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|Trail Map||Hike it with Google Earth||Terrain View|
|Distance: 8km||Time: 5 hours||Difficulty: Advanced|
|Ascent: 430m||Trailhead and Markers Gallery|
It’s the month of May, and here in Israel, we’re still having stormy days. To hikers, all of this late season rain means one thing: more warm weather hikes to desert pools.
These gevim, or standing pools, fill up as rain washes through desert canyons. Although many like to hike to these pools in the wintertime, I prefer warm days for desert swimming. So when it rains late in the season, we know that we must hit up as many of these trails as we can while the pools are still full and beautiful.
This week, we planned out an 8 kilometer circular trail to a place we’d been to before: Tsifra Pools. Near Arad, Tsfira Pools is part of Tze’elim Stream (which runs into the Dead Sea). The last time we hiked there, we were with our little kids, so we tackled only a very small portion of the trail.
This time around, we were hoping to see a lot more of the beautiful gevim that are located in this quiet desert location.
Our hike included crazy vertical ascents, incredible views, and one of the most beautiful standing pools that I’ve ever encountered. At 8 kilometers, it was the type of hike that’s manageable in a morning.
That said, this incredible trail to Tsfira Pools was no walk in the park. Between the scary heights and slippery ladders, this is one trail that is only suitable for real hikers.
Truth be told, you don’t have to hike the entire trail to get to the pools. The actual pools themselves are only about a 25 minute walk from the campground. So if you’re looking for all of the pleasure and none of the pain, you coud hike it that way instead.
Here’s how we hiked this epic trail near Arad along Tze’elim Stream to Tsfira Pools:
Been Through the Desert
We pulled into the Tsifra Campground and familiar memories flooded my mind. This is where we had camped out during the first days of COVID, when school cancellation meant that we hat lots of free time with the kids. Last time, we had taken a short hike out to the smallest of the Tsfira Pools.
As we set out on the Israel Trail, we enjoyed the cool breeze that accompanied us in the desert that morning. Birds swooped around, and we ascended slowly along any easy pathway that towered above an impressive canyon. To our left we could see the rolling desert mountains, so picturesque in the early morning light.
I was happy for the easy walking pace first thing in the morning. After a poor night’s sleep and an early wakeup, I still had a lot of brain fog, and wasn’t ready to tackle any major challenges. After hiking this way for quite some time, we reached a picture perfect spot overlooking the dramatic valley below.
Although it was still pretty early in the day, it was the perfect place to stop for coffee. We sat down on the rocks and pulled out our thermos.
Conversations over Coffee
As we sat there, hot coffee in hand, a woman walked by with a giant backpack. We said hello, and she sat down with us to talk for a few minutes.
This woman, at 62 years old, was hiking Shvil Yisrael (The Israel Trail) all by herself. Equipped with a gun, a tent, a sleeping mat, and lots of potato flakes, she had everything she needed for daily life on her back. The day before, she had hiked 36 kilometers straight!
It was fun to bump into someone who had temporarily escaped the confines of the daily grind for some simple living out in nature. When our coffee and conversation was finished, we continue along our way.
Down into the Valley
From here, we traveled down, down, down, towards the valley below. This part of the hike was absolutely gorgeous, twisting backwards and forwards past crevices and caves as we dipped further and further into the valley. The scenery that morning was just spectacular- we were accompanied on our journey by a white cloud spattered sky, a cool breeze, and little white butterflies that flitted between the desert plants.
Most of this part of the hike was fairly straightforward. There were no hand hold rungs or sheer cliffs, just a slow descent towards Tze’elim Stream. Soon, we had reached the bottom, where we turned and followed the stream.
This part of the trail was nice and relaxing – at least for a little while. We walked along the pale rock of the stream bed, shaped and smoothed by the waters that rush through in the rainy season. There were occasional small pools, but nothing worth stopping for. If it had been a very hot day, I imagine that we may have stopped to splash around.
Before we knew it, we were ascending up and out of the valley again. Just looking at the mountains which towered overhead, it was clear that we were going to have to do some serious climbing to finish up this circular trail.
Soon, we reached an insane ascent, where the trail shot up the side of the canyon.
Climbing, Climbing, Climbing
The first part of the ascent was hard, but not crazy. We had to use all of our limbs to hoist ourselves up the rocks, slowly and gradually, as we followed the blue trail up the side of the canyon. Along the way, we got to stop to take in the absolutely stunning views, which included two snaking stream beds, and beautiful mountains all around.
After a while of this type of climbing, we got to the absolutely insane part: hand hold rungs led us straight up the side of a mountain. A fall here would not be a small matter. So we carefully found places to put our hands and feet, taking it slow as we ascended the sheer cliff.
I love to climb. Maybe it was my lack of sleep the night before, but this climbing was a tiny bit crazy – even for me. Soon, we found ourselves at the top, and we proceeded along the trail to Tsifra Pools.
We reached the green and blue crossroads and took a left on the green trail towards Tsfira Pools. And lucky me – we were climbing again! Here, two set of hand hold rungs led up and down the sides of another sheer cliff, to allow for two-way traffic. I took a drink of water and we began the descent to the pools below.
And it was worth it. Although the descent was somewhat challenging, we were greeted by beautiful pools at the bottom. First, we checked out the pool to our right. It was very pretty and secluded, but we wanted to see what kinds of pools lay up ahead. To get to the end of this trail, we would have to cross through a pool at the bottom of a ladder. I carefully lowered myself into the chest high water, holding my backpack above my head.
It was freezing! And delightful. We crossed the clear pool and were greeted by an incredible sight.
Full of Love for this Place
Smooth, alabaster rocks surrounded a turquoise, heart-shaped pool. Past the edge, a sheer cliff dropped down into the valley. Between the white walls, we had a panoramic window out to a magnificent view of desert mountains.
This was the main Tsfira Pool – it was worth every step that we had taken to get there.
We climbed along the rungs to sit on the sunny white rocks that surrounded the pool. I was feeling completely refreshed already, and very happy to sit back and take in the views. But my husband jumped in and dove into the water, enjoying the novelty of a very deep, clear pool on the edge of a desert cliff. It was absolutely incredible.
Wrapping it Up
When we were all finished, we ascended back up the slippery rungs, slowly and carefully, towards the crossroads. From here, we followed the blue trail to the black trail past the smaller of the Tsfira Pools, and back along the green trail towards the campground where we had parked our car.
It had been an incredible day.
This magnificent and challenging circular trail to Tsfira Pools is the perfect choice for a warm spring day. I’m sure pools like this must exist in other parts of the world, but I’ve never seen them. We’re lucky enough to live in a place where natural wonders like this one are part of the scenery.
Here’s what you need to know to hike this trail along Tze’elim Stream to Tsfira Pools:
- This is a circular trail.
- This trail is best suited to cooler days. Much of the trail is not in the shade. The pools are likely to fill up after several strong winter rains, and remain full until the rain season ends.
- Not suitable for dogs.
- This trail is not suitable for those with a fear of heights. There are extremely challenging climbing sections on this trail.
- If you'd like to hike to Tsifra Pools without all of the challenge, you can do that too! Just park at the campground and hike the trail backwards until you reach the green/blue crossroads. Then, climb down to Tsfira Pools. This section could be suitable for older kids and teenagers as well. It is a short trail with a little bit of scary climbing at the end.
- Wear good hiking shoes, sun protection, and bring plenty of water to hike this trail. You could hike this whole trail in regular hiking gear, then change into water gear just for the pools - it is not necessary to get wet anywhere else but the pools. Additionally, you will most likely be able to easily keep your stuff dry by holding your backpack on top of your head as you cross. This is not one of those hikes where everything MUST be in a waterproof bag.
- To hike the trail, use the trail map and trail marker gallery in the table at the top of the page.Trail colors are red/Israel Trail, green trail, blue trail, green trail, blue trail, black trail, green trail.
- To turn this into a family friendly adventure, park at the campground, then hike the trail backwards towards the pools. Little kids can stay with one parent at the shallow pool. Older, adventurous kids can hike with another parent to the big swimming pool.
- To get to the campground you will have to drive down a rocky road (not asphalt). Regular cars can drive here, but just be forewarned.
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 to Tsfira Pools? Let’s hear about it in the comments!