National Geographic has listed it among the 20 most “epic trails” in the world. It was constructed as a Middle East equivalent of the beloved Appalachian Trail. At more than 1100km, it gives runners a unique glimpse of biblical landscapes and the everyday life of the modern Israeli.
It is the Israel National Trail, a hiking path inaugurated in 1995 that stretches from Dan (near the Lebanese border) to Eilat (on the Red Sea) and crosses the entire country of Israel. These days, it is increasingly popular with “runthusiasts,” ultra-runners and those who aspire to live like them, as they plan running vacations that take them to amazing destinations reachable only on foot.
Michael Wardian made waves in the running world recently, following up his amazing 10-marathons in 10-days performance with the revelation that he will run the 631-miles of the Israel National Trail starting March 12. This is big news for companies like Canaan Running Adventures, a family business in Northern Israel that organizes adventures for trail runners from around the globe. The company’s manager, Zoli Bihari, is the mastermind behind Wardian’s run.
“For us, running is much more than a sport,” Canaan Running Adventures declares on its site (Running Adventures in Israel). “Being in the woods or watching the sunrise from a cliff or a mountain top we just reached is the quintessence of living and the purest definition of freedom. We also believe that running is a communal endeavor, and love the camaraderie on the trails.”
The company organizes both personalized running experiences and multi-day running adventures, taking care of all the logistics and promising that participants simply need to bring running gear, a hydration pack, a hat and their enthusiasm. More advanced courses target specific themes, like the ancient incense road in the Negev Desert or a 5-day journey between the Mediterranean and Galilee seas.
Along the traditional 620-mile route that has become increasingly popular with foreign travelers, one can expect to see Israel’s Arava wilderness, distinctive white, blue and orange striped trail markers, paths populated by camels and goats, sandy beaches, bustling cities and barren desert. The recommended timing for hike departures is February or October, when temperatures are at their mildest for the typically 2-month-long trek.
Perhaps the most charming feature of the Israel National Trail, however, is its communal embrace of the land itself. Avraham Tamir, a journalist who hiked the Appalachian Trail in the late ’70’s, devised the trail with Ori Dvir (a founder of the Society for Protection of Nature in Israel), with the purpose of giving Israelis a way to experience the breadth of their land. Since the trail encompasses some isolated areas, so-called “trail angels” have been known to assist hikers with keys left out for rooms, or sleeping quarters exchanged for a day’s work. When NatGeo listed it as one of the magazine’s best hiking destinations (National Geographic Names Israel National Trail as One of World’s Best), it said: “The joy of the trail is meeting the Israelis hiking it, and spending some time in small kibbutzim where local people take hikers into their homes.”
In an era when headlines regarding Israel, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem often lean towards the negative, the Israel National Trail offers a welcomed reminder of the breathtaking Middle Eastern wilderness. For ultra-runners, “runthusiasts” and more, it presents the opportunity for a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.