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|Distance: 1.5km||Time: 1.5 hours||Difficulty: Easy-Moderate|
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Can you discover prehistoric man on a hiking trail? At Nahal HaMearot in the Carmel Mountains you can! Follow this rocky trail overlooking the sea and learn how early humans lived their lives.
Nahal HaMeorot, a Unesco World Heritage Site, is a National Park that’s home to a series of very important caves. Archeologists discovered one of the oldest human skeletons on the planet inside these caves. Along with the bones, they found ancient tools, animal fossils, and cave systems which gave them clues about the people who lived there.
Nowadays, all that’s left are the caves and lots of fossil shells (the skeleton is preserved in another location.) But in order to help the public visualize and understand the importance of the caves, they’ve been turned into a series of educational displays along a beautiful outdoor nature trail.
Last Friday,we took three of our kids to Nahal HaMearot. This National Park is perfect for families. The trails are short, and the cave exhibits are geared towards children (and curious adults!)
We hiked along the Caves Trail, then chose to go all out and explore the Geological Trail as well. Everyone had a fun and memorable experience.
Here’s how we hiked it:
Junior Ranger Israel
We entered the park through a cute gift shop and entryway. Judging by the shelves full of awesome nature paraphernalia, Nahal HaMearot is a tourist hotspot. This came as no surprise: just carrying the label of World Heritage Site is enough to bring outsiders here.
That day, however, we were the only ones there. We got a full explanation of the best trails for children and purchased Israel’s version of a Junior Ranger book for our boys (with a bonus pin!) Their job was going to be to gather as much information as possible along the trail.
We set off towards the caves trail, booklet and pen in hand, ready to learn about prehistoric man.
Up We Go
But first, we had to climb up a steep set of stone stairs towards a lookout and the caves. At the lookout, I was reminded of just how beautiful the Carmel Region is. Here, the blue sea sits on the horizon in the distance, framed by an incredible mountain range.
We admired the view, then turned towards the first cave of the series: The Oven Cave.
At the Oven Cave (Tanur in Hebrew), signs pointed out all the layers of human history. We used my sons’ book to learn more about the different types of ancient man that lived at this location over the years, from Neanderthals to Early Man. The book explained how our predecessors developed the intelligence and skills to use the crevice at the top of the cave as a trap for catching deer.
After learning all about the Oven Cave, we followed the path around the bend towards the next cave on the trail.
Next Stop in History
Soon we reached the Camel Cave, thus named because of its bell shape. All of the caves at Nahal HaMearot are karstic caves, formed by rainwater dripping through rock. So, they all share the same domed appearance.
At the Camel Cave, there’s a full display of ancient humans, just like in a museum. My younger son was a little bit scared (I guess they looked pretty real!) But soon, we were all up close and enjoying a peek into what ancient life might have looked like.
In the children’s booklet, we found a guide to the different fossilized shells throughout the National Park. And we identified our very first one at the Camel Cave.
We continued along the trail and reached the largest and most impressive cave: Maarat HaNahal, or the Streams Cave. In truth, it’s nothing more than a very large and cool cave. But the Parks Authority has created an audiovisual journey out of the space that makes it super appealing to kids.
We pressed the button for the audiovisual show to begin and followed the path deep into the cave. Lights flashed, sounds played over the speakers. Soon, we reached the main area of the cave where we sat down on benches and listened to an exciting narrative.
The audiovisual show was actual pretty cool. Using light and shadow, we were given a glimpse into what life might have been like for ancient man. Then, a screen came down and a short movie began.
The movie itself was more funny than informative. Modern day actors dressed up as ancient man ran through their roles with grunts and hand gestures. After watching for five minutes, we left the movie and headed back towards the entrance of the cave.
Just Getting Started
After this exciting journey through history, we headed back towards the main part of the park and found a picnic table in the shade. My older son finished up the booklet while we ate breakfast. It was quiet there, and the area really was very beautiful.
Rather than call it quits, we wanted to explore at least one nature trail in the Nature Reserve. So, we followed the signs towards the Geological Trail, a 1+ kilometer loop trail which would lead up and down a mountain along a series of fossils and cool rock formations.
Before beginning the hike, my kids had to try out the “Barefoot Trail”, a little wooden pathway through the trees. The pathway was filled with different types of ground cover: sand, rocks, pebbles. My kids had fun getting a sense of what it felt like to walk around as an ancient man (and just getting their feet dirty).
Mountain Out of a Molehill
Then, we proceeded up the Geological Trail. The rock formations on the trail were pretty cool. But there was no shade, and I’m not gonna lie: the kids did complain on the way up. Judging from their protests, it seemed like we were climbing a giant desert mountain.
We tried all methods of distraction: pointing out fossils on the path, taking a closer look at cool flowers. With a little bit of encouragement, we finally made it to the very top, where we were once again treated to those beautiful Carmel area views.
Then, we followed the path back down the side of the mountain, my boys using all of their climbing skills to descend along the steep, rocky incline. Soon we reached the main area of the park again.
So, what was the verdict on Nahal HaMearot? All in all, my kids loved it! They can’t wait to go back to more National Parks where they can learn about nature and fill out Junior Ranger booklets.
Nahal HaMearot is a perfect place for families to take a deep dive into nature and history, all along one short trail.
Here’s what you need to know to hike Nahal HaMearot:
- This trail is suitable for all seasons. There is no shade on the Geological Trail, so don’t try it midday on a hot day.
- There are more great trails at Nahal HaMearot (especially good if you’re looking for a longer hike during winter or spring). Try the 4K Botanical Trail in springtime.
- Great for kids!
- No dogs allowed.
- There is an entrance fee to get in, or use your Parks Card. You’ll receive a map upon entry. There are facilities on site.
- The audiovisual show is available in Hebrew, Arabic and English.
- To hike these trails – follow signs for the caves. You can’t miss it. After the Caves Trail, follow black trail markers to take the 1 kilometer loop through the Geological Trail. The Barefoot Trail is located towards the beginning of the loop.
Visit Hai Bar Carmel and the Little Switzerland Loop Trail nearby!
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? Have you hiked Nahal HaMearot? Let’s hear about it in the comments!