The Israel Nature and Parks Authority is entrusted with the maintenance and preservation of these sites, some of which have a visitors’ center, guided tours and audio-visual displays. This time, we have chosen to bring you details on some of the notable reserves and national parks in northern Israel.
Nimrod Fortress in the Northern Part of the Golan Heights
At the center of the Nimrod Fortress National Park in the northern part of the Golan Heights stands one of the most beautiful fortresses in the Middle East. The remains visible today are what is left of Muslim construction over a medieval Crusader fortress.
The fortress commanded the northern road which led from the Mediterranean coastline to the city of Damascus, overlooking the magnificent views of the Hula Valley, the Upper Galilee, the Golan Heights, Mount Hermon and the mountains of Lebanon.
Walking along the different paths reveals stories of plots and intrigues from the days of the Muslim struggles with the Crusaders. Remains of stairs spiraling to the top of the tower, hidden passageways, wide halls, watchtowers, verandas used by guards, water holes and even a prison used by Muslim rulers can all be seen.
The fortress’s splendor has impressed visitors to the area. Author Mark Twain, who visited the fortress during his tour of Israel, wrote that “This is probably the most exquisite ruins in the world.”
The Nimrod Fortress can be reached from the direction of Kiryat Shmona, traveling east on road 99. This road winds through impressive views on its way to Mount Hermon and the village of Majdal Shams at its feet.
The Banias Reserve on the Hermon River
On our way to the Nimrod Fortress on road 99, or on our way back, we could stop at the Banias Nature Reserve. Here we will encounter flowing water, waterfalls and springs gurgling in the shade of huge plane trees. At the center of the reserve flows the Hermon River, one of the sources of the Jordan River. The path winds along the river, leading to the remains of a small mill and later to a pool of water called “the officers’ pool” and to the impressive Banias waterfall.
Water from the springs erupts from the rocks at the heart of the reserve, and is the source of the river. This is melted snow that seeped into the rocks down the slopes of Mount Hermon. When the water reaches the Banias region, it flows out and is collected in large pools, used by visitors for dipping and wading. Close to the springs, we can see the remains of the city of Panias and the temple to the god Pan, carved in stone.
Banias is also an archeological site, with remains from the Hellenistic period, a temple built in Roman times by Herod, palaces, walls and structures from the time of Kings Phillip and Agrippa II and findings from the Christian, Crusader and Muslim eras.
The tour of the reserve includes the ritual area, the remains of the magnificent palace from the Agrippa period, splendid structures from the Roman period and a walk along the river.
Tel Dan National Park
The Tel Dan National Park is a relatively small park compared with its neighboring parks in northern Israel. It too is located near road 99, which connects Kiryat Shmona with the Golan Heights.
An archeological site is located at the center of the park, where the remains of the Biblical city of Laish. The Tribe of Dan, pushed by the Philistines from their lands near the Mediterranean, conquered the city and renamed it Dan. Near the mound, the Dan River flows, and is one of the sources of the Jordan River. The water comes from melted snow on Mount Hermon. After it flows deep under the ground, it erupts from the springs near the mound. Visitors can choose one of 3 hiking routes, differing in length and characteristics. The paths go through areas shaded by trees with high canopies, next to which remains from different periods can be seen, including the walls and the ancient city gate, mills. In some places near the river there are small pools in which one can dip and wade in the water.
“Oforia” in the Hula Reserve
In spring and fall, the Hula Nature Reserve National Park teems with flocks of migrating birds that pass over the valley on their way from Europe to Africa and back. During these times of year, flocks of thousands of cranes stop for a rest in the nearby fields. Some of them stay and pass the winter months in the area.
The Hula reserve is part of the Hula Lake that was intentionally dried up in the 1950’s. The reserve was meant to preserve the plant and animal species of the area, so that they will not become extinct due to the drying up of the lake.
The place now has a visitors’ center which displays the process of drying up the lake and the development of life on the reserve in the following years. Lately, a highly advanced audio-visual display name “Oforia”. Here, visitors may join the birds’ wonderful journey over the world using a multi-sensory, six-dimensioned stereoscopic simulation program, which combines display halls, guided tours and observations. During a tour of the area, visitors pass through 4 display halls in which they are exposed to the story of the Hula Nature Reserve and its life – plant and animal life and the history of the place. The tour reaches its peak in a unique screening hall that combines watching the screen using stereoscopic glasses, light effects, sound, scent and movement of the chairs. All these give the viewers the feeling that they are flying among the flocks of migrating birds. Participants experience air turbulences, winds, rain and storms, and for a short while, each one of them becomes a migrating bird. The magnificent photography of the display was done by the best nature photographers around the world.
The place can be reached through road 90 from Rosh Pina or Kiryat Shmona.
The Meshushim Pool at the South of the Golan Heights
The Meshushim Pool (the Hexagon Pool) is one of the precious treasures nature formed at the center of the Golan Heights. It is a nature reserve characterized by magnificent shapes that formed in the black basalt rocks. The hexagonal pillars descend into a natural pool that was carved in the rocks, and form an unusual geological phenomenon. The water reaches the pool from the channel of the Meshushim River, which is the largest river in the Golan.
The reserve can be reached from road 888 which connects the northern part of the Sea of Galilee with the old customs house at the center of the Golan. The tour starts in the new parking lot, located approximately 3 kilometers north of Moshav Had Nes, and continues on a dirt road that is suitable for all types of vehicles. After 3 kilometers, there is a parking lot with shaded areas, a National Parks and Reserves Authority information station, restroom and kiosk.
The descent from the parking lot to the pool takes about 15 minutes, but is unsuitable for people who have difficulty in walking due to the steepness of the path, which makes the climb back difficult. Such people can look for the lookout, built for people with mobility problems. From the overlook one may see the Yehudia Forest Nature Reserve with the concentration of Mount Tabor oaks and the creeks that descend into the Sea of Galilee. Besides its eye catching beauty, one may also swim in the cool water of the Meshushim Pool. It is a relaxing and pleasant summer experience.
Kochav haYarden National Park
The Kochav haYarden (Star of Jordan) fortress is also known in its Arab name “Kaukab al-Hawa”. It is a trip to one of the most beautiful and complete Crusader fortresses remaining. The fortress stands at the heights of Ramat Yisachar and overlooks the Jordan River, the Sea of Galilee Valley, the Beit She’an Valley and the Lower Galilee. It was built by the Order of Hospitalers at a height of 500 meters and more above the valley below. It was named Belvoir (fair view) after the spectacular views seen from the fortress.
A tour at the fortress courtyard will show the visitors the strength of the Crusader construction, as well as the views of the Jordan and the paths of the statue garden with statues by the sculptor Yigal Tomarkin, located near the fortress.
The easiest route to Kochav haYarden National Park is through road 90. About 2 kilometers north of Kibbutz Newe Or turn west along Maale Elisha and go by the signs to the fortress.
“Little Switzerland” and the Carmel “Hai-Bar”
The Mount Carmel Nature Reserve is the largest nature reserve in northern Israel. One can walk through the reserve or drive through it and combine hikes, and enter unique places.
The main entrance to the park is located near the Haifa University campus, next to the road that connects Haifa and the Druze village of Isfiya. An asphalt road leads tourists to a parking lot from which a 1 kilometer hike leads to a place known as “Little Switzerland”. A walk along the path leads into the thicket, where tourists may see plants, flowers and animals that occasionally slip from view. Near a rocky cliff that looks like a huge pipe due to the work of water in ancient times, it is recommended to stop and look down the river and into the shores of the Mediterranean that appears at a distance.
At the end of the hike, it is recommended to return to the main road and continue to the Carmel “Hai-Bar”. It is a wildlife preserve that is used as a breeding center for animals that used to live in the area many years ago, but over time became extinct. Today, the Nature and National Parks Authority tries to return these animals to the Carmel by re-acclimatizing them and later releasing them back to the wild. Animals such as fallow deer, roe deer, wild goats, wild sheep and Egyptian vultures can be seen here.
Additional information can be found on the website: www.parks.org.il
The article courtesy of the Israel Tour Guides Association http://www.tour-guides.co.il/itg/