Over 52 days, I hiked from Kibutz Dan, in the North of Israel, to Eilat, in the south, covering over 1020km. I climbed multiple mountains, swam in springs, followed the coastline, took in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and crossed the Negev desert. All before plunging head first into the Red Sea. The Israel National Trail, or Shvil Israel in Hebrew, is not common with foreigners and, as such, there is very little information available online about this walk. I wanted to share my experience of hiking in Israel, both the good and the bad.
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Israel National Trail review: The good
The changing scenery and its variety are astounding. The north is mountainous, with forests and springs, the centre follows beautiful coastlines and, in the south, you experience a true sense of wilderness in the Negev Desert. All that is achieved in just 1000km.
For many, myself included, the Negev Desert is the most memorable section. You are offered endless breathtaking views. The wildlife is in abundance and you can get a real sense of seclusion and nature.
The length and time it takes to complete make this walk very accessible without having to put in the training or time commitment that comes with many other thru hikes. The full trail can comfortably be completed in 2 months. The trail markers are easy to follow and, thanks to the Red book, there is a guide, with maps, in English that is all you will need to plan this walk.
The trail is very quiet with barely any foreigners. In fact, I only met about 20 hikers doing the whole trail. Most days, we were walking entirely on our own, rarely passing other people. I only met 1 other foreigner, an Italian doing a couple of days of trekking. It is a rare and nice thing to be on a trail that is not over populated with tourists.
Israeli food is delicious!
The people of Israel are unique and their generosity will astound you. They are a close knit community who like to help others and the kindess and friends I made along the way will always remain a huge part of my journey.
The places you pass are just drowning in historical and religious significance. There is a huge amount crammed in this small country.
English is a national language so is widely spoken and understood, while still having the benefits of enjoying the sound of a different language and trying to pick up some Hebrew and Arabic as you go.
Israel National Trail review: The bad
Every hiking destination has bad points. Scotland is beautiful, but, the weather and midges can be miserable. America has some fantastic routes, but, many of them are now so popular they are overcrowded. I wanted to be realistic and share some of the challenges that I faced while doing this walk, based on my experience.
Especially in the north, littering is a problem and it was hard for me to ignore.
As I mentioned above, Israelis are genuinely warm people with a unique sharing spirit. They also have a certain mentality that took me some time to adjust to. In many ways, I found some of the behaviour intrusive. Talking loudly and playing music next to our tent was a common problem. Israelis don’t step on eggshells – sometimes it’s a good thing and sometimes it’s a bad thing.
Probably, the most frustrating aspect for me was the camp sites. It is easy to do almost the entire trail relying on staying with trail angels (except the desert). I really enjoy camping though and like the feeling of freedom and being close to nature, so mostly opted for sleeping out under the stars. Wild camping in the reserves (there are many on this walk) is illegal and can lead to being fined. There are basic designated camping areas set up where you are meant to stay. These were often dirty or poorly located, too close to roads or, even worse, factories. It is also common in the desert camps to get huge organised groups set up gazebos, tents, generators and speakers in the night camps. They were always unnecessarily noisy and played loud music (see point above!).
Although water wasn’t a challenge for me, I know that it is something that causes a lot of hikers angst. It takes some planning. There is a lack of water sources everywhere so you will need to plan and carry a lot with you. Most days I took minimum 4 litres.
Completing the Israel National Trail felt like a real adventure. But in a way that was different than what I was expecting. It was not like any other hiking I have done before. I came to realise though that the challenges and struggles I was having were also what made it so unique.
In terms of the walk, the variety and beautiful landscapes put this trail up there as a real winner. Sure, it’s a little rough around the edges. It doesn’t have the same quiet and clean feeling that you get walking in the Lake District or Yosemite National Park. However, going from seeing the Sea of Galilee to the craters of the Negev desert is something really special. The rough edges will probably frustrate you at times. Most likely, like me, you will eventually learn to love them and realise that, like the Israelis, these imperfections are also part of the charm!
There are practicalities that need to be improved. Things like accessible water, decreased littering and better campsites. I’m sure that these changes will come. If it was me though, I wouldn’t wait for them to happen. When they do, I have no doubt the popularity of the trail will surge and you will miss out on enjoying a hike that currently feels slightly untouched. Like a hidden gem yet to be discovered and polished for the rest of the world to see. As it stands, what you are in store for is something truly authentic.
It’s hard to come by that feeling these days!
For more information on the Israel National Trail, you might also want to check out:
A guide to the Israel National Trail
22 tips for thru hiking
Israel National Trail: budget breakdown
24 pictures that will make you want to walk the Israel Nationals Trail
Israel National Trail: Kit List
My Israel National Trail Itinerary