Tel Ashkelon – An Ancient City on the Coast

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Distance: 3.75kmTime: 1-2 hoursDifficulty: Moderate
Ascent: 100mTrailhead and Markers Gallery

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My family loves the beach.

Every summer (and in between), we head to the beach as many times as we can.  The kids love jumping waves, building sand castles, and hunting for sea shells. I, personally, prefer long walks on the coast and snorkeling.  For many years of beach outings, our traditional favorite spot has been at Ashkelon National Park.

I’m not sure what it is about Ashkelon. Perhaps we like the family friendly atmosphere.  Or maybe we like it because it’s quiet.  Perhaps it’s simply become a tradition.  But until this past Friday, on all of our many trips to Ashkelon National Park we had never explored Tel Ashkelon, the ancient city which makes up most of the park.

More than just a beach.

We’ve wanted to walk the trails and see the sights.  But when the kids have a choice between hiking or hitting the beach…well, let’s just say we never made it to the trails.

So this past Friday, when we were on the lookout for a chilled out hike not too far from home, we knew exactly where we were headed: Tel Ashkelon, a historical site that we had been wanting to hike through for years. We planned out a simple circular hike and set out early on a Friday morning.  With just a little over an hour drive, we reached Ashkelon National Park, our favorite beach spot.

Here’s how we hiked this circular trail at Tel Ashkelon, through the remains of an important port city:

Towards the Cliff Path

To start off our hike, we parked at the Canaanite Gate Parking and headed towards the cliff path.  We were going to be walking on cliffs above the sea – one of our favorite things to do!

But first, we stopped at the oldest arched city entryway in the entire world.

Restoring the oldest arched gate in the world.

It was hard to believe that I’d had no idea that this incredible arched gateway was sitting right under our noses in Ashkelon National Park.  Built by the Canaanites in the Middle Bronze Age (1850 BCE), this arched gate to the city had been sitting right in this spot for thousands of years.

We desperately wanted to walk through the gate.  But the passageway was closed for reconstruction.  Soon, this Canaanite gateway is going to be an impressive tourist attraction, thanks to restoration efforts by the Parks Authority.

We peeked in at the gate and read a little bit about Tel Ashkelon.  The name Ashkelon comes from the word shekel or silver.  This name indicates how important the city was for trade.  It was held by many civilizations.  During most of the time of the Israelite kingdom, Philistines controlled the city of Ashkelon.

On our way to the Cliff Path.

Now we were ready to continue along the Cliff Path.

Pretty Lookouts

It’s not particularly hard to get gorgeous views at the beach.  But still, in all of our years of visiting Ashkelon beach, we had never seen viewpoints like the ones along the Cliff Path.  As we meandered from the Canaanite Gate towards the main beach, we passed by cute little benches, perched at advantageous angles on various cliffs.  On a cool day, this would be a beautiful path to walk along, and a great place to stop for a non-sandy beach picnic.

Sea views.

We followed the cliff path all the way to the main Ashkelon beach and descended a set of stone steps towards familiar stomping grounds.  Then, rather than stop, we continue up the steps on the other side of the parking lot.

Cute Campsite

From here, the path continued into a beautiful, quiet campsite – this, too, was a part of the park that we had never known existed. In all of our years of beachgoing, we had often passed the loud and boisterous campsite in the center of the park.  But this smaller camping area was perched right on a cliff.

Leaving the campsite.

It was quiet there.  In between the various tents, the only sound was that of waves lapping against the shore.  I made a mental note to return to this campsite with the kids sometime soon, and we kept on hiking.

Breakfast on a Rock

After only a short amount of time, we were already much of the way through the main part of the hike.  So, to shake things up, we decided to leave the path at the remote parking lot before the Wall Trail and head down to the beach for iced coffee and blueberry oat muffins.

In search of a breakfast spot.

We passed by many fishermen, their buckets already full of the first catches of the day.  Then, we waded out to a jagged, flat rock and climbed up.

This spot was so perfect.  It was a little bit dangerous – every so often the waves would smash up against the rock, soaking anything that was perched in the wrong place.  But when the water receded, little tidal pools full of fish and tiny crabs were left behind in the crevices.  We poured our iced coffee, pulled out our muffins, and had a meditative breakfast with the ocean as our background music.  Every so often, a thunderous noise would sound from one hole in the rock, where water spurted out as the waves sucked away underneath.  It was heavenly.

Here we are!

Just Can’t Keep it Simple

After breakfast, we waded back to shore and decided to walk along the beach for a while.  We passed by the remains of ancient Ashkelon as we walked: old columns, stone walls, reams of pottery fragments.  Eventually, we hiked all the way to the gas plant on the other side of Zikim beach. 

Pottery and shells.

We turned around and headed all the way back along the wet and sandy shore.

The Wall Path

We walked back up the steps and followed the weathered trail markers onto the Wall Path.  This path encircles all of the city of ancient Ashkelon, inhabited in turn by Canaanites, Egyptians, Philistines, Babylonians, Romans, etc, etc, etc until modern times.  I had never even realized that this National Park was surrounded by an ancient wall.

On the wall path.

We followed the path (marked in red), until we reached a blue breakaway trail.  According to the map, this path would lead us through a mixture of sand and vegetation, towards a stream bed, to the beach, and back up in a circle. 

Rather than keep things simple, we decided to take the blue path detour too.

A sandy detour.

Back on Red

After trudging through the sand on the blue path, we were back on the Wall Path.  On this part of the trail, we would get to experience the many crumbling structures that were a part of Tel Ashkelon.  We passed by walls, structures with windows out to the sea, and more.

After a long walk, we reached the end of the red path.  Here, we made our last foray towards the remainder of the trail:  a fallen tower, an old water wheel, a big field full of crumbling columns.

Incredible statues at the Basilica.

Now in a more populated part of the park, we passed by the great Roman Basilica, an impressive find made up of ancient columns and statues that remain remarkably intact.  This site was actually first excavated by the British as part of the Palestinian Exploration Fund, and once served as an open-air museum. 

Our last stop was at one more ancient water wheel, and then we found our way back towards the main beach.

Cliff Path to the Rescue

After many hours of trudging through sand on a hot day, we were fairly exhausted.  We followed the gloriously smooth cliff path back to the parking lot and were very happy to see our car waiting for us in the shade.

This circular hike at Tel Ashkelon has been an amazing discovery.  Whether in the early morning, at sunset, or on a cool day, a hike at Ashkelon National Park and the remarkably ancient city contained within is definitely one for the bucket list.

More than just a day at the beach.

Hikers’ Notes:

Here’s what you need to know to hike this trail at Ashkelon National Park:

  • This is a circular trail.
  • If you hike the longest version of the trail, it is best hiked on cooler days or at sunrise/sunset. For the shortest trail (cliff path - wall path - antiquities), you can probably hike at any time of year. The trail is exposed to the sun, but there is a nice breeze coming in from the sea.
  • This trail is located in a national park. You must pay an entrance fee or use your Matmon card to enter. Learn more about prices and reservations right here.
  • There is a lot of sand on this trail. You could hike it in sneakers, and pause every so often to dump out your shoes. I hiked it in open hiking sandals, which was a mistake (the sand was so hot at midday that my feet got blisters). My husband wore Keens, which are much more closed, and this was a good choice.
  • Bring plenty of water and sun protection to hike this trail.
  • The trail is not marked with regular SPNI trail markers. Instead, faded wooden posts are located all the way along the trail at regular intervals. The posts are not always easy to follow, but they are there - you just need to find them!
  • To hike the shortest trail - follow the red path in a circle, then cut across through the antiquities towards the main beach and make a right up the steps onto the Cliff Path. I recommend adding an excursion onto the beach where you can walk out and back for as long as you like. You can also add in the blue trail which would be quite pretty on a cooler day or at a cooler time of day. The blue trail is a detour from the red trail which brings you back onto the red trail where you can continue the hike. Total distance with blue trail (no beach) is 5 kilometers plus an extra 30 or so meters ascent.

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 at Tel Ashkelon? Let’s hear about it in the comments!

Seeing the sea.

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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