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|Distance: 3.3km||Time: 2 hours||Difficulty: Easy|
This past Friday we had a preschool party at 10 AM, smack in the middle of the morning. That didn’t leave a lot of time for our usual Friday morning trek.
The good news is, we live in an area of the country where there are lots of short hiking trails all over the place. And at this time of year (almost summer time), early morning hiking is more pleasant than at any other time of day.
So rather than give up on our Friday trek, we left the house at 6:45 AM and drove twenty minutes for an easy going hike to Beit Itab in the Nes Harim area.
This trail starts off in a gorgeous part of American Independence Park – the picnic area itself is a great place to spend a couple of hours. And from here, there’s a particularly beautiful pathway that leads down into the valley, through vineyards, and up to some caves.
There’s even more to see along this 3 kilometer trail. Here’s how we hiked it:
Early Morning = The Best Time of Day
I know not everyone will agree with me here, but in my opinion, getting up early in the morning is always worth it. In the post-dawn hours you’ll experience all kinds of beauty that you just can’t see at any other time of day.
When we pulled into the park, all of the tall trees around were glowing in the gentle morning sunshine. The birds were still out in full force, chirping as they flitted between the trees.
With several picnic areas, a few fire pits, and more than one playground spread throughout the forest, this park is worth hanging out in at any time. But it was nice having the whole place to ourselves. Just us and the birds.
We walked past a circle of rustic benches and followed the wooden signs marked Beit Itab. From here, we began a slow and easy descent down a beautiful path that winds its way through the trees.
Not the First Time
It wasn’t the first time we had walked this path. In the winter and spring, we’d come here several times on whim, only to discover that the whole path was completely lined with all kinds of beautiful flowers.
At this time of year, the flowers along the way were sparse and more subdued. Summer isn’t a time for showy color. In Israel, it’s the season when the scenery fades to a pale shade of flaxen.
In those early morning hours, the sun made the wild wheat and dry flower stalks look more like woven gold. Under the shadow of trees, we began to notice how pretty the summer landscape really was when it was out of the harsh midday light.
Once we reached the bottom of this part of the trail, we followed the red marked signs past vineyards, rows and rows of grapevines laden with first fruit. Cultivated, yes, but still strikingly beautiful.
Next, we followed the black path up a hill, past bouncing purple blossoms and masses of tall yellow reeds. After a short ascent, we had reached the caves at the top of the trail.
Dark and Creepy Caves
We had heard that during the wintertime, the caves are closed for bat nesting. So, I expected to find something a bit more exciting in these caves at the top of the black trail.
The caves were, in fact, mostly open to the surrounding world. They weren’t really made for climbing in or exploring. The last one on the trail was a bit deeper than the others but was filled with a swarm of flies so immense that the buzzing rang in our ears as we approached. We decided to leave it to the bears and continue on our journey.
From this part of the path, the views to the vineyards down below were breathtaking. The sky was beginning to show perfect shades of blue.
We continued to wind our way through gold colored grasses further out into the distance. It was only another ten minutes or so before we reached the walk up to the Beit Itab ruins.
Again, we’d been down this road before. In fact, there’s another hike on my site that leads right to the Beit Itab ruins. So, since we already had plenty of pictures to share, we figured we’d skip the archeological exploration and turn right onto the red trail.
(Just so you know, up the hill there are old wells, a beautiful grove of trees perfect for a picnic, and the ruins of a village complete with an ancient crusader fortress. It’s well worth visiting if you have time!)
We came to a well and a small spring. I sat on a stone ledge under some trees nearby while our border collie took a dip. Then, we continued on our way through the sun kissed fields, eventually passing by vineyards again.
Save the Best for Last
As the hiking part of our trip came to an end, we climbed back up the trail, through the trees. It was starting to get late enough in the morning to think about eating breakfast and having coffee. So, we chose a set of flat rocks on the path with a beautiful view into the valley. We sat down and unpacked our backpacks.
Thankfully, we had budgeted enough time that we had a good forty-five minutes to relax right there in the early morning breeze. Soon we would have to start the more hectic part of our day.
When it was time to get going, we finished the climb to the top of the hill and returned to the park where we started. It was still quiet, still deserted.
I couldn’t help but think as we reached the car and threw our bags in the back: Can we start every day just like this?
If you live in Gush Etzion or Beit Shemesh, add this hike to your bucket list. It’s short and easy, great for families or solo hikers, and beautiful in every season. The other hike on the site that covers parts of this trail is Nahal HaMeara. Today’s hike is a shorter and easier than the path in that post.
What’s nice is that there are a lot of different things to see and do along the way. I can’t think of many trails that include a forest walk, vineyards, caves, a spring, and crusader ruins in a short three kilometer walk.
You can also spend time in the park at the trailhead – it’s really beautiful and worth visiting. Make a bonfire if you want – there are several fire pits in the park. And the area is quite large, so you should be able to find a picnic spot of your own no matter how many people are there that day. There’s also playground equipment for the kids.
To follow the path, just follow the wooden signs towards Beit Itab from the trailhead. The path will bring you down the mountain where you’ll see the red trail. Follow the red trail past the vineyards. Then make a left up the hill towards the caves on the black trail. Follow the black trail all the way to the end. From here, you can turn left on red to go up to see the ruins. Or turn right to follow the red trail back to where you came from.
Trail map from Amud Anan.
Don’t forget to read my guide to the navigational features in this post before you hit the trail!
Questions? Tips for fellow hikers? Leave them in the comments section below!