The Great Crater: Small Fin and Colored Sands

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Distance: 2kmTime: 2 hoursDifficulty: Moderate
Ascent: 120mTrailhead and Markers Gallery

This past week, we headed out with our family on a trip to Makhtesh Ramon.  The Ramon Crater is one of my favorite places to visit in Israel.  As a Dark Sky Reserve, the crater is home to a spectacular display of stars and planets at night. There are also lots of incredible trails that weave their way through the area.  And the scenery there is simply otherworldly.

On our way down to Ramon, the largest erosion crater in the world, we decided to make a stop at the second largest erosion crater in the world: The Great Crater, otherwise known as Yerucham Crater or HaMaktesh HaGadol.  Just a few weeks earlier, we had hiked there by ourselves. We were eager to return and to share its beauty with our kids.

In appearance, the Great Crater has a lot in common with Ramon Crater.  Inside its walls, a world of multicolored sand and rock awaits, in the form of soft and sharp hills, ridges, and pathways.

Small Fin at Great Crater
Otherworldly scenery.

On this trip to the Great Crater, we decided to climb what’s known as the Small Fin.  This ridge heads up at a sharp angle towards the top of the crater’s outer wall.  After climbing the Small Fin, we would continue the route as we had hiked it only a few weeks earlier: down along hand hold rungs and rock towards the multicolored crater below.

At the end of the hike, we would reach the Colored Sands campground.  To finish up the day, we had brought along tall glass bottles which we hoped to fill with layers of colorful sand.

Although there were a few surprises along the way, the kids had an amazing time on this trail.  Here’s how we hiked the path along the Small Fin and towards Colorful Sands in the Great Crater:

Towards the Fin

We got out of the car at the Colorful Sands campground, a popular spot for visitors year-round.  After getting ourselves situated, we broke away from the crowd in search of the blue trail.

The blue trail led us over rocks along a path next to the road.  The kids were already having a good time: climbing up and down over rocks as we approached the small fin.

Small Fin at Great Crater
Climbing the “Snapir HaKatan.”

Soon, we reached the turnoff to the Small Fin.  We crossed the road and began our ascent.

Up and Up

This part of the trail was the most challenging.  As we ascended along the narrow fin, the winds picked up, turning a dusty and hazy day even dustier and hazier.  Fine particles blew in our faces as we progressed uphill.

I was worried that the bad weather would ruin this experience for our kids.  But somehow, they didn’t seem to mind.  We walked steadily uphill along the fin, approaching what was supposed to be a spectacular view out to the Great Crater.

Small Fin at Great Crater
Onward, soldiers.

Finally, we reached the very top.  As I kind of expected, the view was marred by thick dust that hung in the air that day.  What had looked like colorful ridges only a couple weeks earlier was now a strange world of hazy hills.

But despite the difference, my kids thought that the crater looked very cool.  We stood there as the wind whipped through our hair, contemplating the scenery.

Another Challenge

Next stop was the black trail down into the crater.  I, for one, was eager to get away from the intense wind up top.  Together, we followed the black trail towards the drop off point, where we would head down along hand hold rungs into the crater below.

As we approached the narrow passageway, it became even windier.  It was so blustery, in fact, that some of my kids just wanted to turn around and go back the way we came!

Small Fin at Great Crater
Windblown.

It was a challenge to get down that first set of ladders.  The wind was disorienting, making it hard to find a solid place to put hands and feet on the way down.  But with a little bit of perseverance, we made it to the flat ridge below. 

In that spot, it was far less windy.  We breathed a collective sigh of relief and headed on to a nearby ridge for a lunch break.

Going Down, Down, Down

After replenishing our energy stores, we were ready to move on, down the black path towards the crater below.  This part of the hike was fun for the kids.  The wind had died down a bit, and we were no longer headed uphill.  Now, they were free to enjoy climbing over rocks as we headed into the crater.

Small Fin at Great Crater
Detour.

Soon, we reached the very bottom.  Although it was still super hazy, we were able to see the crazy colors of the sands from up close.  Everyone was excited to see the bright shades of purple and yellow, intermingled in otherwise normal looking rock. 

There were also lots of fun little hills to climb.  Before continuing on to the Colored Sands campground, the kids chose a hill and climbed to the top.

Real Colored Sand

When I was a kid, a favorite summer camp project was to fill a little plastic dessert cup with artificially colored sand, then add glue, cotton, and a plastic spoon to create a colored sand ice cream sundae.  I don’t think I ever imagined that one day my own children would be completing the very same project.  Except my kids get to collect natural colored sand from inside a crater just two hours from home.

Small Fin at Great Crater
Art project.

As soon as we reached the Colored Sands campground, we set to work.  Armed with glass bottles, we made our way off the beaten track and into a series of colorful hills.  Then, the boys ran from hill to hill, finding the brightest and most exciting colors to fill our bottle.

There were sands in shades of deep mustard, red brick, majestic purple, and copper green.  For variation, we added some white sand in between the layers.  After a half hour or so of collecting, we had filled our bottle to the top with layers of color from inside the Great Crater.

All the Ingredients

We ended the day dirty, tired, and happy.  This hike had all the ingredients for a successful family outing: a challenge, a not-too-long trail, unusual scenery, and a fun art project at the end.  Our hike along the Small Fin into Colorful Sands in Israel’s Great Crater was a perfect mini-adventure.

Small Fin at Great Crater
Dirty, happy, fun!

Hikers’ Notes:

Here’s what you need to know to hike this family-friendly trail at the Great Crater:

  • This is a circular trail.
  • This trail is best suited to cooler days in fall, winter, and spring.
  • This is a family friendly trail.
  • Due to the one sharp descent, this trail is not suitable for most dogs.
  • As with all desert hikes, check the weather report for flash floods before you hit the trail.
  • Wear good hiking shoes, a hat, and bring plenty of water to hike this trail.
  • To follow the trail: Park at the campground. Follow the blue trail along the highway. Turn left onto the green trail to climb the small fin. At the top, make a right to follow the black trail down into the crater. The black trail will bring you back to the colorful sands area.
  • Use the trail marker gallery and trail map in the table up top to find your way on the trail.

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 along the Small Fin to the Great Crater? Let’s hear about it in the comments!

Small Fin at Great Crater
Nice even on a not-nice day.

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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