Ayun Stream Nature Reserve is located in northern Israel, near the city of Metula, on the edge of the Lebanon border. The park covers the course of the Ayun Stream from where it flows into Israel from Lebanon to the Hula Valley, and on to the Jordan River.
Ayun Stream is one of four sources of the Jordan River. The stream descends from an elevation of 500m to 350m above sea level, through a deep gorge, traveling down five levels, and creating some of the most beautiful waterfalls in the country. The picturesque waterfalls are surrounded by a lush landscape of vegetation, forests, and wildflowers.
History of Ayun Stream Nature Reserve
In 1896 the community of Metula was established on the “Finger of Galilee '' a narrow strip of Israeli land surrounded on three sides by Lebanon. Ayun Stream flows past Metula, and in the early years of the community, inhabitants exploited the stream for irrigating their fields, turning a flour mill, and drinking water. Following World War I, the Ottoman Empire fell, and the Middle East was divided up between the British and France.
The northern borders of Israel were negotiated between the British, who controlled Palestine, and the French, who controlled Lebanon. The new border placed the Ayun Stream gorge within British Mandate Palestine, but the source of the spring in Ayun Valley remained in French Lebanon.
In World War II, the British needed to protect Palestine from infiltration by the Vichy forces in Lebanon. They created a dam, downstream of Ayun Waterfall, to supply their troops with water. The route was later used to smuggle illegal Jewish immigrants into British Palestine. The Ayun dam Bridge was destroyed along with other bridges by the Jewish Palmah on the “Night of the Bridges” in 1946.
The Ayun Stream Nature Reserve was established in 1968 to preserve the rare scenery, waterfalls, flora, and fauna. In the 20th century, Lebanese farmers exhausted the stream of all its water, to such an extent that each summer the stream ran dry on the Israeli side of the border. And the park’s famous waterfalls stopped flowing. In 2009, in the absence of a political solution, the Israeli park authorities dug wells near the Dan spring and allowed the water to flow into Ayun Stream.
Points of Interest in Ayun Stream Nature Reserve
Ayun Stream: Nahal Ayun (Ayun Stream) is a perennial stream and a tributary of the Jordan River. It originates from two springs in southern Lebanon and runs south through Hula Valley before flowing into the Hasbani River, which joins the Jordan River. In winter the stream fills with rainwater and gushes over the waterfalls. In summer, only a few springs continue to flow into the stream from Ein Sukhra, Tanur Spring, and Cascades Spring. Water is diverted from the Dan springs and supplements the smaller springs to fill the Ayun.
Ayun Stream Waterfalls: The different levels of elevation along the course of the stream create waterfalls along the route. Visitors can see the Ayun Waterfall (9.2m); Eshed (Cascade) Waterfall which drops 5 meters and then down the second drop of 9 meters; Tahana (Mill) Waterfall (21m), and the tallest waterfall, Tanur (Oven) Waterfall, that drops 30 meters. There is an upper parking lot and a lower parking lot close to Tanur Waterfall so that if you only want to see the highest waterfall you stop at the lower parking lot.
Flora and Fauna: The nature reserve is home to a variety of trees including the turpentine tree, maple, and buckthorn. Other plants and flowers include Spanish broom, cyclamen, anemones, and cyclamen flowers. The beautiful maritime squill flowers cover “Squill Hill” with a carpet of color in the fall. In the winter you can see grey wagtails, white-throated kingfishers, and common kestrels. Rock pigeons and the Eurasian eagle-owl nest in the surrounding cliffs. For a short time, each year, the park is visited by the rare wallcreeper bird. The waters of Ayun Stream are home to a variety of fish.
Hike Trails: Follow the signposted trails between three of the park’s idyllic waterfalls. The trail starts at the northern entrance parking lot close to Metula and follows a route downstream past Ayun Waterfall, Tahana Waterfall, and Eshed Waterfall where there is a lookout point. Then the scenery changes and you can walk through wildflowers until you reach a second lookout point with stunning views across Tanur Waterfall. The hike route is not circular, and you need to retrace your steps back to the starting point or leave a car at the termination point at the lower parking lot. The waterfalls are magnificent in the winter but this is a great hike at any time of year.
Observation Points: the Tanur Lookout Point (Gafni) is near the lower parking lot, and gives you brilliant views of the 30-meter high Tanur Waterfall. The observation point at the upper parking lot looks towards the Ayun Valley in Lebanon, and the ancient Beaufort Fortress. There are also lookout platforms near the other waterfalls.
En Sukhra: The old water pump is located south of Tahana Waterfall on En Sukhra Spring. The spring water was pumped to provide water for Metula up until 1957. The remains of the pump are still in place and the spring provides small pools where fish live year-round, even when the stream is dry.
Reaching Ayun Stream Nature Reserve
Visitors can stay at campgrounds located at the northern (upper) and southern (lower) entrances. Both entrances and campgrounds have picnic areas, toilets, and barbeque areas. Near the southern campsite are three beautiful wading pools. There is a wheelchair-accessible trail from the southern campground along the last section of the hiking trail to Tanur Waterfall. Reach the Tanur Waterfall on the Kiryat Shmona-Metula road. About 1km south of Metula turn east to the falls. To reach the Ayun Waterfall and the park’s northern entrance, continue on the Kiryat Shmona-Metula road to the northeastern end of Metula. If you’re using Waze to reach the park, enter “Ayun Stream Nature Reserve”.