In 2014, when I was living in Spain, I published a blog called Great Hikes Near Madrid that I hoped would be useful for English-speaking hikers because almost all of the online info about hiking around Madrid was in Spanish. Four years later, that post gets more traffic, by far, than any other post on this blog. So I wanted to do a similar blog post for Jerusalem-area hikes, even though there is slightly more English info out there, including this informative post.
Disclaimer: I’m no hiking expert or anything. I hike in tennis shoes, I don’t own a pocketknife, I usually don’t bring enough water, oh and I have zero sense of direction (I cannot stress this enough). But I truly love a very long walk, preferably in nature. It’s my preferred form of exercise and often it is when I’m on a long solo walk that I’ll solve a writing issue I’ve been having.
If you’re looking for a super pleasant long walk in Jerusalem, you can’t beat the First Station path, which starts south of downtown at the First Station, an outdoor shopping/restaurant complex built on an old train station, and goes about 3.5 miles to Malha Mall, further south. During the first half of our Jerusalem tour, we lived not far from First Station and I often ran on this path. We don’t live so close anymore, but I still drive over there now and then to do “a nice First Station walk.”
For hikes that take you a bit deeper into nature, I recommend:
This is the hike I did again and again during my time living in Jerusalem. It’s a quick (25 minute) drive from downtown and there’s ample parking. Type in “Sataf” in Google Maps. There are a few different hikes that begin near the parking lot but I like the loop that takes a little more than two hours and goes completely around Sataf Mountain, also known as Har Eitan. You get panoramic views that include Jerusalem, more trails and forests, and Hadassah Hospital in Ein Kerem. Park in the lot (you’ll see many cars) and walk back to the road, go down some little stairs, and that’s the start of the main loop, which keeps you on a flat and wide dirt fire road the whole time until the end, when it’s a little uphill and on a paved road.
A great day: Hike and then eat a goat cheese lunch at the rustic Seltzer family goat farm, which is down in the Sataf valley and open only on Fridays and Saturdays.
If you do the goat cheese place after your hike, you’ll want to go back to your car and drive on the road from which you just hiked, following all the little goat signs down, down, into the valley. Careful, because the road gets rocky down there. You can hike down too, but it will take about 45 minutes (at least) to get back up to the main Sataf parking lot.
The two-and-a-half-hour Shvil HaMa’ayanot hike, located near the village of Ein Kerem, offers a nice nature reprieve, and a few interesting sites, including little pools you can dip into.
Access this hike by parking in a lot between Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem and a neighborhood called Even Sapir (there are signs for both). This is what the parking looks like:
Last time I did this hike, I followed mostly the green, white, and orange trail marker.
Walk through the Aminidav Forest, which has sheep statues, a picnic area, and a great overlook.
Just above that is Yad Kennedy, a very Washington DC looking memorial to John F. Kennedy Jr.
And there’s also a beautiful piano key sculpture nearby, which is a memorial to the Polish-American classical pianist Arthur Rubinstein.
The trail isn’t a loop, so you have to go back the way you came, but with all the pretty views, you won’t get bored. Adding in the memorial stops make this hike close to three hours. If you want lunch after, you’re close to Ein Kerem, which has a bunch of cute restaurants, and a chocolate shop.
For the second part of our Jerusalem tour, we lived in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. I found this path nearby, which is officially called the Tabachnick National and University Park. The entrance to the path is basically where Sheikh Jarrah, Wadi Joz, and Hebrew University all come together, just a few blocks south of the Lerner Center at the junction of Sderot Shayeret Harhatsofim and Yitshak Hanadiv Streets. The entrance to the path looks like this:
Yes, the paved path is littered with copious amounts of broken glass, trash, and spent onions and charcoal from cookouts, but if you can ignore all the garbage, I think you’ll find this hike to be a nice little urban oasis. It feels kind of secluded, but you’re still close to a busy road. The best part is you’re just walking along the treed path minding your own business and then all of a sudden the Dome of the Rock appears, golden and shimmering. That view surprises and delights me every time. Shortly after the Dome sighting, veer left and up and you come to impressive lookout where tour buses and groups stop throughout the day to take in this view:
Then get back on the trail, which runs below this lookout point, and continue up the path until the end of the paved portion of the trail, which puts you with Hebrew University Mount Scopus campus on the left and Augusta Victoria Hospital on the right. Cross the street and take in another impressive lookout, this one looking into Jordan. On a clear day, you can peep the Dead Sea in the distance. There’s a good audio guide at this lookout that explains what you’re seeing.
From here, I usually turn around, and head back to the start of the trail, making it about a 2.5 mile walk. Or, you could hike around the dirt goat trails that are directly below this Jordan lookout to get in some extra steps.
Or, you can follow signs for the “Mount of Olives” trail and get yourself over to the other side of Mount Scopus – Mount of Olives – on which there is tons to see, including the Church of All Nations and The Garden of Gethsemane.
Warning: There is not a clear-cut trail to get you between Mount Scopus and Mount of Olives. You’ll be going through some neighborhoods and will probably need to ask for directions. I tried this once, hoping for a nice well-connected trail, and it was not that, but it was a cool experience and a great workout! You come down off the Mount of Olives and you’re right next to the Old City. (This whole route would take probably two-plus hours.
Ein Prat is an Israeli National Park/Nature Reserve located in the West Bank (meaning, in part, it is not on land that international law considers to be Israel). So in addition to a good workout and some beautiful nature, this hike will also give you a little taste of how confusing this place is! I cannot in good conscious give you directions to this hike, because I’ve only done it once, and although our group set out thinking we would hike all the way to Jericho, we ended up calling it after five hours and hitching a ride with some Palestinian truckers back to the Almon settlement, near which we parked. It was a memorable day. The hike itself was pretty wow – walking along cliff faces, dipping into cool pools, ducking through reedy plants in marsh-like areas in the middle of the desert.
If you’re good at directions and up for a day-long hike, it’s worth it to try and figure out this hike and see if you can indeed get all the way to Jericho, from which you could cab back to your starting point. And if you fail like I did, you’ll at least have an adventure. To get the starting point, you take Route 1 from Jerusalem toward the Dead Sea and before you hit Ma’ale Adumim (the sprawling hilltop settlement very close to Jerusalem) there’s a gas station, turn left there, which puts you on 437 and from there you can follow signs to Ein Prat and Almon. As to where the ending point of this hike is, that we may never know.
Wadi Qelt is the valley that extends from Jerusalem to Jericho, but this this hike generally refers to a two-and-a-half hour section starting at the St. George Monastery, going through the wadi and ending at the Winter Palace in Jericho, where you can eat some grub at a local restaurant and then cab back to where you parked, or walk back to your car if you want a four-to-five hour hike. Sadly, we always meant to but never did this hike, but it comes highly recommended by a handful of friends. (And the photo is from Hantours which offers guided hikes of Wadi Qelt).
Okay, so Ein Gedi, a nature reserve on the Dead Sea, is decidedly not “Jerusalem area” but if you’re up for an hour-and-a-half drive, I think this is a neat way to see the Dead Sea while getting in some exercise and it can easily be a day trip from Jerusalem. (The other nearby hike is the snake trail up Masada. I was lazy the one time I went and we took the tram to the top). Ein Gedi is a family-friendly (parts of it are even handicapped accessible) hike that can get quite crowded. Don’t even bother doing this hike in June, July, or August, because the temps will likely top 100 degrees and that’s no fun. The Ein Gedi trail takes you past David’s Waterfall and a few freshwater pools, which is cool because you’re essentially in the desert next to one of the world’s saltiest bodies of water. Climb to the top to get great views of the Dead Sea. Then, go across the street for a dip in the Dead Sea! The thick, somewhat oily, painfully salty Dead Sea isn’t all that refreshing, but you’re right there, so might as well pop in at one of the nearby beaches, all of which cost about 30 shekels for entry.
If Ein Gedi is not a Jerusalem-area hike, Wadi Mujib in Jordan is really not, because you must go through the lengthy process of getting yourself to a whole different country. But I wanted to mention it because the Wadi Mujib hike is the most fun hike I’ve ever done in my entire life. This water hike is located near the Dead Sea on the Jordan side. If you could swim across the Dead Sea (you cannot) it would be exactly across from Ein Gedi. There’s a great visitor center with life jackets and water shoes to rent, and there are plenty of guide ropes, rungs, and actual human guides helping you through the more challenging parts of the hike, like when you climb up a waterfall at the gushing water is beating the crap out of your face. When we went in May, we were at least waist-deep in water for most of the hike/swim, we jumped off waterfalls, and in the end, we laid back and floated down the river like Winnie the Poo sticks. It was thrilling. If you’re going to be going to Jordan and you like water hikes, this is a must.
To taking a hike,
Em in Jerusalem