Eilat Mountains: Mount Neshef and the Red Canyon

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Distance: 8kmTime: 5 hoursDifficulty: Strenuous
Ascent: 440mRed Canyon Campground ParkingRed Canyon Campground Parking

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Last week, I went on a three day hike through the desert with Heels of Love.

Besides being great fun and a chance to support a good cause, this hike was also an opportunity to finally document some challenging Eilat area trails.  Although we had planned and planned again, we simply hadn’t managed to get down to Eilat this year for Hiking the Holyland.  And that’s a shame, because the Eilat mountains contain some of the most beautiful hiking trails in all of Israel.

The one difficulty with hiking the trails around Eilat is that you can only trek them during the wintertime.  There are a few days in fall and springtime that are suitable for hiking in the area.  But for most of the year, high temperatures in this part of the country makes hiking there difficult. 

The Heels of Love hike was well-planned in early March – prime hiking season (we actually had a heat wave, but that’s a story for another post).  The first day of hiking began with a steep ascent up Mount Neshef.  From there, we continued on through Nahal Shani and then walked through the famous Red Canyon.

Eilat mountains.
Otherworldly beauty in the Red Canyon.

It was a great, mid length trail to start with.  While the ascents were somewhat challenging, most of the hike was just plain gorgeous.  The views from Mount Neshef were out of this world.  And the red rock formations in Nahal Shani and the Red Canyon were beautiful.

Here’s how we hiked this 8 kilometer one way trail up Har Neshef and to the Red Canyon near Eilat.

Slope Side

We began the trail right off the highway, on the lowermost slopes of nearby Mount Uziyahu.  After a long bus ride from Jerusalem, we were all eager to get walking.  We found the blue trail (okay, our guide did that this time!) and followed it across a flat area and up the steep slopes of Mount Neshef.

One of my favorite things about the Eilat mountain are how colorful they are.  Since the area is located on the Dead Sea Rift (Israel’s great fault line), layers of rock from different time periods have been pushed to the surface via earthquakes.  According to our guide, Eilat experiences a small earthquake every single day.

Eilat mountains.
Climbing Mount Neshef.

Mount Neshef was a rich rust color, which contrasted with the bright blue sky and wispy clouds up above.  We climbed and climbed up a path of crumbly red rock until finally, we reached the top of the peak and the one of the best lookouts in the area.

Birds Eye View

Mount Neshef is one of the highest mountains in the Eilat area at 899 meters above sea level.  It was cool at the summit.  A crisp breeze blew in our faces as we looked out on the multicolored waves of rock that formed the valleys and hills below.

Eilat mountains.
On top of the world.

Of course, we stopped here to enjoy the views…and to learn a little bit about the Eilat Mountain Range.  Our guide reminded us that all of the peaks in the Eilat Mountains are named after kings of Judah.  Mount Neshef (along with Mount Shani and a few others) is the exception to this rule

Into a Gaping Canyon

After Mount Neshef, we followed the blue trail until we reached the black trail.  Here, we made a right, to climb past gaping drop offs and crazy rock formations.  The terrain here was constantly changing.  We climbed up, then through, then down the side of a cliff. 

Soon, we found ourselves in the colorful valley of Nahal Shani.

Eilat mountains.
Smooth sailing.

Nahal Shani (Shani = crimson) was easy walking.  Small red pebbles made up the pathway.  We were kept out of the sun by the shade of red rock walls on both sides.  Nahal Shani is a dry streambed (like all of the streams in Eilat).  During the infrequent winter rains, water flows through, leaving just enough moisture for small flowers and plants to grow.

We continued through the magic of this canyon until we reached a left turn onto the green trail – the path towards the Red Canyon.

The Red Canyon

If you’ve ever been to Antelope Canyon in Arizona, you can imagine just what the Red Canyon looks liked.  In the Red Canyon, the walls are formed of smooth waves of red rock.  They jut out, creating a narrow passthrough with slivers of sunlight pouring through the top.

This gentle light illuminates the rich colors of the canyon walls in a play of shadow and light.  The best time to visit this canyon is in the early morning or late afternoon, when the indirect sunlight illuminates the rock walls in a gentle glow.

Eilat mountains.
Workin’ it.

We walked through, then reached hand hold ladders (always a fun feature on a desert hike!).  As we ascended through the Red Canyon, more sunlight filled its shadowy spaces.  Soon, we emerged into the light at the very top of the canyon, where we walked atop the swirly red rock.  It felt like we were stepping on a solid sea of stone.

Climbing through the Crimson Valley

From here, it would have been a straight walk along the green trail towards the campsite.  But we weren’t done for the day.  Instead of finishing our hike, we took the black trail towards northern Nahal Shani.

The glow of the late afternoon sun lit up the canyon walls, making them seem golden.  We walked over small pebbles, up little inclines.  It was easy walking.  Soon, we reached the red trail, our final trail for the day.

Eilat mountains.
The long way home.

Now out in the open desert, we followed the red trail for a few more minutes until we reached the campsite at Nahal Shani.  A circle of tents sat waiting for us at the secluded Red Canyon campground.

A Half Day Adventure

As we sat around watching the sun set, I thought about what we had seen that day: a towering mountain, crimson canyons, spectacular views, variegated rock.  On this five hour trail in the Eilat Mountains, we had experienced more variety than some people might see in a full day of hiking.  And during our half day of hiking, we had seen almost no one else. 

This trail up Mount Neshef through Nahal Shani and the Red Canyon was an adventure worth traveling for.  The quiet beauty of the desert reaches new levels of awesome in mountains of Eilat.

Eilat mountains.
Just chllin’ on a desert cliff.

Hikers’ Notes:

Here’s what you need to know to hike this trail:

  • This is a one way trail. You will need to arrange for transportation to and from the trailheads, or leave a parked car at point B.
  • This hike is only suitable for the winter months or cold days during fall and spring.
  • Wear good hiking boots and bring plenty of water, a hat, and sunscreen.
  • Not suitable for dogs (because of the climbing parts).
  • There is a quiet campground at the end of this trail (point B). No facilities.
  • There are several easier trails through the Red Canyon/ Nahal Shani that leave from the second campground. Check out a map or use Amud Anan to create a circular or family-friendly trail from this campground.
  • To follow the trail: begin on the blue trail up Mount Neshef. Then make a right onto the black trail. When you reach the green trail, make a left into Nahal Shani towards the Red Canyon. You can then follow the green trail all the way to the campground, OR, make a right onto the black trail, then a left onto the red trail which will bring you to the campground. Cut across to the campsite when you see it on your left.

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 this trail? Let’s hear about it in the comments!

Eilat mountains.
All by ourselves.

Hiking can be dangerous and is done entirely at your own risk. Information is provided free of charge; it is each hiker’s responsibility to check it and navigate using a map and compass.

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