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|Hike it with Google Earth
|Time: 6 hours
|Difficulty: Strenuous- Advanced
|Trailhead and Markers Gallery
If you’re up for anything, I guess you’re up for Nahal Mishmar.
This 14 kilometer loop trail is probably one of the most beautiful desert hikes I’ve been on. But it’s no walk in the park.
Nahal Mishmar takes hikers from picture-perfect desert scenery towards an awesome riverbed. Inside this riverbed lays an endless series of ascents using a combination of handhold ladders and freestyle rock climbing.
During the rainy season, there are also pools of water along the trail, adding an element of excitement to this hike. There’s no telling whether you’ll have a dry run or whether you’ll have to get wet.
We hiked Nahal Mishmar on a random Monday morning right at the beginning of the rainy season. We didn’t have to swim our way through the trail, but we did get a challenging hike through a riverbed and towards a hidden spring. And we also had lots of close encounters with unusual wildlife throughout our hike.
Here’s what we saw at Nahal Mishmar:
We set out early in the morning, the sun still low in the sky. The long walk up to the trailhead was flat and easy, but the scenery was anything but boring.
As opposed to typical desert monotony, there were lots of plants and flowers blooming right along the path. I guess this is what attracted all of the different birds we saw as we approached the Nahal itself.
There were bright green birds, black birds with orange bellies, and little fat gray birds. They flitted between the low bushes on the sides of the path, welcoming us to Nahal Mishmar.
Soon, we reached the riverbed itself. Tall rock walls rose up on both sides of the canyon. And piles of boulders and smooth white stone filled the inside.
It was surprising how much greenery there was running through Nahal Mishmar, especially so early in the season. The flowers and plants added another dimension of color to the already picturesque surroundings. We began climbing through.
In some places, the canyon was wide and flat. All we had to do was follow the blue trail up rock steps and boulders. In others, the canyon walls closed in, creating narrow channels.
The walls of these channels were smooth and soft to the touch, polished by water rushing through. Soon, we reached the first small pool, a remnant of the rains that had already flowed through the riverbed this winter.
The pool wasn’t much. But as we traversed the canyon, we crossed large, dry pools that must fill up during a very rainy season. We couldn’t see how you could cross them if they were full, without getting wet.
Luckily for us, we didn’t have to think about the challenge of a water hike that day. Instead, we got to focus on the climbing.
Soon, we reached our first hand hold ladder – not exactly a complete set of rungs so much as a gentle suggestion of where to put your hands and feet on the ascent.
One after the other, these ascents were really fun to tackle. It was a great challenge figuring out where to grab on in between the rungs. But the incomplete nature of these ladders meant I definitely wouldn’t be calling Nahal Mishmar a kid-friendly hike.
Next Stop on the Safari
When we had studied the map earlier, it seemed that the walk through the riverbed would be short, only a couple of kilometers. But climbing those two kilometers took a lot longer than we expected.
So, by noontime, we were ready to pause for a break. We found a large flat rock in one of the open spaces in the canyon and pulled out our thermos of coffee.
We were only sitting there for a minute or so when I noticed a movement out of the corner of my eye. A fluffy rock badger was burrowing around just a few feet away.
He seemed totally unfazed by our presence – and not at all interested in our crumbs. We enjoyed our meal together, then said goodbye and went on our way.
The climb through the canyon didn’t get any easier. Actually, it got harder as the ascents got shorter. Someone must have decided (understandably) that it was okay to dispense with the metal rungs once we were past the super steep climbs.
We negotiated our way over boulders in the channel, always looking for the best way up. In some places, the rock was so smooth that it seemed impossible to climb.
At one point, I lost my secure footing and fell backwards with a bang. There was nothing to do but pick myself up and search for a better path up the smooth ridge.
Light at the End of the Tunnel
One final ascent and we were out of the canyon. From here, our plan was to follow the black path out to hidden spring.
This trail was in the open, a flat walk between desert mountains. Soon, we reached water, pooling on the alabaster stone at our feet. Tall reeds grew up all around. We were approaching a spring.
We crossed through the water source and continued to follow the black trail, up a hill and towards the last stop on our little safari.
A Donkey and Birds in a Row
And who was there to greet us? A wild donkey, grazing amongst the dry grasses near the water.
In nature, water attracts animals. We had expected to find some sort of wildlife at the spring. But a donkey in the middle of the desert was a surprise.
The area around the spring was a feature all in itself. A huge cliff towered up above us, water trickling out from little holes in the cliffside. Birds swooped around near the holes, chirping merrily, then resting on the ledges nearby.
It was dark and shady in that crevice between the mountains. Lots of plants sprouted near the water source. And algae grew all along the rock wall where the water poured down.
The Show Must Go On
We were tired and sore – and running out of time. I made sure to sit and rest for at least a few minutes by the spring.
From this point in the hike, we would have to retrace our steps back to the canyon. Then, we would be taking the red return path above the riverbed.
The hike back above the canyon was much easier than the climb through. We got to see what Nahal Mishmar looked like from up above and get a grasp on the size of the channel we had hiked through.
The Dead Sea gleamed blue in the distance, calling us towards the trailhead. About an hour later, we were back at our car, saying goodbye to the wildlife and beauty of the desert canyon.
Our hike through Nahal Mishmar had been a multi-part journey, beautiful from every perspective. It was hard to say which was the best part: the challenge of climbing through an impossible canyon or all of the wildlife sightings on the trail.
Either way, Nahal Mishmar had been an incredible way to spend a random Monday morning in the desert.
Here’s what you need to know before hiking Nahal Mishmar:
- Check the weather for flash flood warnings before attempting any desert hike.
- Bring plenty of water, good shoes, and sun protection. It’s shady in the canyon, but not on the return.
- Since there’s shade in the canyon, I would say this is an all season hike. Don’t go on a very hot day in the summertime.
- Not suitable for dogs.
- Not suitable for those with a fear of heights.
- Note: If you are going after significant winter rains, come prepared for the possibility that you may get wet when crossing the pools. Be prepared with water shoes, and a waterproof bag for any gear that might get ruined. It’s possible that you might even have to swim across some small channels. Please check the comments below to see the latest info about the trail.
- Be careful when climbing. Take it slowly to reduce the risk of falling.
- Start early. Allow for at least 6 hours of daylight to complete this hike.
- You can park where we did and walk the first part of the trail. But if you drive further along the road, you can park much closer to Nahal Mishmar itself. This will shorten the total length of the hike by 3 kilometers (1.5 each way).
- To find your way on the trail follow the trail map and trail marker gallery in the table up top. You can also download the Google Earth file to follow your location on the trail.
- Trail marker colors: red, blue, red (make a left), black (left and then return to this crossroads after the spring), red.
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? Have you hiked through Nahal Mishmar? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!