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|Time: 2-3 hours
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In Israel, desert pools have their season. It begins in the wintertime – after a few heavy rains, the pools form: trapped remnants of flash floods that have run through dry riverbeds.
And there they stay all winter long, waiting for anyone who’s brave enough to test their waters on a cool day. Come springtime, the pools start to evaporate. That is, unless Israel is lucky enough to have a particularly rainy spring season.
When this happens, the pools stick around as the weather warms up. Which makes a late spring day after a very rainy season the perfect time to give these awesome desert swimming holes a try.
This past Sunday, we decided to venture towards Nahal Rahaf near the Dead Sea. This long desert riverbed is actually best conquered by rappelling. Using hooks and ropes, you can climb your way down from the top of the river all the way to the bottom, where it spills into the Dead Sea.
But if you don’t have rappelling gear and several hours to spare, you can check out Nahal Rahaf by hiking up a short distance from down below. By hiking Rahaf this way, you may not get to experience the full magnitude of Nahal Rahaf, but you do get to dip in a few of the riverbed’s amazing pools – and get a taste of magnificent desert scenery.
Here’s how we hiked towards Nahal Rahaf’s lower pools:
Another Desert Wander
After a nice long drive towards the Dead Sea, we pulled off the road into a dust parking lot. The green markers pointed us up towards a craggy desert mountain. We strapped on our backpacks and hit the trail.
It was nice to be back in the desert. After a long spring full of mountain and lowland hikes, I had missed the quiet starkness of desert scenery.
As we ascended, we approached the top of the canyon. Down below in Nahal Rahaf, birds swooped. We could hear a few hikers rappelling down the canyon walls into the pools below, their voices echoing as if they were a full army of men.
We climbed up the green path for a while. Then we broke right onto the blue path, which would take us straight to our swimming spot.
Breakfast Break (obviously!)
Even though it wasn’t a particularly hot day, we were already sweating. The combination of no shade and a steady ascent warmed us up. We were ready to cool down with some iced coffee before taking a dip in the Rahaf pools.
On the side of the pathway, it was shady in the recesses of the upper walls of the canyon. We climbed up and off the pathway towards a shaded perch on top of the rocks.
If there’s any place where one must stop for a break, it’s the desert. Sitting in the silence, cooling off in the shadow of a rock, watching birds fly through deep canyons – these are all things that are worthwhile slowing down for.
As we sat there, we saw a little desert sand mouse running to hide behind a rock. The swooping birds soon discovered our picnic area. Several of them glided down and sat patiently besides us, waiting for us to finish eating so they could clean up our crumbs.
We happily shared the remains of our muffins with our new friends. Then we packed up our stuff and headed back down to the trail towards cool desert pools.
A Crystal Pool in an Alabaster Canyon
The pools appeared around the bend, punctuating the smooth white rock before us in green and blue splashes. As we neared the pools, we could see that the walls around them were anything but monotonous. Yes, they were white, almost alabaster, but the walls of rock were beautiful and soft. Behind the largest pool, the canyon continued. And a series of rappellers in bright orange helmets slid down through the shadows.
We took a few pictures, then walked carefully into the water. The floor felt like quicksand between my toes. And then it dropped out from under me.
At first it was freezing cold. But after I took the plunge, the water was pleasant and lovely. It was a fun place to swim back and forth. The still water felt like a swimming pool, only the scenery was a hundred times as beautiful.
After spending time in the water, we stretched out on the warm rocks above it. While we sat there, we watched men in helmets come down from the canyon and swim across with backpacks, one by one. The echoes of birdsong bounced off the rock walls. The scene was completely peaceful.
We watched the slow life at the pool for a long, long time.
And then, when we were ready to go, we retraced our steps towards a smaller pool. This one was more exposed to the sun. The water was a bright jade. It looked a little less idyllic, but I still wanted to go in.
This pool was warmer, and quieter. I swam around, exploring its nooks and crannies, then emerged from the water onto the smooth chalky rock.
Farewell, New Friend
Without waiting to dry off (wet=cool!), we headed back down the blue trail and through Nahal Rahaf. Down below in the canyon, voices of the rappellers echoed off the walls. They were continuing the climb down, from one waterfall to the next. We made plans to travel the full length of the canyon by hook and rope one day in the future.
But for today, this 3 kilometer foray into Nahal Rahaf was perfect. The beautiful white canyon, the cool pools, the desert wildlife – these are things one can experience without any special gear. Nahal Rahaf is the place to take a mini adventure into incredible desert scenery.
Here’s what you need to know to hike to the Nahal Rahaf pools:
- This hike is best suited for fall, winter, and spring.
- Always check for flash flood warnings before hiking in the desert!
- Bring a hat, water, and wear sunscreen. Most of this hike is in the sun.
- To hike the way we did – follow the green path to blue. Take the blue path to the pools. Then turn around and go back the way you came.
- The pools vary seasonally. There are times of year when they will be very full and times when they will be almost empty. As summer progresses and the pools dry out, the water evaporates and the pools become murky (ie: not fun for swimming).
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 Nahal Rahaf? Let’s hear about it in the comments!