if you have a little more time, in one hour you can reach HaMakhtesh HaGadol (the legendary Ramon Crater). This big crater is famous for its stunning cliffs and multicolored sands and rocks. The whole area around the big crater is full of fossils and other interesting stuff for geology fans.
Unlike Lot’s wife, you are allowed, and in fact encouraged, to look around as much as you want. There’s a Lot to see (geddit??!) in this part of the Judean Desert!