The sky is cloudy, it’s chilly outside, and it seems like just the time of year for sitting by the fireplace under a big blanket with my knitting (if only I knew how to knit!). But, guess what else? It’s also just the right time of year for some of the best hiking in Israel. So instead of getting back into bed for a winter nap, the new plan is to fill up a thermos with hot coffee and head out the door for an amazing hike. Here are five reasons why I love to hike Israel in the wintertime:
Its Hot in the Summertime
While it may be true that summertime equals vacation, that doesn’t mean it’s the best time for hiking in Israel.
Ramon Crater is one of the natural wonders of the world. It’s also the only dark sky reserve in the entire middle east. I’ve always wanted to hike through this area of the Negev desert and take in the incredible scenery. But I’ve been waiting for the perfect wintertime vacation to make it happen. Because trying to hike there in the summertime would be extremely uncomfortable and probably even dangerous in the sweltering sun.
Ramon Crater is just one example. In many places in Israel, the temperatures stay too hot for any serious hiking well into the fall. (Which is one of the things that makes water hikes in Israel so popular. Some of these trails just couldn’t be attempted in the summer heat without soaking in an ice cold pool along the way.)
All of this makes wintertime in Israel the perfect season for hitting the trails and visiting places which were too hot to hike at another time of year. In the winter, it’s rare for the temperatures to drop even close to freezing in most of the region. I like to use that pleasantly cool weather to my benefit and walk on paths that I wouldn’t try in the heat of the summer.
Rain Makes Things Beautiful
I’ve been on trails in August. There’s a lot of beauty to take in even at that time of year. But because it doesn’t rain in the summertime, a lot of the land in Israel is brown and dry.
Not only that, but by late summer, many of Israel’s streams have dried up to low or nonexistent water levels. In fact, there are some streams in Israel that only exist in the winter.
That’s why I love to get outdoors and go for a hike during the rainy season. I love seeing the land green, lush, and beautiful after a storm. There are flowers blooming that you couldn’t see at any other time of year. And I always look for wintertime hikes along a flowing river that will disappear come springtime.
There are Less People on the Trails
One of the things that makes hiking in nature so special is the quiet and serenity. There’s nothing like being the only one at the top of a mountain, taking in a pristine view. Or finding a secluded waterfall where I can sit and watch the glory of nature in silence.
But many of Israel’s trails are mobbed in the summertime. Most Israelis go on vacation in the month of August, and travel is on the agenda. There’s no solitude at any waterfall at that time of year. (In fact, last summer the north’s parks were so overcrowded that many people caught waterborne diseases. Yikes!) And there are some places that are full of people even in the spring and fall.
So I go and visit those national parks and trails in the winter. It’s an amazing experience to explore the most popular places in the country and have them basically to yourself. Like the waterfalls in the Golan – those same pools will be full of people come summertime. We even like to hike the trails at Givat Haturmosim near Jerusalem before the purple flowers bloom and the crowds arrive. And then come back for a second round in spring.
A Cloudy Sky Will Keep You Cool
I already mentioned that it’s hot in the summertime, but it’s also true that the cool temperatures and cloudy skies of the winter season are the perfect conditions for hiking.
This is something I discovered in Scotland, when we traveled there in August to find the temperatures barely breaking sixty, with cloudy skies and rain every single day. We were a bit intimidated by the weather at first. But as we climbed up to the top of mountain peaks and hiked through forests and glens, we were so thankful for the cool breezes that kept us comfortable. There was no sunscreen to apply, and although we brought sunglasses, we never actually took them out.
While Israel’s winters are probably not as reliably cool and cloudy as Scotland’s summers, the colder temperatures are super helpful on a hike. We’ve hiked in Sataf in Jerusalem immediately after a snowstorm. I can tell you from experience that it’s much easier than in the heat, and just as beautiful. And the park guides in Israel all say that in the wintertime, you can bring along just half of the water you need to carry in the summer.
The National Parks aren’t the only places that get crowded in August. From Tel Aviv to the Golan Heights, lodgings throughout the country are filled to the max in the summertime. Most hotels (and travel rentals, and bed and breakfasts) charge as much as four times the price for a stay in high season. And hotels in Israel aren’t known to be cheap as it is.
We’ve found that when planning a vacation in Israel, it’s much better to go in the wintertime when you can get a bigger bang for your buck. During off season, we’ve turned a one night stay into two when we heard how low the prices were. But when we’ve tried to go back to the same hotels in the summertime, they were booked up well in advance and charging more than we were willing to pay.
Winter travel is the clear winner as far as budget is concerned. And after a long day on the trails, sitting by the fireplace in a cozy hotel room or zimmer with a hot cup of tea is as good as it gets.
So that’s why I love winter hiking in Israel. There’s more to this season than hot chocolate. Now’s the time to lace up your hiking boots and go explore. Being able to appreciate the natural beauty that comes along with winter is its own reward.
To Israel Explorers:
Don’t use winter weather as an excuse not to go hiking! As ominous as the day looks, just remember that once you’re ten minutes into your hike you won’t be cold anymore. You’ll probably even welcome a light rain!
If you want to make hiking a possibility, whatever the weather brings, prepare with the proper gear for wintertime walking! I really love this small, packable rain jacket that I throw over my clothes whenever it starts to rain.(Love this one too.) And this is the one that my husband got.
It’s also a good idea to buy a pair of waterproof hiking boots – something that can take a beating from a muddy trail. (Here’s something similar to what I have.) (Oh, and this is exactly what I have.)
This year, since I didn’t want anything at all to get in the way of my Friday hikes, I also bought a pair of waterproof pants (cute under a skirt or by themselves). And here’s another good option for men.
One of my favorite (inexpensive!) purchases, for hiking in all seasons are these light, packable, water resistant backpacks. They won’t keep out a downpour, but they will resist a soaking from gentle rain.
And last of all, my all- time favorite hiking accessory is this thermos! It’s a really inexpensive purchase that will totally enhance your hikes. (Whether it’s winter or summer – there are so many possibilities here. Iced coffee, hot coffee, tea, soup…I could go on.) With our thermos, we get a relaxing breakfast complete with steaming hot coffee out in the wild.
I promise I’ll do more research on the best places to get products like these in Israel for a good price. Gear is important for the best hiking experience. Stay tuned for more local gear tips and all of my wintertime hikes. Happy hiking!