Winter in Israel can present a number of difficulties when picking the right single-day trek. With the sun setting before 5pm and the chance that rain will bring massive floods to some of the desert areas, its better to scout out regions that don’t require a long drive from any of the larger cities. Since most of our trekkers depart from Tel Aviv, we prefer to keep Saturday hikes within an hour’s radius from the city; unless of course we decide to specifically go flood chasing – something that must be done with a smaller group. Keeping this in mind, heading up to the Carmel for a hike that ascends through the Yagur River-gorge and finishing in the Druze town of Usifiye is the perfect way to enjoy a hike that is conducive the winter barriers while still allowing hikers to experience one of the area’s more technically challenging treks.
After driving northeast through Wadi Milkh and heading north through Route 70 via Yokneam and Kiryat Tivon, there is a turn into Kibbutz Yagur. From there, you can easily see the trail marked for the Israel National Trail and a red path through Nahal Yagur. You will stay on the red trail for the entire way, all the way through to Usifiye. The first part of the hike runs simultaneously on the Israel National Trail and the red-marked trail. When the trail splits between the red trail and the Israel National Trail, make sure to continue your way through the red trail into Nahal Yagur itself.
Nahal Yagur – the Yagur River-gorge – is one of the more beautiful hikes in the Carmel. Water flows through the steam after the rains and drains at the base of the eastern Carmel towards the Kishon River. A few days after the rains, the stream is already dry enough to hike up the massive limestone boulders. The stones are still slippery, so be sure to wear proper trekking shoes that give solid support on the boulders. Even during the summer, the area is covered by Mediterranean growth which creates a natural shade. Throughout the hike. there are a number of boulders to be scaled; however, there are foot ladders in the rocks that can assist with the climb. For most of the trail, until you get to the road connecting Usifye and Kibbutz Yagur, boulders are what you will encounter. The trail isn’t very long – roughly 4 miles – but it takes a while due to the technical part of scaling the boulders and dealing with the slippery rocks.
After finishing the technical part of the hike, a relaxing pastoral path takes you up the eastern side of Usifiye. The best thing to do is to leave another car at the Usifiye football stadium; from the end of the hike, its another 15 minute walk heading left at the first roundabout once you finish the trail. If you get confused, just ask someone where the stadium is located. The best way to finish any hike is with a culinary treat. In Usifiye, you have a number of options for knafe, a Middle Eastern sweet with a cheese base. Knafe Wabas is the best and is in the main part of town next to the Sonol gas station on the way to the neighboring Druze town of Daliyat el Carmel. Again, anyone can point you in that direction.
Once you’ve indulged in knafe in Usifiye, you can drive through town and connect to Daliyat el Carmel and on to the Muhraka – the sanctuary of the burning! Literally, in Arabic, this is the translation. The site is a Carmelite Monastery meant to commemorate the site where Elijah the Prophet defeated the Canaanite Prophets in their quest to determine whose deities were more powerful. In this quest for proving in the faith of one god, a massive ball of fire struck down upon Elijah’s altar and the animals were sacrificed. Unfortunately for the Canaanite gods, this was not the case. Their punishment was death in the River of Kishon! The monastery itself is quite humble and offers spectacular views over the entire north of Israel on a clear day – just go up to the roof and a map will tell you everything you are looking at. On a picture-perfect day, you can even see the peaks of the Hermon Mountains. Its best to take in the site at sunset.
The hike is off the beaten path of the typical tourist sites promoted by Israel. You will only find Israelis on the trail and its a great way to see sides of Israel that are less explored.