Nahal Kina – Judean Desert

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Trail MapHike it with Google EarthAscent: m
Distance: 11kmTime: 4 hoursDifficulty: Strenuous

To round off this week’s outdoor adventures, we took a trip down to the desert for a challenging eleven kilometer hike through Nahal Kina.

This Judean desert trek is a little over an hour from our home in Gush Etzion.  The trail weaves its way from a dry and rocky area of rolling dunes, down to a riverbed (Nahal Kina). 

I was also confused when I heard that there was a river in the desert. 

Turns out that Nahal Kina only fills up briefly, during times of heavy rain.  After the rain stops, water is trapped in many places along the riverbed, forming pools which turn this place into a natural attraction.

Here’s the scoop on this exhilarating hike:

Nahal Kina hike Israel.
Hiking in Nahal Kina.

Coasting Down an Airplane Runway

The trail starts in the middle of nowhere.  Really.

We followed a Waze link (use the one in the table up top) which brought us past Arad and towards a Bedouin neighborhood.  We traveled down an out of use airplane runway (that was quite an experience), and down an extremely bumpy, rocky road past a few Bedouin tents to a hand-painted Parking sign.  There was another car in the “lot”, so we figured it was a safe place to leave our car!

We got out of the car and followed the blue trail markers, clearly visible at regular intervals on stones lying on the ground.  The terrain was very rocky at this point, and the trail took us through some dunes and (somewhat precariously) down, down, down the side of a mountain.

Nahal Kina hike Israel
Capturing moon sand on the blue trail.

After a few minutes’ walk through the desert down below we reached a crossroads –  in one direction the green trail began and in the other the blue trail continued.  We made a left onto the green trail.

Just Us and the Bedouin Children

The green trail took us down into a riverbed (there are a few small ones along the trail before Nahal Kina).  We had to search for the next green trail marker at this point.  Thankfully, we found it across the riverbed on the right hand side.

We followed the ever descending trail through cavernous rock formations and rolling piles of pebbles.  It definitely felt other worldly.  The only noise around was the bleating of the sheep grazing with their Bedouin child shepherds.

Nahal Kina hike Israel
All roads lead down.

Before long, we had reached the bottom.  Nahal Kina.  We immediately saw a large pool of water to our right.  Off we went to check it out.

Deep Down in the Kina River

We had heard that these pools were safe for swimming during the winter months, after the first flash floods had run through and filled them up with clean water.  Our border collie definitely agreed.  But the water didn’t look very sanitary to us!

Nahal Kina hike Israel.
Seems fine to me!

Not that we were particularly in the mood for a swim anyway.  The weather in this part of the desert isn’t quite as warm in the winter as you might expect.  Temperatures hovered around the low sixties for the duration of our hike. 

Next, we followed the bright green trail markers down the river bed.  Here, we paid close attention to make sure we could always see the next sign close by. There weren’t really a lot of ways to get lost – we were just hiking right along Nahal Kina, after all.  But it’s always good to be extra careful in the desert.

Nahal Kina hike Israel.
Sand dunes and red cliffs.

As we walked between two towering cliffs, I couldn’t help thinking of Star Wars.  I remembered a scene where planes fly through an impossibly narrow channel, surrounded by jagged edges up above.  Between the rolling dunes and the canyon walls, Nahal Kina felt like a scene from a Tatooine.

The Sound of Silence

We hiked through this river path for a long time, stopping at all of the pools along the way.  There was almost no wildlife here- we didn’t hear birds or see the ibexes that are so common in the Negev.  Occasionally, an army plane passed overhead (contributing to the Star Wars effect), but that was about it.

Nahal Kina hike Israel
Hiking through the canyon.

After many kilometers of hiking in the shade of the canyon walls, we reached another crossroads where the river path went in two directions.  On one side was the red trail.  But we made a left, continuing on the green trail through the riverbed.

Since we’d been hiking for a while, we figured it was time for a break.  We found a perfect flat rock to sit (there are lots of great places to stop and sit along this path!) and unpacked our bags.

Nahal Kina hike Israel.
At attention.

As we sat there, we heard signs of life.  An animal shrieked loudly on a cliff up above.  Another similar call echoed back in the distance.

We could see something moving on the cliff. But try as we might, we could not identify what type of animal it was.  The animal’s sand colored coat blended right into the background.  But it was cool to see another living creature in this stark desert landscape.

Stuck in the Canyon

After some time, Nahal Kina began to ascend again, first gently, then sharply.  We had to climb up the smooth canyon wall to continue the trail up above.

Nahal Kina hike Israel.
Scaling the wall out of the canyon.

It wasn’t too difficult for us in our sneakers, but although he dutifully attempted to scurry up the wall, our dog simply didn’t have enough traction to get out of the riverbed.  We had to circle back from above and coax him out near a more jagged part of the wall.  Then we made our way back to the green path.

Nahal Kina hike Israel.
Simply stuck.

A Peaceful Walk Through the Desert

At this point, we walked the green path over the canyon, back in the direction of the parking lot.  The scenery here was very different than down below – reddish brown rock in piles on rolling hills.  Desert plants were growing all over the place, and there was a shadow of green along the earthy silhouette of the dunes. 

This was a good place to space out and just walk – there were no pools to climb over or rocky cliffs to tackle here.  Just silence and serenity and the cool winter breeze in the desert sun.

Nahal Kina hike Israel.
Green in the desert.

Many kilometers later, we were heading back over the same mountains that we started on.  We saw the little shepherd boys coming back over the mountain, their flocks bleating happily after a day of feasting on winter’s bounty.  Their pack of sheepdogs ran down to greet us, playful after a hard day’s work.

Getting away to this part of the desert felt like an unusual mix of nature and nostalgia.  It was escaping the ruckus of everyday life and reaching a simpler time and place.

After a four hour hike over and through the canyon of Nahal Kina, we were exhilarated by the challenge, calmed by the quiet, and ready to return home.

Nahal Kina Israel hike.

Hikers’ Notes:

If you are looking for a challenging and beautiful winter hike, look no further than Nahal Kina. It’s really amazing how many different types of landscapes there are in Israel. This one is really special.

New and exciting information! Everyone’s been asking me for maps to use aside from Google Earth. Now you can find your way using this marked up trail map:

Nahal Kina Trail Map

Print it out if you need to. Original map courtesy of Amud Anan.

This hike is strenuous. There are lots of parts that require steady footing, a good grip, and a bit of flexibility. Just make sure you a prepared to feel the burn at the end of the day.

Regarding trail markers: I saw several notes online about whited out trail markers on the path. IMPORTANT: the whited out trail markers are not part of the trail! They are painted over for a reason (they lead somewhere else!) Make sure you see a clear trail marker the whole way through the hike. If you don’t see one, proceed with caution as you look for the next one. Almost everywhere on this trail, you can see the next trail marker as soon as you leave the previous one – just pause and look carefully so you don’t wander off.

Re: the parking lot at the beginning and safety of the trail – we read up on it before, and everyone said it was a safe area. By the time we returned to our car there were a few more cars parked next to it.

Bring water and a hat and sunglasses for this hike- it is in the desert. And only hike it when it’s cool outside.

New! Read this guide to using the navigation offered in this post.

Questions? Have you been on this trail? Give me a shout out below!

Nahal Kina Israel Hike.
Nahal Kina Israel Hike.
Follow the gallery through the path:

Hiking can be dangerous and is done entirely at your own risk. Information is provided free of charge; it is each hiker’s responsibility to check it and navigate using a map and compass.

3 thoughts on “Nahal Kina – Judean Desert

  1. Hi. I am hoping to move soon to the Maale Amos area. I think the desert around there is much more wilderness with less marked paths etc. Also there seem to be Bedouin pretty much everywhere around. I was wondering if you have general (or specific) pointers for hiking in the Judean desert, in terms of safety, water, etc.

    1. Hi Gary,
      Yes, definitely have some general pointers:
      1. Try to leave your car in a reasonably well populated area. Don’t leave any valuables in your car. It’s never happened to us, but break-ins by Bedouins do happen in the desert.
      2. Always stay on marked paths. If you lose the marked path, go back to the last trail marker you saw and then move forward from there.
      3. Wear closed shoes at all seasons on desert trails.
      4. Bring plenty of water and sun protection!
      5. Always check the weather report for flash flood warnings during the wintertime.

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