Hiking the Yehudia Forest reserve
Hiking the Yehudia Forest reserveIsrael news photo: Shmuel Browns

Trekking the Golan can be an exhilarating experience, but one that should be approached with the right preparation.

The Yehudia Forest reserve is off Highway 87 just northeast of the Sea of Galilee on the Golan. There is parking, bathrooms, drinking water, a snack bar, place for camping (additional fee) and an information center; the entrance fee is 20 NIS per person. Eleven hikes are listed in the park’s brochure on the Yehudia Forest Reserve, including Nahal Zavitan and the Meshushim (hexagonal basalt pillars) pool.

Archaeology buffs can visit the destroyed town of Gamla, which marked the clash between the Jews and Vespasian at the start of the Great Revolt against Rome in 66 CE. For nature lovers, hike the red trail through a field of dolmens to the Gamla waterfall (at 51 meters, the highest in Israel) to a lookout where you'll be able to see Griffin vultures as they soar overhead.

Hiking the upper section of Nahal Yehudia is considered to be appropriate for good hikers who can swim, as there are a couple of places where you have to climb down the rock face with the help of handholds or a ladder into a deep pool that you have to swim across. Note that you must start out on the well-marked trail by noon.

The hike starts above the wadi on the red trail, walking through a deserted Syrian village of basalt field stones built on the remains of an earlier Jewish town from the Roman-Byzantine period.

Remains of a wall have led archaeologists to suggest that Yehudia is Soganey, one of the three fortresses (the other two are Gamla and Sele'ukya) in the Golan built by Josephus at the time of the Roman Revolt.

The hike takes you on a path strewn with basalt, by pasture land where you may see cattle grazing. Then you walk down into the wadi past a wall of pentagonal and hexagonal basalt pillars to the Yehudia Falls (20 meters high) and the first pool, good for a cool dip especially if it’s a hot day.

At this point you should probably change out of your hiking boots and into water sandals, as there are places where you walk in the water. 

A short way along the wadi you get to the first descent. U-shaped handholds have been attached to the rock to help you get down about 4 meters. This is just your warm-up.

The trail brings you to a cliff where you descend 9 meters by metal ladder into a pool. There is no place to stand, you step off the bottom rung of the ladder and swim across to the other side of the pool.

The challenge is what to do to keep your gear dry (such as cell phones, cameras, car keys with electronic locks, and other stuff that won’t work if it gets wet). Here are some suggestions:

* use the double garbage bag technique

* bring along a small inflatable boat and float your gear across

* rig up a rope and omega your pack across,

or probably safest,

* pack in professional waterproof bags used for kayaking.

After traversing the pool you come to another descent, this time about four meters with only handholds. At the bottom you have the option of swimming or walking across the pool as it isn’t that deep. Be careful as it is slippery walking on the rocks. The water can be quite cold so it’s great that there are some large, flat rocks in the sun to sit on and have a snack.When you head out on a hike you can really help by picking up garbage along the trail, fill a couple of plastic bags you can bring for your packs with garbage that you can carry out with you.

Continue along the wadi, which sometimes takes you over the rocks, sometimes in the water. At the well-marked junction you can leave the red trail to take the green one back to the former Syrian village, or continue along the wadi a bit further to one last pool and waterfall. Then you can backtrack and take the green trail up out of the wadi, back to the village and the trail head. It is November, but there are already cyclamen and narcissus in bloom.

Shmuel Browns is a licensed tour guide and leads customized tours from Dan to Be'er Sheva. For more information click, here!