Carmel Coast Forest – Exploring its Paths

Before setting out we recommend that you call KKL-JNF’s Forest Hotline (Kav LaYaar) at 1-800-350-550 for any updates, such as closures due to extreme weather and any information that may be relevant to your route.

A view of the sea from Mount Carmel. Photo: Pnina Levanon
A view of the sea from Mount Carmel. Photo: Pnina Levanon

To the Sigi Lookout Point

From the Ofer Scenic Lookout, we descend westwards along a dirt track indicated by green trail markings. After about 100 meters, these green markings turn right on to a trail that crosses a dirt road and leads us down into the valley, where we meet up with black trail markings. If we turn left, we arrive almost immediately at the Atatürk Recreation Area, which serves as a starting point for cycle routes. We turn to the right up the valley, following the black trail markings.

Our path leads us through a mixture of Mediterranean woodland and KKL-JNF planted forest. Rough bindweed (Smilax aspera) and virgin’s bower (Clematis cirrhosa) climb high into the trees, adding an extra dimension to the appearance of the forest. After about 200 meters we come to a dirt road marked by KKL-JNF as a cycle trail. On this occasion we ignore it, and turn right along the dirt road and then immediately left on to a path that becomes a dirt road.

Small fringed rue (Ruta chalepensis) bushes, which produce yellow flowers in spring and early summer, accompany us along the way. Although many people dislike this plant’s pungent smell, many others enjoy it. Fringed rue is famed for its alleged ability to drive away evil spirits, who apparently are among those who cannot tolerate the powerful scent it gives off.

The dirt road brings us to a junction and meets up with a red-marked trail. We continue straight on and follow the red trail markings as they lead us uphill across slabs of rock before turning left, continuing for 600 meters and bringing us to the Sigi Lookout Point, where a table and two seats wait close to a tall pine tree. This pleasant, tranquil vantage point offers a view of western Mount Carmel all the way to the sea. Close by is the Mizrahi-Tefahot Recreation Area, a large and well-cared-for open space shaded by pines.

To the foot of Mount Carmel, and the option of a shortcut

The red-marked trail skirts the recreation area to the left. At the end of the recreation area we turn right and then immediately left. This is a beautiful corner of Mount Carmel in which characteristic representatives of native woodland – Israeli common oak, broad-leaved mock privet (Phillyrea latifolia), Palestine pistachio and mastic trees – accompany us along the way, together with forest trees planted by KKL-JNF. After about 600 meters, a black-marked trail branches off to the left. If we turn on to this trail and make our way downhill to a green-marked path that we are due to arrive at later in any case, we can save ourselves about four kilometers of walking.

The path winds on like this for another 900 meters or so until we reach a dirt track. We cross the dirt track, cross a footbridge over the cattle grid and continue onward, following a trail that turns westwards. After several hundred meters, the woodland and forest open up and we find ourselves walking amid magnificent views of the Carmel Coastal Plain. Here we need to pay close attention to the trail markings, because we are about to arrive at a junction with a blue-marked route. If we turn right on to this blue-marked route, we would arrive at Nahal Mearot (“Cave Stream”). Instead, however, we should turn left here, climb to the top of a small hill and then make our way downhill to the foot of Mount Carmel to meet up with a green-marked trail. The Nahal Mearot Nature Reserve parking lot lies about 200 meters to the right of us, but we continue to follow the green-marked trail to the left until we reach the Ofer Scenic Lookout. The Israel Trail also passes through this section.

The hills are taller on the way back

The green-marked trail turns southwards to follow the route of the Israel Trail. From here it leads us up and down the slopes of three hills until brings us up the fourth hill, on top of which is the Ofer Scenic Lookout. Please note: the slope of the northernmost hill is very rocky indeed and it has to be negotiated with care. Some rather dejected carob trees that appear to have been battered by winds from the sea stand out slightly above the mastic bushes (Pistacia lentiscus) and the three-lobed sage (Salvia fruticosa Mill). At the top of the second hill, about 250 meters from the dirt road that separates it from the northern hill, is a hole in the rock that has been hewn out to a depth of about one meter, probably as part of an ancient winepress. Note the projection sticking out from the northern wall of the hole: it would appear to have been added to help people climb out. A few steps further on the remains of an irrigation pond (3x3 meters) apparently designed to drain water from the slope can be seen to the west of the trail. Beside the pond, the trail turns sharply to the left and climbs slightly before descending into the valley before the third hill. An olive grove grows in the valley.

The remains of Jaba and Sheikh Amir

The trail climbs up the third hill and brings us to a large sloping slab of rock at the end of which is a cistern with an attractive mouth. Hedges of prickly pear grow nearby. The cistern, the prickly-pear hedges and the ruins further along the path are all that remains of the Arab village of Jaba. This village, together with Ein Ghazal to the south of the Ofer Scenic Lookout, and Ijzim, which was located where Moshav Kerem Maharal now stands, was referred to during Israel’s War of Independence as the Little Triangle, to differentiate it from the Big Triangle that encompassed the area between Tul Karm, Nablus and Jenin.

These villages refused to surrender even after the IDF had occupied the area that surrounded them. Their residents, apparently with the support of an Iraqi force, attacked Jewish transport vehicles on the Tel Aviv to Haifa road, and on July 18th 1948, two Jewish travelers were killed near Jaba. The IDF demanded that the villagers surrender or evacuate, but they refused, and repulsed two attacks by the IDF on July 18th and 19th.

On July 24th the IDF set out to conquer these villages in Mivtza Shoter (“Operation Policeman”). The name was deliberately chosen so as to give the operation the appearance of a police initiative, as this was the period of the second lull in the fighting, and the villages were situated in an area that, under the Partition Plan, would be part of the State of Israel. Forces from the Golani, Carmeli and Alexandroni brigades, backed up by artillery, descended upon the villages, but were driven back. Another attempt the following day was similarly unsuccessful. After being shelled by cannons, mortars and aircraft the villagers finally yielded, and their fighters withdrew to Wadi Ara. When the assault was renewed on July 26th, the villages were captured almost without resistance. A memorial to those who fell in Operation Policeman can be seen at Moshav Ein Ayala.

The trail continues southwards along the spur to the tomb of Sheikh Amir, in what was once the cemetery of the village of Jaba. The building is still intact, and has even undergone renovation; its dome has been painted a startling pinkish violet. If you observe the entrance to the prayer building from the outside, you will notice a sort of gutter on the right that collected the water running off the roof and channeled it into the hole hewn into the ground at its foot.

About 100 meters after the tomb, further along the green trail, we come to a black-marked path in a valley into which we walked down at the start of our route from the Ofer Scenic Lookout. Now we need only ascend this now-familiar trail until we reach the scenic lookout – a distance of about half a kilometer.

A suggestion for a brief one-way route

If you have more than one vehicle at your disposal, you can leave one of them in the Nahal Mearot Nature Reserve parking lot and finish your walk there. This route is just four kilometers in length, and it is suitable for all the family, including children ten years old and over.