Recognised by UNESCO, the Israel National Trail is more than just an epic 1,000-kilometre trek through some of the harshest and most beautiful terrain in the world. It’s a voyage through the annals of time and the tapestry of cultures that have shaped the country.
You might have hiked some challenging trails, but the INT will push your limits and test you physically and mentally. Before you lace up those boots, let’s talk about how to plan and prepare yourself for an Israel National Trail thru-hike. For those who wouldn’t even consider such a challenge, we’ll look at some shorter sections you might consider instead.
Intrigued? Then read on and let your imagination take over.
The Israel National Trail (INT)
The INT stretches from Kibbutz Dan, located near the Lebanese border in the northernmost region of Israel, to Eilat on the Gulf of Aqaba – at the northern tip of the Red Sea.
I’ve mentioned above that it’s a 1,000-kilometre trail, but that’s not entirely true. In reality, the trail’s length changes regularly when the Israel National Trails Committee adjusts the route over time for one reason or another. Various online sources have put it at anywhere between 965 and 1,100 kilometres.
Unsurprisingly, National Geographic included the INT on their list of the most amazing hikes in the world, recommending it for experienced long-distance hikers who are passionate about ancient and contemporary history. Established in 1995, this rugged trail takes in some of the most diverse landscapes you’ll find on any adventure.
It also takes hikers to places of great significance in the Judeo-Christian story. In the bible, Mount Carmel near Haifa is the place of the epic battle between the prophet Elijah and the 450 prophets of the false god Baal. You can also swim in the Jordan River and visit the Basilica of the Annunciation.
Although the INT is well-marked, it demands that hikers be fit, agile, and experienced in wilderness navigation, even if they do not intend to hike the trail from end to end. We’ll discuss some short sections of the trail below, but visitors to Israel might also consider a guided tour. A tour with Israel Connection is one option worth considering. While the INT is something of a holy grail for hiking enthusiasts, every section of the trail offers something unique and worth exploring.
Traverse the verdant Galilee, the majestic Carmel Ridge, the bustling coastal plains, the dramatic Negev desert, or the Eilat mountains, or take up the challenge and hike them all.
A walk along the Israel National Trail is a journey through the ages. Ancient ruins, religious sites, and modern settlements dot the trail, each narrating a tale of the past. That’s not to mention the incredible gamut of people you’ll meet and learn from – from the hospitality of the kibbutzim to the fascinating traditions of the Bedouin tribes.
The Israel National Trail thru-hike: Planning and preparation
When is the best time to hike the Israel National Trail?
Avoiding the heat of summer in Israel is priority number one. Parts of the trail won’t be possible to walk in winter, so spring and autumn are the time to go. One ideal plan would be to start in September and hike north to south, which will mean reaching the desert (and its floods) before the wet season. This also provides the added benefit of working up to the more difficult southern end of the trek.
Preparing your body and mind
Hiking the Israel National Trail can take anywhere between 40 and 60 days. How challenging will a thru-hike be for you? Well, that depends on weather conditions, water availability, how strict your timeline needs to be, your hiking experience, fitness and agility, mindset… the list could go on.
Most hikers planning an INT thru-hike undertake months and months of training, including pack-carry training, in varied terrain and under all conditions. The further you are from peak physical condition, the longer you’ll need to train.
Like most rewarding things in life, it’s also a mental game. The physical training will go some ways to mentally preparing you for this adventure, but the most important thing is to know yourself. Self-awareness will inform your decision-making as you prepare, even more so once you hit the trail. It will be essential to put yourself on the right path for the emotional rollercoaster ahead.
The Trail Angels of the Israel National Trail
As you might have heard about (or experienced for yourself) on US long-distance trails, Trail Angels are good Samaritans who volunteer their time – and more – to support those who choose to undertake the adventure of a particular trekking route.
The INT Trail Angels provide places to shower and spend a night, transportation in emergency situations, water and snacks. Ideally, you’ll hit them up before your trip (24 hours minimum) so that they can help you plan some of your supplies or lodgings. You’ll soon see why the ‘angels’ part of the name is so apt. There’s only one list of INT Trail Angels that you should rely on. For safety reasons, make sure you find them here.
Some Trail Angels won’t speak or understand English, so it might pay to learn some Hebrew phrases. Pick up something from Israel Books – a beginners guide will do, but if you want to become fluent, they’ll have a book to get you started on that too. Oh, and don’t be a jerk to them. It’s incredible that something like the Trail Angels exists, but it doesn’t take many people taking advantage to ruin it for everyone. Let them know as soon as possible if your plans change. Please treat them with the respect they deserve.
Safety on the trail
If you plan to hike the Israel National Trail, get used to the idea that you’ll have friends and family asking, “Is that safe?”.
Just tell them there’s never been a reported incident of an attack on INT hikers.
My research tells me that you’re as safe here as you would be on any other major long-distance hike in the world (if you go by how many reported incidents, you’re safer on the INT than the Appalachian Trail).
Obviously, you’d be wise to check in with your country’s relevant government department regarding their advice on travelling to Israel. Do whatever gives you the best hope of making an informed decision, but sometimes a little bit of risk is the key to adventure.
Your real danger on this trail is being underprepared. You need to be physically and mentally ready, you need the right gear and supplies, and you need to plan like you’ve never planned before.
Most importantly, when you reach this trail’s southern desert sections, you need to know where your water is coming from. Your life depends on it.
If something does go wrong and you need rescuing, the local number to call is 100. This is the number for the police, but they will organise your rescue if necessary.
Packing for the Israel National Trail
We’ll talk about water in another section, but I’ll briefly mention two things here…
You’ll only need to carry five days’ worth of food since you can purchase supplies along the way, and just as importantly, you’ll need a local SIM card. There is good phone coverage on most of the INT (the Negev desert section can be patchy), and it will allow you to keep in touch with Trail Angels, your fellow hikers, or, as I mentioned above, the police and emergency services. At the time of writing, Cellcom and Hot Mobile are two potential companies to get in touch with. Due to the changing nature of phone companies in Israel, it’s best to do your own research.
Where to find drinking water on the INT
While water isn’t a major concern between the INT’s northern trailhead and Arad, the entire trail south of there will require meticulous planning. Not only is water much more difficult to source south of Arad, but the desert heat means you’ll need to carry a lot more.
Trail Angels can help hide water caches, and water is available at major camps, but this should still be a major focus of your planning. Shvil is an incredible resource for information about water on the INT. Start your research there.
Israel National Trail Maps
Although detailed maps can be expensive and hard to obtain, it’s recommended that you have one. Some hikers use only a guidebook or phone, but I would never recommend this. A paper map and a compass are essential for any long-distance hike. IsraelTrail.net has an excellent resource for INT maps.
Getting to the Israel National Trail
Most visitors to Israel will arrive in Tel Aviv, and it’s very easy to find transport from here to either end of the trail (or even begin your hike in Tel Aviv if you’ve chosen not to thru-hike).
Due to strict entry rules and interesting border officials, entry to Israel can be challenging. However, don’t worry too much unless you hold a passport from somewhere that doesn’t recognise Israel as a sovereign state. IsraelTrail.net has some solid information on transport from Tel Aviv to the trail.
Need to Know
Length: 1,015 kilometres (approx. 630 miles)
Time: Approximately 45-60 days of hiking, depending on your pace. Generally, plan for 6-8 hours of hiking per day.
Grade: Moderate to difficult due to the length of the trail and some challenging terrains.
Style: End-to-end (one-way)
Further Info: This INT discussion forum is your best friend while planning your adventure. On an unrelated but useful note, few people realise that the entire Israel National Trail has been mapped by Google’s Street View (just drag-and-drop the little person on the trail and away you go).
Shorter Israeli Trails for the wary (or more sensible)
Does this all sound amazing, but there’s no way in a million years you’ll ever commit to 1,000 kilometres of hiking? Fair.
But that doesn’t mean you need to miss out altogether. In Israel, there are so many trails that you’ll never get bored. Here are four ideas to get you started, three of which are sections of the Israel National Trail and one that, although it isn’t part of the official trail, will give you a taste of its highlights.
Dramatic desert landscapes are the drawcard on this challenging southern section of the Israeli National Trail, affectionately known as Israel’s Grand Canyon. The unique wildlife, rugged and varied terrain, and the world’s largest erosion crater (or ‘makhtesh’) are highlights that will keep even the most seasoned hiker in a constant state of “wow”.
Need to Know
Start: Mitzpe Ramon
End: Ein Saharonim
Length: Approximately 20 kilometres (12.4 miles)
Time: This section can be hiked comfortably in a day, with approximately 6-8 hours of hiking.
Grade: Moderate to difficult, considering the desert conditions and rugged terrains.
Style: End-to-end (one-way)
The Coastal Plains and Carmel Mountain Range
For a stark contrast to the southern Makhtesh Ramo section, this trail sees hikers exploring the picturesque beaches of the coastal plains before venturing into the stunning Carmel Mountain range. Alexander Stream and Carmel Mountain National Parks are rich in biodiversity, and the latter is one of Israel’s largest nature reserves.
As you hike, the ancient ruins of Caesarea, an impressive testament to Roman architecture, remind you of the civilisations that have flourished here. This INT section is a harmonious blend of coastal beauty, verdant mountain terrain, and historical intrigue.
Need to Know
Start: Caesarea National Park
End: Haifa, at the peak of Mount Carmel
Length: Approximately 50 kilometres (31 miles)
Time: This section could be hiked over 2-3 days, with 6-8 hours of hiking each day.
Style: End-to-end (one-way)
Tel Aviv Urban Walk
As previously mentioned, some sections of the Israel National Trail pass through populated areas. None of them is more populated than Tel Aviv, but that isn’t a negative thing, especially for visitors to Israel.
Walking through Tel Aviv, you’ll be struck by the city’s vibrancy and rich culture. Hike along the bustling beach promenade through contemporary neighbourhoods, historic Jaffa, green parks, and the thriving food, art, and entertainment centres. It’s a cultural immersion, unlike any other hiking trail in the world.
Need to Know
Start: Tel Aviv Port (Namal Tel Aviv)
End: Jaffa Port
Length: Approximately 8 kilometres (5 miles)
Time: The time to explore this section can vary significantly, depending on how much time you want to spend at each sight or attraction. However, it can be comfortably walked in a few hours.
Style: End-to-end (one-way)
Sea-to-Sea Trail (Yam el Yam)
The multi-day Yam el Yam Trail isn’t officially part of the INT, but it does intersect with it. It’s one for the hikers who are up for a challenge, even if not a 1,000-kilometre challenge. Starting at the Mediterranean Sea, you’ll climb Mount Meron, the highest point in Galilee, before descending into the lush Hula Valley, ending at the Sea of Galilee. It’s a spectacular journey through Israel’s green heartland that takes in historic sights like you’ll only find in Israel. Make sure to carry on the tradition of dunking your head in the sea at each end of the trail.
Need to Know
Length: Approximately 90 kilometres (approx. 56 miles)
Time: Typically hiked over 3-5 days, with around 5-7 hours of hiking per day.
Style: End to end
The Israel National Trail offers a journey like no other, rich in history, culture, and natural beauty. Each step is a revelation, a moment to cherish, a memory to hold onto. As you traverse this remarkable trail, you’re not just experiencing Israel’s diverse landscapes; you’re delving into a narrative woven over millennia. It’s a story waiting for you to become a part of it.
No journey like this goes according to plan, so be prepared for the unexpected and enjoy every moment. One of the best things about the Israel National Trail is the challenges and unique experiences it offers.
NOTE: Please remember to consult official resources or local guides for the most accurate and up-to-date information.