|Get there with Google Maps||Get there with Waze||Get there with Moovit|
|Trail Map||Hike it with Google Earth||Terrain View|
|Distance: 3km||Time: 2 hours||Difficulty: Easy|
Near Beit Shemesh, in the Nahal Dolev Nature Reserve, there’s a family friendly hike that I hadn’t been on in years – the trail to Ma’arat HeTeumim (Twins Cave).
Ma’arat HaTeumim kind of has it all. There’s a rock scrambling shady pathway, a large and cool bat cave, and a slippery, stone slide at the end.
This past Friday our seven year old son came along for the day’s adventure. We didn’t have time that day to head to a far-away hike. So instead, we returned to nearby Ma’arat HaTeumim for the first time in at least ten years.
I wasn’t really expecting much, but the Twins Cave trail was so much more amazing than I remembered! My son was talking about it and drawing pictures of the bats for days afterwards.
Here’s what we saw on this sweet little trail near Beit Shemesh:
The trail begins in a large dust parking lot. There was a big sign marking the start of the path, and a map explaining the Nahal Dolev Reserve.
Looking at the map, we were able to see that the trail was part of a much longer one, which leads all the way to Nahal HaMeara and Beit Itab. Since it was a hot day and we were with our young son, we weren’t going to be hiking all that distance – just out to the rock slide and back to the trailhead.
We followed the red trail markers down a dirt path surrounded by short shrubs. It was hard not to notice to the candy and snack wrappers strewn on the sides of the path. Clearly, the trail is a popular one.
But soon enough, we were in the thick of things. The trees started to crowd in around the pathway, providing welcome respite from the harsh summer sun. And everything became shady and beautiful.
Onward to the Cave
What I didn’t remember about the path to Ma’arat HaTeumim was that it wasn’t just a flat path through shrubbery. Rocks were piled this way and that, forming mini mountains that were perfect for my son to climb over. And the oak trees grew twisty and dark down over the pathway.
The landscape turned what could have been a run of the mill hike into a pint-sized, climbing adventure. We missed the widlflowers (which undoubtedly bloom along the trail in the winter and spring), but it was still beautiful.
After what seemed like a long time to my seven year old, we arrived at the entrance to Ma’arat HaTeumim, with a set of stone stairs leading up and inside the cave.
Before going inside, we stopped to read about the cave. Ma’arat HaTeumim is actually a stalagmite cave. It gets its name from a large stalagmite structure inside, which looks like a mother with her two twin babies.
The bats nest inside all year long. And the cave is closed from November through March so as not to interfere with their life cycle and development.
Armed with flashlights, we made our way into Ma’arat HaTeumim.
Inside the cave it was cool and dark. At first, my son was apprehensive as we made our way down the guardrail lined path. It smelled musty, and it was hard to see what was at our feet. Random drops dripped down from the ceiling. We hoped they were just falling condensation.
A few meters into the cave, we could hear the noise of a thousand screeching bats. Aiming our flashlights up at the ceiling, we saw a faint outline of their shapes, and dozens of pairs of eyes glinting back at us. Every so often, a bat swooped out of the pack, coming to rest in a new place on the cave ceiling.
We continued along on the pathway into the depths. Past the bat nesting ground, the screeching stopped and the smell went away. Now, we were just in a large cool cave, moving forward into thick darkness.
At the end of the cave, the noise of water drip dropping filled the silence. We directed our flashlights towards the depths at a murky little spring.
Just for fun, it seemed like now was a good time to turn off our flashlights and see what the cave was really like. It was utterly and completely black. Cool. The darkness was palpable.
Picnic Time and Off to Nature’s Playground
We turned back the way we came and emerged into the summer sunlight. A bit further along the pathway, there was a shady spot under the trees to stop for breakfast.
We sat down in a dense carpet of oak leaves and unpacked our bag. On that random Friday morning in the summertime, there was no one else around. We got to enjoy our iced coffee in relative silence.
But not for too long.
Because our son was eager to move on to the rock slide. We packed everything back up again. And we walked a bit further towards slippery smooth rock, glowing and polished, and perfect for sliding down.
Are We Having Fun Yet?
I had remembered that there was a rock slide at the end of the trail. But I didn’t remember how fun it was!
We all took turns sliding down this super cool rock, smooth to the touch. My son scrambled back up over and over again. Other kids arrived, and they all got in on the sliding action. And even after they had come and gone, my son was still climbing up and going down, again and again.
Eventually, we were able to drag that boy out of there. We turned around and headed back the way we came, towards the trailhead and our car.
With so many natural attractions, the Ma’arat HaTeumim short trail is just about a perfect hike for families in the Jerusalem area. A dark cave, stalagmites, bats, and a slide make it lots of fun for kids. And the shady scenery on the path turns it from child’s play into to a beautiful walk through nature.
If you’re in the Jerusalem, Gush Etzion, or Beit Shemesh area and are looking for a family hike from March through November, head on over to Ma’arat HaTeumim. My only advice would be to avoid the trail on national holidays: since it’s a very popular hike it is likely to be extremely crowded.
If you can, go there in early spring, when the scenery along the path will be lush, green, and flowering. If you go in the summertime, expect it to be hot. Bring a hat and plenty of water. You’ll get a chance to escape from the heat when you’re wandering through the cave.
Don’t forget to bring a flashlight! This is one cave that is almost impossible to get through without it (although you can reach the bats with just the light from the cave opening).
Wear shoes with good traction – some of the rocks will be slippery along the way.
The trail is very easy to follow. Just follow the red trail markers the whole way through. Turn around after the big slide.
Don’t forget to read my guide to the navigational features in this post before you hit the trail.
Trail map from Amud Anan.
Questions? Do you have any info to share about Ma’arat HaTeumim? Let’s hear about it in the comments below!