Hiking Trails in Nahal Rahaf and Nahal Mishmar

Avishag Zahavi |

Yesterday my grandfather called me and said excitedly, “It’s time to develop and encourage mass settlement in the Dead Sea region. To clean up and operate the sea channels, prepare the sea crossing to the Red Sea and turn the area into a global tourist hub, as already considered in the past. True, it’s a little hot here, but free of viruses and diseases and it allows utilization of local technologies. If the Jews succeeded in establishing a city like Las Vegas in Nevada, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t succeed in Sodom and Gomorrah. Planning should already be in place to carry out a global tourist area between Beit HaArava (kibbutz) and Neot HaKikar (Moshav), to renovate the Jordanian hotel at the northern end of the sea (Jordanian “Lido Hotel”, abandoned since 1967), build a yacht dock (as previously proposed), set up a water-desalination plant, and more. Such a program would draw many investors from all over the world. Why not?”

Until this prophecy comes true, and so that when you come to see it, you’ll be prepared, allow me to tell you about a couple of trips that reveal magical expanses and charming corners, some well-known, some hidden, in the Dead Sea Land. Come and bathe in the water, stretch your legs, relax on the beach, perch yourself at the top of a high mountain and enjoy the pleasant breeze, inhale the ambience of freedom and vacation. Here are two lovely excursions which, together or separately, contain everything you’ll need to complete the experience called ‘a trip’.

Nahal Rahaf

We’ll start the day at the lower part of Nahal Rahaf, for a refreshing morning dip. Nahal Rahaf is just south of Masada on Route 90. Follow the sign that says Nahal Rahaf and continue along a green-marked path until you reach a car park, adjacent to a regulated night parking lot. The hike begins with a climb up Ma’ale Rahaf, which is a steep ascent from the car park up to a more moderate stretch of trail. It takes about 20 minutes and then an unusual view opens up before you. Here, you’ll stop for a moment, still panting from the ascent. Close your eyes, open them again and notice how the blue of the Dead Sea compliments the red-brown of the desert. Smile, feel… we’ve arrived! From here, the path begins to descend to the creek channel. Along the way, you will be accompanied by an authentic desert format of limestone rocks, caverns, caves and many other formations. After a kilometer from the beginning of the trail, we’ll reach a black-marked path descending into the canyon. We’re not going down the black trail, but continuing along the green-marked path until it connects up with the blue path, and we’ll take the blue one. The path will lead us down to the creek-gorge where natural cisterns await us, especially for taking the morning shower we’ve been longing for. We finish the trail by a cistern with a rock-waterfall above it, that’s impossible to pass without suitable equipment. There, you can find a nice shady corner, lay out some refreshments and relax between the water and the desert. If you can manage to say goodbye to this wonderful place and feel like you’re ready to move on, the way back is the same way we came. The entire route is about 2.5 kilometers (there and back on the same route) with a slight-to-moderate degree of difficulty. You’ll find the route on trail map #11- south of the Judean Desert and the Dead Sea. It’s important to note that, although the track is short and has water, it’s imperative to take a lot of water with you and to wear a hat and it’s worth taking a bathing suit or a change of clothing.

After many years in the desert, I can say with certainty that there’s nothing like cold water in the heart of a desert. The surprise, accompanied by the discovery of good, clean water in the desert, combined with the hot desert sun, creates a once-only effect. A rare moment when the body can really ‘re-start’ itself and fill up with the joy and simplicity you only find when you go out into the wild.

Nahal Mishmar

After your revitalization and immersion, you’re ready for an afternoon trip until sunset in Nahal Mishmar. We started the trip at two thirty and finished around six thirty. So we arrived right at the beginning of the sun’s finale.

Nahal Mishmar is located on Route 90 about 10-minutes’ drive south of Kibbutz Ein Gedi. Here also, you follow the signs on a dirt road marked in red and suitable for any vehicle. Drive on until you reach the end of the road, where there’s a parking area. We start walking the red trail and after about one and a half km, we come to a fork in the path where is meets up with the blue trail.  At this point, there are two options. The red path goes on to the mountainside above the creek-gorge, while the blue path goes inside the canyon itself. The route can be done either way. I personally did it both ways, and I prefer to start on the blue path and return on the red one. Therefore, at the fork, you ascend on the blue trail which curves around Nahal Mishmar. The trail begins at an impressive boulder-field that gives the impression of a large playground, and slowly narrows and closes into a confined, deep creek-gorge. So, as you progress, you’ll become enveloped in an atmosphere of walking in another world. A world in which other creatures live, where sounds resonate a little differently, where we feel minuscule, where the air is cool. As though we’ve entered the bowels of the earth. The path climbs between cisterns and streams and is equipped with ladders so there’s no need for any special equipment, and all areas are convenient for passage. At the end of the curve, the trail forks again and the red path is reached. If time allows and you still have some strength left, it’s advisable to visit Ein Mishmar. If you decide to do this, turn left on the red path that will connect, after about 300 meters, to the black path and climb up to Ein Mishmar. You’ll reach a wall, so impressive in its beauty that it will leave you gaping, here you’ll start a challenging but beautiful climb on the cliff. After about one km from the fork of the blue-red trails, you’ll reach Ein Mishmar. Ein Mishmar is a spot from which a spring flows, so there is water there all year round but, in summer, the water tends to be murky. But again, it’s always an experience to find water in the heart of a desert. From Ein Mishmar, we go back the same way we came until we reach a fork connecting the blue and red trails, and we continue on the red path. The red path goes over the stream from the north side and along its entire length, the Dead Sea is exposed to us in all its majesty and intensity. With this trail, we’re going all the way back to the car. The length of the route, if you decide to climb to Ein Mishmar, is 9 km long and takes about 6 hours. If you have chosen not to climb to Ein Mishmar, the track is about 6 km long and takes about four hours. You can also find it on trail map #11.

This route is one of my favorites and contains all the magic that the Judean Desert has to offer. If you pay attention, you’ll notice that the trail provides you with a different miracle every moment. Walls that give a natural representation of art, subtle shades of color that can be found only in the desert. It also allows us to experience the feeling that the desert reaches out and envelops us within itself, as we walk in the stream. Then it raises us up and shows us the wide-open spaces devoid of people so that, no matter where we look, we’ll see tranquility, intensity and stability. In addition to this, the track emanates fun and playfulness when children come along and will also bring out the inner child in you! Along the way you can play “find the fossil”, you can have fun in the huge rock formations that resemble an amusement park, climb ladders and slide down waterfalls. How can you not have Tristram’s Starlings eating crumbs straight out of your hand with no shame whatsoever? In short, this place is not lacking in attractions. Therefore, set yourself free and let the desert lead the way. It creates the perfect setting, it knows what it’s doing, it has years of experience and knowledge.

If it’s a long way for you to travel, or if you just want to stay and curl up with the Judean Desert, there is no lack of accommodation options. If you’re independent in the area, both routes have a basic camp-site where you can sleep and set up a comfy Zula (quiet hidden spot in nature). If you want to indulge yourself further, freshen up or spend a day relaxing, there are also some more high-level places where you can stay. You can find a list of places to stay on site: deadsea.co.il

Believe me, you won’t forget this trip in a hurry! The eyes, the body, the skin and the soul will all remember the gift you gave them, for at least a few more days. When you’re back in the office or back to your daily routine the day after and feeling tired. Close your eyes and return to that morning of cool water, those afternoons of mountains and brown trails. To that same blue sea and those red mountains at sunset, to that star-lit night with its caressing breeze. Suddenly your day will be easier and more enjoyable – that’s a promise! So, until you decide to come back to the extraordinary spaces of the Judean Desert, we send you love and longing from the Dead Sea Land.

See you soon!