The Carmel National park, extending over much of the eponymous mountain range, is Israel’s largest national green space and a real Garden of Eden. Running along the top of the Carmel Ridge, westward to the Mediterranean sea, it’s packed full of flora, fauna, hiking trails and breathtaking views. Whether you’re a runner, biker, hiker or simply a nature lover, it’s a must-visit when visiting the north of the country. Even better, because it’s so close to the sea, the area receives quite a lot of rainfall, which means that much of the year it is green and verdant.
Referred to as “Little Switzerland” by locals, its Alpine-like woodlands make the Carmel home to over 10,000 hectares of cypress, pine and eucalyptus trees as well as over 650 species of plants. What is even more remarkable is that this is a man-made park - the afforestation project began under the British Mandate (in the 1930s) and was continued by the Jewish National Fund after the state of Israel came into being in 1948. Within the park, there are endless walking and bicycle paths, dedicated nature areas and a range of trails (depending on how far you want to walk and how experienced a hiker you are). For archaeological lovers, there are a number of sites that were inhabited in prehistoric times.
The Tree Valley, Cyclamen Forest, Finger RIdge, Kelach Outlook, the Galim Stream, Mount Shokef, the Druze villages of Daliat el Carmel/Isifiya and the Nesher Hanging Bridges are just a few of its many attractions. But if you only have a few hours, here are a few recommendations for a fine day out in this beautiful national reserve:
For beginners, try Horshat haArbaim - at just 1,5 kms, you’ll pass ancient oak trees and enjoy a lookout over Haifa Bay. Taking the Kelah Stream, you’ll walk for 3 kms through woodlands where Persian fallow deer have been released into the area by Israeli ecologists. Look out for the rare Madonna Lily, which flowers here in the spring. Or, also at 3 kms, there’s the Etsba Ridge (Finger RIdge) and cave, with part of the route overlapping with the famous Israel National Trail.
For the more active hiker, there’s the Sfunim Stream trail which has a short but rather steep incline. At 4 kms long, it gives you a fabulous view of the Carmel coastal plain from the top of the Megadim Cliff.
And for the real pros, there’s the Neder and Galim Streams trail - at 8 kms, its path is stony and pebbly and there are lots of challengings parts, including climbing using bars! Hike through Wadi Kelah and past the Oranit caves (home to plenty of bats). All the trails are well marked - and don’t forget to take at least 2 liters of water per person. And keep your eyes peeled for the flowers you’ll see because it’s hard not to be impressed by the array of flora in the Carmel.
All along the streams of the trails, there are laurestine, which blossoms beautifully in the spring, and laurel (from which flower bay leaves, good for cooking). Look out for the rock rose, with its white flowers, and soft rock rose, which blossoms in pinks. All around you’ll smell marjoram, sage and the scene of pine leaves.
The Cyclamen Trail and Hanging Bridges of Nesher.
Beginning close to the Cypress Plaza, this short 1,300-metre trail is famous for its ancient burial area...as you walk along, you will see the entrances to six burial chambers that have been carved into the rock. It is presumed to have belonged to a wealthy Jewish family back in the times of the Mishnah. (Archaeology lovers can continue west, to the site of the Horvat Hermesh ruins),
And for those who like action, there’s nothing like a visit to the Hanging Bridges of Nesher. These two narrow bridges span a ravine and run across a seasonal river - built using steel cables, they are part of a hiking route that leads you through Israeli oak, Cypress pines, and Greek strawberry trees. There are two paths - green is easy and black is more difficult. Don’t forget your camera - the views from atop the bridges are outstanding!
The Hai Bar
For animal lovers, a visit to the Hai-Bar is a must. Close to Nahal Galim, this is a huge nature reserve, home to animals that are in danger of becoming extinct. Inside you’ll see Roe and Persian Fallow deer, wild goats, and Palestinian Mountain Gazelles as well as vultures, eagles and thousands of butterflies. It’s a great place to take the kids and the free guided tours are extremely informative (explaining how they encourage the animals to reproduce in captivity then gradually release the offspring back into the wild)
Finally, if you’re in the area, a visit to the Druze village of Daliat-el-Carmel / Isifiiya is highly recommended, Found at the top of the Carmel mountain, it was established in the 18th century by Druze from Lebanon and 200 years later is still offering visitors open and warm hospitality. The village has a lively Saturday market and the Carmelite Muhraka Monastery (which, according to tradition, is where Elijah the Prophet proved himself) is a popular pilgrimage site. The church is small but the gardens are pretty and the viewing platform affords astonishing views of the surrounding area.
The Carmel National Park is open to visitors throughout the year and admission is free (although there is a fee required for vehicles). The park has picnic areas, a restaurant, playgrounds, and a Druze Hospitality Area, which serves tea and fresh bread. For overnight stays, close to Kibbutz Beit Oren, there is the Fairy Forest ecological campsite, which has an open kitchen, warm showers, compost toilets and a pool in the woods!