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|Time: 4-5 hours
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For our next hike of the week, we were looking for a challenge. Two days earlier, we had soaked up the sun and surf at the beautiful Sorek Estuary in Palmahim. We were ready for something that we had to work for.
We found our challenge.
Little Switzerland is an area in the Carmel mountains right on the outskirts of Haifa. This lush, densely forested peak is green all year round. Many visitors know the area for the short, family hike through the forest (the walk itself is called the Little Switzerland hike – also highly recommended!). And others have trekked the longer, Nahal Kelach trail.
We decided to put both of these trails together along with a couple more to create a long, circular, ramble through the forests of Little Switzerland on the Carmel. It was only about an 8 kilometer hike, but between the rocky climbs and overgrown shrubbery, it took us over four hours to hike the trail.
Here’s how we hiked it:
Welcome to the Jungle with an Ocean View
We started off at Hatzuk Parking Lot and picnic area. From there, we headed up the road towards the blue marked sign post that leads down into the trees.
From here on in, the scenery was similar in one respect for most of the next eight kilometers – we were covered from above by a thick canopy of trees. There aren’t many places in Israel where you can hike for so long in a deep dark forest. Between the bird calls and the vines hanging from above, it felt almost like a jungle.
Before we really got down and deep into the hike though, we took a short detour from the blue trail to the lookout itself. To get there, we took a dead-end trail (marked white, clear, white) up and over the stones, keeping our eyes peeled for trail markers.
The view at the end was definitely worth the detour.
We could see the rolling mountains of Little Switzerland covered in green forests with Haifa and the Mediterranean Sea, blue in the distance.
Next we backtracked back towards the blue trail and continued our rocky descent through the trees. After a few minutes’ walk, we reached the Little Switzerland Parking lot.
Mushrooms in Little Switzerland
This lot is the starting point for many hikes. Several paths lead in and out of the space. We took the green trail, the first one on the left.
Down we descended, back into the trees. We passed by an old gate, sitting in the middle of the path. And once we reached the bottom of the trail, we hit the red path, going out in both directions. We made a left onto it.
At this early point in our hike, we were still close to the main stomping grounds of a lot of the area’s hikers. We saw a cute elderly couple decked out in their hiking gear – walking sticks and all. They had their hands full of yellow mushrooms. They asked us for a bag for their harvest – and when we asked them how they knew that what they had gathered was edible and not poisonous, they gave us a lesson in mushroom identification.
As we stood there, we looked beyond the path and saw another beautiful view in the distance. Two craggy cliffs faced each other, a gap between them big enough to see the forests and the Mediterranean Sea.
After our conversation, we continued down the red trail for a minute, then made a right onto the blue trail which crossed over a bridge. It’s a well-known fact that once upon a time this rickety bridge was the main highway in the area. Hard to believe as we crossed it through the thick trees all around.
After the bridge we made a sharp right turn down, down, down the blue trail.
How the Mighty have Fallen
And here we were. Under those rocky crags and deep in the thicket underneath. From here on in, this hike was an exercise in staying steady on our feet. In some places, the path was a soft bed of brown leaves and wet dirt. In others, it was a precarious descent along giant tree roots. But the hardest places to scramble over were the inclined rocks, wet after the recent rain storms.
I could tell as we scrambled that this hike would be absolutely stunning in the spring, and so cool and refreshing in the summer. Even on that winter day, it was like an endless ramble through a wild and beautiful forest. Moss grew thick on the stones all around, along with cyclamen and clover.
At one point I slid down the side of a rock into the dirt below. All good! I remembered back to our summer trip to Scotland, when I oftentimes had used the absorbent moss that grew everywhere as a convenient place to clean off muddy shoes and hands. Luckily, in the Carmel, it was easy to find nature’s best towel close at hand.
What Grows in the Dark
We continued over slippery rocks, from shade to sun. In the dark parts, mushrooms grew (and we weren’t going to try to eat them!). In the sun, vines grew thick down the mountainside, white flower blossoms glimmering in the light.
After a long, long while and a bit of exertion, we made it to the heart of the valley where blue trail hits the green. This was where we would be leaving Wadi Kelach behind and moving on to another riverbed.
There was also a convenient picnic area right here – several dry logs arranged in a circle under the trees. We stopped for lunch and a much-needed break before continuing back up the mountain.
My husband had said to me when we were on the blue trail that it would be the prettiest part of the hike. He loves thick and overgrown forests, where you feel like you’re tucked away from the rest of the world, foraging your own path through the trees (even if it’s well marked!).
I wasn’t sure what to expect as we made a right onto the green trail. And either was he. But he had been wrong about the beauty we left behind. As we climbed up, it became clear that this path through Little Switzerland was just as beautiful as the first.
Climbing out of a Riverbed
There were wildflowers and bumblebees. And crazy rock formations under a cover of oak and pine trees.
The slippery rocks were still a problem in this winter season, but we had figured out how to make it through without falling (for the most part!). And the sunlight glistening off the wet rocks added another unexpected element to the play of light and shadow in the woods.
We climbed up, up, up, out of the river valley and into the sunlight. Before long we had to keep our eyes open for trail markers as the path wound its way through a tight maze of bushes. Whenever the greenery thinned out, the view back along the mountains was simply breathtaking.
After a long while on the green trail we reached Hai Bar Carmel. Here, there’s a black marked path that starts off as an asphalt road, then continues down to the right back through the greenery.
Skipping through the Hills
The black path is much easier and much flatter. There were no giant boulders to climb over. Just a smooth and easy path through the tall grasses with views of Haifa in the distance. We relaxed into our stride as we were finally able to just walk and take in the beauty around us. No more need to find the next place to plant our feet.
A lone poppy peaked up from the path, ready to bloom before its time. A patch of daisies blossomed right off the trail. In the spring, I imagine this path is teeming with colorful wildflowers.
Before long we had followed the black path all the way back to the Little Switzerland Parking lot. From here, we took the blue trail back the way we came.
“Isn’t it funny,” my husband asked, “to remember back to what you were thinking the first time you walked this path?”
We had no idea what to expect when we started out for the day. No notion of whether the trek would be challenging or simple, or what type of beauty lay hidden beneath the trees.
Four hours later, we had given that small area of Little Switzerland a thorough examination. And now, we could safely say that the Carmel mountains hold a mysterious beauty, dark and deep. Waiting to take in whoever ventures down to explore its shadows.
So if you are in the Haifa area and looking for a more challenging trail that really gets to the heart of the Carmel, try hiking through the way we did! You can download the Google Earth map we’ve attached in the table above and follow your location along the path.
Or read the post carefully, look through the gallery of trail markers at the bottom, and print out the trail map below to stay on track for an 8 kilometer circular trek through the area.Carmel Long Ramble Trail Map
Original map courtesy of Amud Anan.
There are other great hikes in this area. Some are great with kids. Most leave from the Little Switzerland parking lot. More to come on those hikes in the future.
You can really hike this path in any season. Just be careful if you go during rainy season! I recommend that you try to wait for a few dry days before heading out on these rocks – they are slippery when wet.
Since the Carmel is green all year round, it’s a great place to hike in summer and fall too.
Keep in mind that the total ascent for this trail is 270 meters. That’s a lot of climbing! And you’ll have to go down before you come up.
And one more bit of advice: Stay aware and be on the lookout for trail markers the whole way through. The trail is very well marked, but you can wander off if you don’t pay attention. Once you get to the green trail, you’ll have to look carefully for the trail markers to follow the right path at times.
New! Read this guide to how to use the navigation in this post.
Questions? Have you tried this hike? Let me know how it was in the comments below!