Why your next great hiking adventure should be in Israel
From walking on water to traipsing through wildflowers, look no further than Israel for your winter retreat.
We're warming up those winter drinks and cuddling up for cold weather here in the United States. But adventure seekers don't have to hang up their sneakers just yet. About 7,000 miles away, Israel's temperate climate offers up some of the world's best winter hikes.
And if you can't get there now, don't worry. It's still worth planning a vacation to the Mediterranean country for any time of year, as there's a plethora of hiking and nature activities there depending on the season.
Erez Speiser operates Israel by Foot, a website that caters to nature enthusiasts. "The Israeli landscape is very, very diverse," he told From The Grapevine. "We have a mix of history inside the nature that when you walk, you really see it. This is something that you cannot find in a lot of places."
He compares parts of Israel to the American Southwest, something that tourists from Asia and Europe don't generally get to see in their native countries. Indeed, a recent yoga festival that took place amidst the picturesque geological formations of the Timna Valley attracted visitors from all over the world. "Many times, this is something they have not seen before."
We asked Speiser for advice on some of the best hiking activities he'd recommend for visitors to Israel and when's the best time for each...
Israel's Hula Valley is an avian paradise. Each fall, a jaw-dropping 500 million birds make their way from Europe to Africa for the winter. The path they fly takes them directly through Israel. Birdwatchers from a multitude of countries trek to the Hula Valley to experience the migration. "It's very impressive," Speiser told us.
The Hula Valley park offers several miles of trails through fruit groves and fields. A "floating bridge" and various observation points reach out into the lake and ponds for a closer glimpse of the wetland wildlife.
If you can't make it to Israel in the fall to see the migration, you could head to southern Israel in the spring when the birds are heading back to Europe and stop for some respite in the resort town of Eilat.
Traipse through a field of wildflowers, and you start to feel like Julie Andrews in the "Sound of Music." In Israel, "there are carpets of wildflowers," Speiser explained. "I have traveled all over the world and I've never seen such density of wildflowers. It's something unique about this area."
Israel has about 2,500 different species of wildflowers, compared with only 1,500 species in the British Isles (which is a much larger land mass). The best time to experience them is between mid-January and mid-April. Perennially positive people can check the Israel by Foot Facebook page to get flower forecasts each week.
In the meantime, check out our roundup of 17 photos that capture the brilliance of the red anemone flower in Israel.
During the hot summer months, many tourists like to take water hikes – a combination of walking and wading through some of Israel's many rivers and creeks. "It's a popular summer outdoor activity, especially with kids," said Speiser, who added that Israel is known as "the land of water streams."
The Jordan River, for example, is created by the merging of three main tributaries including the Banias River (seen in the photo above). Hikers will pass through tunnels of trees and bath in lush waterfalls. There are also kayak rentals and rope's courses nearby.
The 200 million-year-old Ramon Crater in southern Israel is a geological phenomenon. This heart-shaped, one-of-a-kind makhtesh — a crater caused by erosion, not an asteroid — is the star structure of Israel's largest national park, the Ramon Nature Reserve. Nearly 25 miles long, more than 1,500 feet deep and as wide as six miles across, it is the largest makhtesh in the world (there are seven in all). It attracts geologists, hikers and bikers from points near and far.
Speiser suggests spending a couple of days at the crater and surrounding areas – which include several archaeological digs. And it doesn't hurt that one of the world's most luxurious resorts is just a stone's throw away.
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