Hike into the Holy City from Nahal Halilim to Lifta

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Distance: 6.5kmTime: 4 hoursDifficulty: Moderate
Ascent: 238mLifta ParkingLifta Parking

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Birds are chirping, flowers are blossoming, and spring is in the air.  This change is most welcome.  It’s becoming almost hard to remember the bitter cold and rain we were experiencing just a week and a half ago, when the winter was relentless.

But of course, cold weather never stopped us from hiking.  Two Fridays ago, in the thick of winter, we went out on a rainy day hike near Jerusalem.  At home, our mountaintop town was covered in a blanket of fog and rain: it looked so bad outside that we almost didn’t want to leave.  But thankfully, we made the decision to gear up and get going.  And because of this, we experienced something amazing.

Our destination for the day was Nahal Halilim, an old favorite hike near Mevasseret Tzion.  The hike would take us through a usually dry stream bed towards a series of spectacular caves.  This was deemed the perfect place for a rainy day hike, as the caves would serve as useful shelter for a breakfast stop.

Although we had hiked this trail many times before, we decided to walk it differently this time.  Rather than head straight out and back as usual, we were going to continue along the trail through Emek HaArazim all the way to Lifta, an abandoned village on the outskirts of Jerusalem.  We were excited to see how the trail would progress from natural area to urban environment (Lifta is right across the street from the Jerusalem Central Bus Station).

Lifta hike
Hanging around the Halilim caves.

Our hike that day was special in more ways than one.  It turned out to be an excellent decision to hike it on a rainy day.  We were grateful to have the opportunity to see Nahal Halilim under a cover of cloud and rain before our sunny, spring group hike on the same trail only a few short days later.

Here’s how we hiked this 7 kilometer trail from Nahal Halilim to Lifta:

Familiar But Different

We pulled into the dust parking lot near Beit Sefer HaShalom and made our way through the construction site to the trailhead.  Then, we followed the green trail down into the valley.

Almost immediately, we could see that this was going to be a different sort of hike than usual.  As we started to walk, a flowing stream became our constant companion, washing through the wadi in little rivulets.

Lifta hike
The scenery in Nahal Halilim.

I was thankful that we were properly outfitted in waterproof boots and rain jackets.  Because of our clothing, we were able to appreciate the wet day.  Little waterfalls formed over craggy rocks, droplets accumulated on cyclamen and anemone flowers, and a gentle rain fell on our faces.  It was absolutely beautiful.  And after walking for just a few minutes, we weren’t even cold.

We stepped carefully through Nahal Halilim, stopping to admire the different rainy day sights as we walked.  After 20 minutes or so, we reached the famous “Flutes Caves” (Halilim = Flutes).  We climbed inside to explore.

The Flutes Caves

It was welcoming and dark, full of chambers and passageways.  We climbed through the dry caves, admiring the views through the “windows” to the outside world.  That spot was probably the most beautiful place in all of Nahal Halilim.  Although we were inside the main caves, we could see many more caves just across the way.  The sides of the valley were green and lush after the rain.  And we admired one blossoming almond tree just outside of the mouth of the cave.

Lifta hike
Room with a view.

The Flutes Caves are not to be missed. It’s worthwhile to climb all the way in until the end, where you can pop out on a (usually dry) ledge to take in the sights from above the valley.  On that rainy day, the exposed ledge wasn’t a very welcoming spot to stop and have coffee.  So, after a thorough exploration, we headed down into the valley to a less popular cave just across the way.

We climbed up a slippery wall of rock to access the other cave, a dry, covered opening with a panoramic “window”. This was the perfect spot to stop.

Coffee Time on a Rainy Day

If you read my articles with any frequency, you know I like to wax rhapsodic about breakfast time.  Our stop that day was unusually amazing.  After pouring hot coffee, we sat there with our cups in hand enjoying the soothing sound of the rain falling just outside.  Everything looked a thousand times more green and beautiful under the cover of cloud.

Lifta hike
Kicking our feet up.

It felt peaceful and secluded, like we had our own secret spot in a world of wild beauty.  And we were pretty sure that no one else would be crazy enough to hike through this valley on this wintry day.  We were free to enjoy quiet solitude uninterrupted.

After apple cinnamon raisin oatmeal and many slow cups of coffee, the time had come to move on. We unwillingly packed up and said goodbye to our perfect picnic spot that existed for just a moment in time.

More Surprises

We continued through Nahal Halilim towards Einot Telem.  This is a spring (kind of a yucky one) that is one of the sources for the stream that runs through Emek HaArazim.  But that day, we were greeted by a much more exciting sight than a little spring: The Sorek stream bed was full and flowing, a massive, rushing river.  It was hard to believe that just a few days later, it would be completely bone dry.

Lifta hike
Not normally like this.

We set out on the path and started walking.  I won’t bog you down with the details of our misadventures but suffice it to say that the temporary river eventually cut off our path.  So, we had to backtrack and follow a breakaway trail to get around the temporary stream.

After quite a while, we were back on track, walking along a pretty, flat bike path through Emek HaArazim towards Lifta, a few kilometers away.

Magical Lifta

The in-between part of the hike was easy, fast walking.  After a long while, the village of Lifta came into view, a beautiful series of old structures perched on a hill covered with greenery.  We climbed up the steep, overgrown path to reach the path through the village.

The village of Lifta has been identified as the Biblical village of Mei Niftoach, because of its proximity to Jerusalem and the spring the flows from inside of the city. It was continually inhabited throughout most of history since Biblical times.

Lifta hike
Lifta: sunny and beautiful a few days later.

Lifta is a subject of much contention between Palestinians and Israelis.  The village was inhabited by Arabs from the time of the Ottoman era through the establishment of the State of Israel, when it was abandoned by battle-worn residents who hoped to return.  Decades later, Israel settled Jews at the site, but it was eventually abandoned due to disrepair and outdated conditions (no electric lines).

Nowadays, Lifta is a National Park and a Unesco World Heritage site.  Walking amongst the old buildings, it feels as if you are stepping into the past.  Between the homes, mustard blossoms grow in abundance.

More Water

We reached the top of Lifta and were greeted by one final surprise.  The large spring pool stood in the middle, a deep blue green under the cloudy sky.  And rivulets of rainwater poured down the stone stairs, creating miniature waterfalls.  It felt like we were at some sort of weird water park.

We climbed the last hill and ended the day right across the street from the Central Bus Station, where we caught a cab back to the car.  It had been an awesome journey.

From a beautiful valley, to deep caves, to an urban bike path, to an ancient village, we had seen a lot on that rainy morning.  This hike from Nahal Halilim to Lifta was a great way to experience the variety of terrain just outside of Jerusalem.

Lifta hike
A city with a spring inside!

Hikers’ Notes:

Here’s what you need to know to hike this trail from Nahal Halilim to Lifta:

  • This is a one way trail. You can hike it in either direction. Both the beginning and end can be easily accessed (within a 10 minute walk) by public transportation.
  • This trail is best suited to fall, winter, and spring seasons.
  • Suitable for dogs.
  • Wear good walking shoes and bring plenty of water and sun protection to hike this trail. Most of it is exposed to the sun.
  • This is a moderate hike, but the climb up Lifta is on the steep side.
  • To find your way, use the trail map and the trail marker gallery in the table at the top of the page.
  • To follow the trail: Start off on the green trail and follow it through Nahal Halilim. When you reach the blue trail, make a left to follow it all the way to the end of the hike at Lifta.

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 from Nahal Halilim to Lifta? Let’s hear about it in the comments!

Lifta hike
Urban hike.
Lifta hike
Wild and wonderful.

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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