Best Desert Hikes in Israel

By Petal Mashraki | Published on 12/26/2019
4 min

Israel has snow-capped mountains; rolling green meadows; lush valleys and stark desert landscapes. Israel's deserts are concentrated in the southern half of the country and include the Judean Desert, home to the Dead Sea; the Negev Desert covering about 16,000kmĀ²; more than half the total land area of the country and the Zin Desert also known as the Biblical Wilderness of Zin.
There are numerous hike trails in Israel's deserts with various levels of difficulty and different lengths. The deserts offer a unique look at a fascinating eco-system with spectacular flora and fauna; picturesque waterfalls and endless awe-inspiring views. It is best not to hike in the desert alone and you should always follow the well-marked hike trails. Bring plenty of water and wear a hat when hiking in Israel's deserts. The best way to experience Israel's deserts is to follow one of these exhilarating desert hikes in Israel.

Red Canyon Hike

This is one of the most breathtaking desert hikes in Israel. The Red Canyon is part of Wadi Shani which starts in the Sinai Desert in Egypt and crosses into Israel. Over the course of thousands of years, the elements have carved through the red sandstone rocks creating this natural canyon. There are a few places along the trail where you need to use metal wedges and ladders to get through the narrow canyon. The trail is at its best from November to April when the weather is slightly cooler. You can take the 5km route or the easier 2km route from the trailhead parking lot. You'll pass a few dry waterfalls and take some sharp turns in the narrow canyon which is less than 2 meters wide at some points. You'll reach a junction where there are black markers that will take you back to the starting point if you want to take the short hike. Otherwise, continue following the green markers into the Wadi. The loop trail should take about 3 hours to complete.

Ein Gedi Nature Reserve 

A hike through the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve; an oasis in the Judean Desert, is one of the most enjoyable and greenest hikes in Israel. The reserve is home to the Arugot Stream and David Stream. There are several trails of different lengths and levels of difficulty ranging from a family-friendly 2km trail to a challenging 10km hike trail. Much of the shorter route is along wooden walkways or well-trodden paths that are not too challenging. You'll feel like you're taking a hike in northern Israel, surrounded by lush vegetation, trees and abundant streams and waterfalls. The short Nahal David hike from the park entrance to David's Waterfall takes just 30 minutes. The rest of the hike involves tougher terrain, a twisting route through a narrow canyon and some steep climbs. You'll also find sections where it is easier to wade through the streams than stay on the path. Continuing through the canyon you'll reach a spot where a natural opening in the rocks creates a "window" overlooking the Dead Sea. 

Wadi Qelt Hike 

There are plenty of hikes near Jerusalem but if you want to experience the desert then Wadi Kelt (also known as Ein Prat or Nahal Kelt) is an excellent choice less than an hour from the capital. Starting at the trailhead in Ein Prat Nature Reserve parking lot the scenic route has a total length of about 9km but there are shorter versions of 1-5km. The best time to hike through Wadi Kelt is December to March. Most of the hike is through rocky terrain and there are some parts where metal handles have been hammered into the rock to help you. You'll go through a gorge with steep cliff sides and find natural pools you can swim in. Stop at Ein Prat, the biggest spring in the valley; enjoy small waterfalls; ancient aqueducts and the 330AD hanging Faran Monastery on the southern cliffs. The highlight of this hike is at the end of the trail when you can look up at the Greek Orthodox Monastery of St. George that was built precariously clinging to the cliffs. End the hike by returning the way you came or taking a short-cut along the top of the canyon where you can look down on the famous monastery on the opposite cliff.

The Nekarot Horseshoe Hike Trail through the Ramon Crater

Makhtesh Ramon (Ramon Crater) is a phenomenal massive crater formed by erosion. It is 40km long, 500m deep and 2-10km wide. Enter the Makhtesh Ramon Nature Reserve for the best experience of the crater on the southern edge of the Negev Desert. This huge natural indentation in the landscape has vibrant colored rocks, a variety of plant life and unusual geographical formations. Take the Nekarot Horseshoe Trail loop through the crater. At a little over 6km this trail should take about 3 hours and is suitable for families. The trail takes you past the Saharonim Spring where pools of water bubble up from the ground; past families of agile ibexes on the rocks and steel white chalk cliffs. Depending on the season you may have to swim, wade or walk though water-filled canyons. See Ardon Mountain in the distance and enjoy the deafening silence of the desert.

Ein Avdat National Park Hike Trails

Ein Avdat is part of the Zin Wadi or the Biblical Zin Wilderness in the Negev Desert. It is home to the largest natural spring in the Negev and a stunning 2km-long hike trail. This short hike takes you from the Ein Avdat National Park entrance to the beautiful natural pools and back again. If you are looking for something a little longer then hike to the spring water pools and instead of doubling back climb to the top of the cliffs and return via Marl Wadi of Havarim. This 10km hike is for moderately fit hikers and is best followed from December to March. The highlight of both the short and long hikes is the chain of three Ein Avdat spring pools. The first pool (Ein Ma'arif) has cascading waterfalls; the second, Ein Avdat has a 15m-high waterfall and an 8m-deep pool; the final pool is beautiful Ein Mor. When you leave the pools you can take the vertical ladder up the cliff and head back to the starting point through gentle hills that have multiple shades of golden brown.