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In Central Israel, near Modi’in, Ben Shemen Forest is an attractive natural area that is frequented by bikers, hikers, and picnickers looking for an escape from city life. Throughout all of our years of Hiking the Holyland, we’ve only hiked one trail at Ben Shemen Forest.
This is due to a number of factors. First of all, our main hiking days are Fridays, a day when the trails and parking lots of Ben Shemen always seemed to be packed. And if we do set out on a weekday, we’re far more likely to go somewhere far away and glamorous – a forest in Central Israel just doesn’t fit the bill.
But this past week, we were looking for a moderate morning hike to delay our drive into Tel Aviv. We wanted to spend some time outdoors and hike during rush hour, and head in to Tel Aviv once the traffic died down. Ben Shemen Forest seemed like the perfect stop along the way.
We knew it would be quiet since we were hiking on a Sunday. On the other hand, we were fairly certain that the trails would be relatively colorless. Spring flower season had already come and gone. In June, most forests in Israel feature a combination of dry shrubbery and tall green trees.
Nevertheless, it seemed like the stretch of Israel Trail that led through the forest included interesting antiquities, like caves, burial chambers, and ancient settlements. We planned out a 7 kilometer hike that began at Tel Hadid and finished up at Horvat Gimzu. We were hoping that it would be a nice way to spend a pretty morning in nature.
And it was. This trail wasn’t spectacularly different or breathtaking. But it was a pleasant walk in a pretty place on a quiet day.
Here’s how we hiked this 6.5 kilometer one-way trail through the Ben Shemen Forest:
We began the day at Tel Hadid. Looking at the map, we could see that there were a lot of interesting things to explore if we were willing to wander a bit off the beaten track. There were underground caves, old cisterns, olive presses, and more.
Since we weren’t in a very adventurous mood, we didn’t go exploring. Instead, we read the short Wikipedia page on Tel Hadid. According to the article, the remains at the site dated back as far as the Bronze Age, with the peak settlement during the Kingdom of Israel and just afterward.
Initially, scholars believed that Hadid was one of the towns mentioned in the book of Joshua, but later on it was decided that the true Hadid (Adita) is located somewhere else.
Still, the site was a treasure trove of interesting discoveries, including two cuneiform tablets from the 7th century.
Let’s Walk Through a Forest
History aside, we were ready to enjoy a nice morning in the forest. Just as expected, the terrain was filled with golden grasses, occasionally broken up by the purple, spiky flowers of summertime.
We passed by a few small monuments, picnic areas, and groves of pine trees as we followed the smooth path. Soon, we crossed over a highway, and then returned to natural surroundings.
Despite the fact that this really was just a typical walk through a forest, we enjoyed it. It was a beautiful day – the sky was blue and filled with puffy clouds. Thankfully, it wasn’t too hot. Crickets and birds chirped in the shadows. We walked at a brisk pace past the trees.
Roughing it a Bit
We passed by lots and lots of olive trees, gnarly and picturesque. Eventually, we reached a slightly more challenging part of the trail. Rather than continue along a flat pathway, the trail followed the mountain ridge, in a slight ascent over solid rock. Up we went, following the Israel Trail through the forest.
Truthfully, there were many beautiful places to stop – rocks with gorgeous views, patches of shade in the forest, picnic areas – but we weren’t planning on stopping that morning. This was to be a short, fast paced hike.
Past yet another picture-perfect picnic area, we reached a fabulous lookout under the shade of a statuesque eucalyptus tree. In the distance, we could see a row of olive trees, then a small, red-roofed town, and then, further along, the big city and the coast.
From here, we proceeded along a path towards Hurvat Gimzu, just outside the modern day town of Gimzu.
All for the Best
As opposed to Tel Hadid, whose history is somewhat of a mystery, Gimzu is associated with a town of the same name, listed in the bible as one of the cities conquered by Joshua. The town was also an important center of Jewish life during the times of the Mishna.
It is thought that the famous Tana, Nachum Ish Gam Zu lived here. He was the wise man who coined the expression Gam Zu LaTova – Everything is for the best. I repeat this refrain to myself often!
In modern times, the Hurva is topped by a beautiful wooden deck and lookout, built to commemorate two fallen soldiers (Mitzpe HaShnayim). When we arrived there, a group of girls were cooking an outdoor meal.
From the lookout we followed the path down the other side of the hill towards the bus stop at Gimzu. We used Gett to call a taxi which would take us back to our car a short drive away.
Our morning in Ben Shemen forest had been just what we had hoped for – quiet, peaceful, and with plenty of shade. I can imagine that this very same trail could be something entirely different – as a flower filled trek during the winter and spring months, or as a discovery of antiquities for someone feeling a bit more ambitious than we were that morning.
Ben Shemen remains a beautiful natural area near a populated urban center. This one-way hike through Ben Shemen Forest is a great way to explore the area.
Here’s what you need to know to hike this one way trail through Ben Shemen Forest:
- This hike is best suited to cooler days in fall, winter, and spring.
- This is a one way trail.
- Wear good walking shoes and sun protection to hike this trail.
- There are many nice places to stop and enjoy the scenery. Bring a picnic! Also, this area is stunning during the winter and spring wildflower season.
- Use Gett or call a taxi from Modiin to get back to the starting point at Tel Hadid at the end of the day. If you want to be more adventurous, everyone leaving Gimzu stops to pick up hitchhikers.
- Follow the Israel Trail the entire way until you reach the breakaway trail to Tel Gimzu. Then walk up along an unmarked trail to the Tel. From the top, walk through the deck, down the steps, and follow the unmarked trail to the bus stop outside of Gimzu. This is an easy trail to follow.
- You can also use the trail map, trail marker gallery, and Google Earth file for added assistance.
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 in Ben Shemen Forest? Let’s hear about it in the comments!