The Dead Sea trail is a stunning desert hike – one of the most beautiful in Israel.The hike is 55 km / 34 miles long, setting out from the city of Arad in the southwest part of the Judean desert at an elevation of 600 meters / 1,968 feet and ends at the Ein Gedi Kibbutz, next to the Dead Sea, at an elevation of 305 meters / 1000 feet below sea level.

The hike crosses the Judean desert and passes ancient desert paths, deep canyons and hidden springs, gorgeous viewpoints over the Dead Sea and the desert as well as the fascinating and impressive historical site of Masada.

The paths along the way are well-marked, most of the trail is comfortable walking with no dangerous parts and it does not pass through lands of the West Bank / the Palestinian Authority. The only challenge is the scarce water sources along the way, making it necessary to carry a relatively large amount of water on your back.

Details:

Length: 55 km/34 miles.

Duration: 4 days

Season: end of November – beginning of April

Lodging: tent/camping

Difficulty: moderate

Map :

https://israelhiking.osm.org.il/#!/?s=fI3ken9Svr

Water: there are 2 places along the route in which you can get water – the rest of the time you must carry between 3-6L on your back. Amounts of water needed for each of the days will be further detailed.

Gear: tent, sleeping bag, light jacket, light / short clothes, sunscreen

Masada

As there is currently no guidebook that you can acquire for the hike, we will provide a detailed description here of what you need to know in order to successfully complete this trip.

The starting point of the hike is in the city of Arad. You can get there by public transportation from Jerusalem (about 2.5 hours), Tel Aviv (around 2 hours) or Beer Sheva (about 40 minutes). Arad is a small, pleasant desert town that is easy to orient yourself in. The trail begins at the outskirts of the city and proceeds into the desert. You can get to the trailhead by taxi (a 5 minute ride) or by foot (2.3 km).

It is highly recommended that you spend the night before the trip in Arad and get up in the morning refreshed and ready to set off. The town has a variety of lodging options from hostels to boutique hotels.

For those who prefer to arrive the same morning to Arad and continue on to the trip until the campsite at Masada on that first day, it is doable but not advisable since it will be a long day in which you will hike 19 km.

The hike ends, at Kibbutz Ein Gedi. You can spend a night at the kibbutz or nearby, or take a bus to Jerusalem (about 2 hours) or return to Arad (about 1 hour) and from there you can continue on to Beer Sheva or Tel Aviv.

Link to the public transport website:

https://www.bus.co.il/otobusimmvc?Language=en

It is important to note that on Fridays, public transport stops running around noon and on Saturdays there is no public transportation in Israel.

Rules for hiking in the desert

A desert trip on foot is a particularly powerful experience. The wildness of the bare landscape, the quiet and solitude, the rush of encountering animals, the anticipation of arriving to a water source… all of these make for a unique adventure. However, the desert can also be dangerous and it is important to familiarize yourself with the dangers and to be properly prepared before you arrive.

What must one keep in mind in advance of the trip?

Heat: Israel is a hot country and doing this trip in any season but winter could be dangerous with the risk of dehydration and heat stroke. Even in winter, and particularly in the months of November and March, there can be very hot days and you should check up on the weather forecast before embarking on the trip.

Sunburn: the sun is strong in Israel, even in winter. Therefore, on any day that is not cloudy, apply sunscreen and even wear a long-sleeved shirt.

Floods: desert travel is best done in winter, however, in this season there is the risk of flash floods. A flash flood is a sudden, powerful flow of water through the wadis and the riverbeds that are dry most of the year. This is a phenomenon that typically occurs several times a year in the Judean desert.

Rain could fail tens of kilometers away from where you are, but because of the nature of the earth in the desert that does not easily absorb water into the ground, it gathers in the drainage basins of the small streams and together those drain into a central channel whose powerful rush can be deadly.

Before setting off on the trip, you must check if there is a flood warning. This information can be found on the relevant websites and Israeli media sites.

One website with lots of information regarding the weather in Israel, in English, is:

https://www.israelweather.co.il

Water: as said, you will need at least 3 liters of water per person per day for the hike.

The easiest way to bring water is to simply use the disposable (recyclable) 1.5 or 2 liter bottles of mineral water – as soon as you finish the water you can crumple up the bottle so that it won’t take up any volume in your bag and when you get to a water source – stretch it back again to refill. The bottles sold in Israel are strong enough to last a few such cycles of squishing and stretching without worrying that the plastic will crack.

Orientation: there is a large network of paths all across the desolate desert. Besides the designated hiking routes, there are also old paths, paths paved by the army, and paths used by wild animals and the Bedouin shepherds that live in the desert.

All of the routes presented in this guide are designated by the nature authorities in Israel and are safe for travel. However, some parts may be challenging such as climbing and descending the banks of wadis and walking along the edge of a cliff, so it is important to follow the trail markings that can be seen on rocks and stones along the way. The markings can be seen from a reasonable distance and in the event that you find a symbol you do not recognize, you should go back to the last point where you saw the markings of your path and from there continue on again.

The path markings are made up of 3 lines – the color of the path (usually green/red/blue/black) and two white lines, one on either side.

The different colors are intended to differentiate between the different paths and have no additional significance.

The bottom line is that you do not need special navigational skills in order to hike the trails described here but rather to simply follow the trail markings. Furthermore, for additional assurance, a topographic map of the hike (that we recommend printing to take along) is attached.

Camping: in Israel, camping on land that is defined as nature reserve is permitted by the Israel Nature and Park Authority only in places that are designated as campsites. The campsite itself is usually as basic as a platform in the middle of the desert with a sign saying what it is. For the hike described here, you will get to a designated camp spot at the end of each day of walking.

Note that in large parts of the trip there is no cellphone reception, especially in the wadis and deep in the desert.

General description of the route – Dead Sea Trail Guidebook

The trail begins from Moab Street, in Arad. Walk East up t

he street until the left turn off the road to the Masada West site. Continue another 100 meters on Moab St. On the right side of the road is an off-road vehicle trail marked in green. This is the beginning of the trail from which you will set off into the desert.

Day One: Arad – Masada West Campsite 19 km, 333 m ascent, 951 m descent – bring 3L of water per person.

This is a long day of easy walking, mostly downhill. The hike begins on the wide off-road trail marked in green, that leads to the Ofer Gorni Observation Point. After about 200 meters, you will join up with a blue trail (on the left side), continue straight another 500 meters until the viewpoint itself, and after another ~150 meters, the green trail meets the red trail from the left at which point it goes from an off-road vehicle trail and becomes a narrow walking path.

Continue downward on the green path headed southeast and about 2 more km after the meeting point with the red trail, you will get very close to the road descending from Arad to the Dead Sea. Here the green path meets with the red off-road vehicle trail. At this point, turn left onto the red trail toward the desert (away from the road). After a few hundred meters, the path passes through a riverbed (not too deep) on the sides of which is a temporary settlement of Bedouin locals (the Bedouins are a population of nomadic peoples living in many areas of the Middle East, and for some of these communities, there is difficulty adapting to modern life) and from here we leave civilization and head deep into the desert.

Stay on the red trail that continues along the ancient camel path and is easy for walking, with moderate ups and downs. After another 15 km, the red trail will intersect with the black trail.

From here you get a beautiful view of the Masada mountain. From the trails’ meeting point, you continue down the sloping red trail until you reach the Masada West campsite. This is where you will spend the first night.

Masada West Campsite: organized and pretty, has running water, electricity and places to charge cellphones, showers, a central sleeping tent and places to put tents of your own. The campsite is an excellent point from which to climb the Masada mount and visit the site.

The cost of camping includes visiting the site and is between $15-$20 (they take credit card).

Link:

http://www.parks.org.il/sites/English/ParksAndReserves/masada/Pages/MasadaCamp.aspx

Day 2: Masada West campsite – Tze’elim Stream campsite; 5.4 km, 84 meters ascent, 299 meters descent, 2.5 hours. Bring 4 liters of water per person.

The first half of the day would be well-spent visiting Masada. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and in addition to the fascinating historical stories it also offers an amazing view of the desert, the Dead Sea and the Kingdom of Jordan. You can leave your bags at the park office and climb up on foot. For early risers, it is definitely worthwhile heading up in time to see the sunrise from the top of the mountain.

Before setting off for the Tze’elim stream campsite, it is critical to fill up on water that should last until noon the following day. The walk to the campsite will take about two and a half hours and you should not rush it, since the route is totally exposed to sun. It is best to plan the day such that you will get to the trail after 15:00 (3 pm) when the heat of the day has passed (in winter in Israel there can still be very hot days in the desert).

You will begin the day on the green trail that starts out from within the campsite. The trail continues downward from the cliff toward the intersection with the red trail. The distance is about 1.4 km and the descent is a total of 221 meters. At the intersection with the red trail, turn left (and North) and continue another 2.2 km along the length of the cliff, with the Judean desert to your left, until the intersection with the green trail to the left. Here you leave the red trail and continue on the green another 1.6 km until it meets up with a short black trail (200 meters) which will be an easy climb to the campsite.

The lower Tze’elim campsite is at the end of the off-road trail that you get to from the Arava Road. The place itself is pretty basic with just space to set up a tent, but the location is fantastic. It is located over the opening of the enormous Wadi Tze’elim canyon. The stream (usually in the form of a dry riverbed), which you will continue hiking towards the following day, is among the largest and most impressive of the streams in the Judean desert, 32 km long (51 miles), with a drainage basin of 287 square km (111 square miles).

Day 3 : Wadi Tze’elim campsite – Ein Namer – Campsite at intersection of black and blue trails .13.2 km / 21 miles, 902 meters ascent, 391 meters descent

(15.8 km/25.3 miles if you climb to the viewpoint at Namer mountain) – At Ein Namer– 7–8 hr, fill up at least 6 liters of water per person

This is a full but beautiful day, including hiking the deep canyon of Wadi Tze’elim, visiting the Ein Namer spring, climbing the banks of Wadi Tze’elim and descending again to Wadi Harduf, before climbing up again toward the campsite.

You start out on the green trail down towards the Wadi. Immediately after the descent, there is an intersection at which the trails split – continue on the green trail and after 300 meters, where it meets the blue trail, take the blue trail. Another 300 meters later the blue will meet the black trail – continue on the blue trail and after about 100 meters more it will meet up with red trail – continue on this trail about 200 meters until it meets up with the green trail. Take the green trail another 1.5 kilometers until it meets with the red trail. Continue on the red trail another 200 meters until Ein Namer. (Total of 4.8 km from the start of the day’s hike).

Ein Namer (‘Leopard Spring’) is truly charming. It has a natural sweet water spring, good for drinking, hidden between huge boulders and spouting from a rock cave. The size of the small pool it makes changes with the seasons and the amount of rain, but the spring is steady all year round and dependable as a water source. The place itself is shaded and perfect for a lunch break.

The place is named ‘Ein Namer’ or ‘Leopard Spring’ because up until the 90’s (of the 20th century), a number of leopards roamed the Judean desert and would come to drink from the spring (the leopards of Israel have sadly gone extinct).

Note that this is the last point from which you can get potable water until Kibbutz Ein Gedi, a distance of a day and a half away, which includes a number of long climbs and a large part of which is in full sun, so don’t forget to fill up at least 6 liters of water per person, of which 3 should be saved for the final day of hiking.

Ein Namer

From here, go straight from the spring with the short black trail that starts out climbing on rock and continues steeply until it meets the blue trail (for those who find it too hard to climb the smooth rock, there is a slightly longer detour route detailed below). On the blue trail, turn right, and continue another 200 meters until it intersects with the green trail. Turn left onto the green trail and continue climbing another 291 meters until the green meets the red trail, at the northern bank of Wadi Tze’elim, a pretty viewpoint over the riverbed.

Detour route – if there is difficulty climbing on the black trail, head back the same way you came until the meeting point with the green trail from which you came, only this time do not continue straight but rather go left with the trail, climb the bank of the riverbed, and after about half a kilometer, you will reach an intersection with the blue trail. From here continue on as described above. (After about 1.5 km of climbing, you will cross with the red trail and at this intersection there is a pretty lookout over Wadi Tze’elim.) 2.3 km/3km.

Wadi Tze’elim

From here there are 2 options – on a clear day with no clouds, you should definitely continue another 1.3 km up until the Namer mountain peak, where you get great views out over the desert to the Dead Sea.

The walk there and back with a short break at the peak will take you about an hour and a quarter and at this point, you should pay attention to the time. By 17:00 (5 pm) it will be completely dark so you should get to your campsite by 16:30 (4:30 pm) at the latest. The walk to the campsite is about 6.3 km including descending and climbing Wadi Harduf, and should take about 2.5-3 hours.

To get to the mountain, continue on the red trail another 650 meters of easy walking until it meets the blue trail. Here, turn right and continue on the red trail that becomes a broader path. After about 200m, it will be joined by the black trail from the left side and climb the southern ridge of the Namer mountain (about half a kilometer).

After stopping at the top, return to the green trail and continue on the original route.

Continuing on the original route: turn right (or left if you are returning from Namer mountain) towards Wadi Harduf. The trail slopes gradually in the direction of the wadi until it reaches the banks of the stream. From here there is a short and relatively steep section until the stream itself (1 km).

The bottom of the wadi is a spectacular spot of infinite silence, deep in the desert. It is worthwhile to take a moment to enjoy the Genesis landscape before climbing out. (Although if there is even a minor risk of flooding, do not delay in this spot). From here, the green trail climbs out of the riverbed. After about 600m (and 100m ascent in elevation), you will get to the riverbank. 3.7 km later, you will reach an intersection with the blue trail – turn left onto the blue trail and after about 800m you will reach the campsite which is located at the meeting point of the blue trail and the off-road (vehicle) trail (also marked in blue), which joins up from the left side, from the West, along with the black trail. At this spot there will be a sign indicating the campsite and here you will spend your final night.

Wadi Harduf

Day 4: Campsite at the intersection of blue and black trails – Ein Mishmar – Wadi Haver – Kibbutz Ein Gedi; 16km/25.6 miles, 472m ascent, 997m descent (6.5-8 hours, including Namer mountain) – 3 liters of water .

This is a long and beautiful day, crossing 2 wadis and hiking long sections of exposed desert wilderness, at the end of which there is a beautiful lookout and sharp, spectacular descent to Kibbutz Ein Gedi.

You will start out hiking on the black trail and continue on it for 1.2 km until it turns sharply right. At this point, the trail begins to descend from the top of the cliff of the wadi where you are standing. Here it is better not to rush, but rather to continue straight for another 100m, following the white trail markings along the cliffside over the Mishmar stream, with a beautiful view of the desert and the bluffs that you will descend momentarily…

Having returned to the black trail, you will begin the descent to Ein Mishmar. The descent is steep in parts but not dangerous. After walking about 750m and descending 200m, you will arrive to Ein Mishmar. This is a charming spot in the heart of the desert where, at the foot of the towering, vertical cliff, lies a shaded pool of spring water and flood water whose size varies with the rains, that you can bathe in. But do not rely on this as a source of water as the spring’s flow is weak and its water is bitter.

Ein Mishmar

After the break in Ein Mishmar, you will continue on the black trail, on the easy route through the riverbed, another 560m until meeting up with the red trail. The red trail forks in two directions, with one side continuing with the black trail along the riverbed and its other prong, that you will take, turning left and up the riverbank to Ma’ale Mishmar (Mishmar hillside)

with a steep climb of 231m (within 541m distance) until the upper part of the riverbank. From here, continue with the red trail another 1.7 km until it meets with green trail that joins up from the left. Continue on the red trail for another 3.6 km until meeting with another green off-road vehicle trail (joining up from the left) and here you will find yourself at a beautiful lookout point over the Wadi Haver Canyon. Here the trail begins a light descent to the riverbed, where there are sometimes pretty cisterns after the rains. In the event that there is concern about flooding, do not linger here but rather quickly cross the narrow riverbed and climb up its opposite bank. Continue another 1.9 km with the red trail until meeting up with the green trail, an off-road vehicle trail coming from the Northwest. Turn right (and Southeast) here on the green trail. You will pass another campsite and after 2.4 km (since the right turn), you will get to the meeting point with the blue trail which joins up from the left side.

Continue on the green trail another 1.1 km, in which the last 200m of the path will turn back into a walking trail and climb to the left of the ridge with a view of Mount Tzruya. As you reach the hilltop, before starting the descent, go right about 150m towards the cliff’s edge where you will see one of the most beautiful lookouts over the Dead Sea.

After a short pause, begin the long descent to the entrance gate to Kibbutz Ein Gedi, 2.3 km away and a descent of 462 m elevation. At the gate, enter the kibbutz and after about 100 m, on the right side of the road is a bus station – a short distance away is the kibbutz grocery store for anyone wanting to treat themselves to a cold drink or ice cream which you have more than earned.

Kibbutz Ein Gedi

Bottom Line

What we loved: beautiful hike that continues to surprise you with the landscapes and points of interest despite its relatively short length. The trails are well-marked and well-maintained.

What we loved less: the need to carry a large amount of water on your back makes hiking more difficult.

Overall: perfect desert hike that combines dramatic landscapes and rare desert water sources along with an ending in the lowest places in the world and one of its most beautiful – the Dead Sea.

Ein Gedi area

Day trip at the end of the hike – it is highly recommended that you stay on at least one day in the Ein Gedi area (there are a number of lodging options in the area from free camping to luxury hotels).

-Ein Gedi Nature Reserve is one of the most beautiful spots in Israel with its abundance of water and vegetation in the heart of the barren, rocky desert, right beside the Dead Sea, making it a spectacular spot full of contradictions. The place is well known since antiquity and is even mentioned in the Old Testament.

There are a number of excellent day trails that include bathing in springs and beautiful lookouts over the Dead Sea.

For additional details:

http://www.parks.org.il/sites/English/parksandreserves/engedi/Pages/default.aspx

Note that on weekends in Israel (Friday-Saturday) and on holidays, the place is very busy.

Ein Gedi hot sulfur pools and bathing in the Dead Sea – in addition to the spa and hot tubs, the entrance fee includes bathing in the Dead Sea.

Link: http://www.eingediseaofspa.co.il/

About Masada

Masada is an ancient fortress in the southern Judean dessert that was built on an isolated cliff that looms dramatically over the Dead Sea. The place captures one of the most tragic stories of heroism from the ancient world.

The first construction on the Masada cliff took place around the year 100 BCE, most likely during the time of the Jewish Hasmonean kingdom that ruled then in Israel. The one to make the place great, architecturally, was Herod the King of Judah who ruled the country between the years 37-4 BCE.

King Herod was famous for his magnificent construction projects, the most significant of which were: the Second Temple which he renovated with great splendor, the port city of Caesarea which is named for Augustus Caesar, and the Herodion fortress in the west of the Judean desert, where he was also buried.

Herod took advantage of the natural features of the place and built a magnificent fortress that included palaces, bathhouses, and public houses. Fortifications surrounded the complex and large water cisterns were dug into the mountain to ensure a steady water supply all year round, despite the arid region.

Herod was indeed the king of Judah but ruled under the Roman Empire that appointed him and indirectly ruled the country while allowing great autonomy to the local government.

After Herod’s death, his sons failed to secure their rule over the people, which led to the end of autonomy in the country and its transformation into a Roman province under the leadership of a commissioner of the Empire.

The relations between the Roman commissioners and the Jewish population in Israel deteriorated. The Jews had a hard time accepting the new lack of autonomy in their own land and the whims of the empires and the Roman commissioners who in some cases deliberately insulted the religion of the people.

Eventually rebellion broke out that came to be known as the ‘Great Revolt’. It began in the year 66 CE and was finally suppressed in 73 CE. In 70 CE, Jerusalem was conquered and the Second Temple that was rebuilt and expanded, as previously mentioned, by Herod, was destroyed. It has been said in Jewish texts that “anyone who has not seen the building of Herod (the Second Temple) has never seen a beautiful building.”

(The Jewish War – Flavius Josephus)

The Romans plundered the Temple’s precious treasures, and took them to Rome where, along with other expropriated wealth, they financed the construction of the Coliseum, whose building began in the year 72.

The description of the bringing of those treasures to Rome can be seen in the relief that has survived to this day on Titus’ Gate in the city where the soldiers of the Legion are seen with crowns of laurels, returning victorious, holding temple items.

The relief on Titus Gate

After the conquering of Jerusalem, the remaining rebels fled to Masada. The Romans, determined to quash the remaining rebels, arrived in 73 and laid siege to the mountain. The hard topographical conditions, the distance from water sources, and the blazing desert heat, did not deter the persistent Romans, who held the mountain under siege for many long months and built a huge earthen embankment on the Western side of the mountain that reached its peak, so that a great many soldiers were able to climb up and overcome the defenders. (Anyone climbing the mountain from the Western side is actually climbing the embankment built by the Romans).

The Jewish population on the mountain numbered around 1000 people, men, women and children. When they saw that all hope was lost and that the Romans were about to take the mountain, they heroically decided that it was preferable to commit suicide as free men than to fall and be killed by the Romans or sold into slavery.

The night before the Romans broke into the fortress, Eliezer Ben Yair, the charismatic rebel leader, gave a speech in which he convinced the people that it was better to die an honorable death as heroes than to fall to the Romans. They made a suicide pact, drew lots and chose ten men to whom the task of killing was assigned, and each of them had to take a knife and kill his children and relatives. Afterwards they drew lots once more to choose one among the ten to kill the remaining nine and then himself.

When the Romans reached the mountain that morning after their long siege, they found all the murdered defenders, with the exception of two women and five children that had hidden in one of the wells and told the stunned Romans what had happened that night. *(The Jewish War – Josephus Flavius).

With the years, the mountain was abandoned and forgotten until the 19th century, when European researchers began to arrive in Israel. With the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, intensive archeological digging began at the mountain which was declared as a national park.

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