Nahal Dolev Excursion

A view of Nahal Dolev. Photo: Yaakov Shkolnik
A view of Nahal Dolev. Photo: Yaakov Shkolnik

This challenging route through American Independence Park takes us down the Nahal Dolev gully before leading us uphill along a spur covered in KKL-JNF forest.

  • How to get there

    Drive to Beit Shemesh along the highway that links Shaar HaGai to Beit Guvrin (Route no. 38), turn eastwards on to Route no. 3855 and continue straight on. About 1.8 kilometers after the junction, before you reach Moshav Mahsiya, turn left on to the road that leads up to the Stalactite Cave (Route no. 3866). Continue for about 5.5 kilometers, then turn right on to a dirt road indicated by green trail markings. Around a hundred meters further on you will arrive at KKL-JNF’s Rabbi Gershon and Hannah Hadas Recreation Area.

    The access road that ascends from Beit Shemesh to the Stalactite Cave passes through American Independence Park. As you drive uphill along the road, take a good look at the wooded spur on your right: this is what we have to climb on our way back.

    American Independence Park extends over an area of around 4,000 dunam (approx. 1,000 acres) between Beit Shemesh and Moshav Bar Giora. KKL-JNF began work on the park in 1976, in celebration of the 200th anniversary of the USA’s independence. The park comprises areas of natural woodland, planted forests, springs, ancient terraced hillsides and archeological sites, and KKL-JNF has equipped it with picnic areas and marked paths for walkers and cyclists.

    In the center of the park is the Nes Harim Information Center, where a permanent exhibition provides information about options for excursions and leisure activities in the area, together with explanations of local natural phenomena. It also offers suggestions for possible routes. Here, you can pick up excursion pamphlets and enjoy a break at the Bar BaHar (“Bar on the Hill”) Café.

    There are three ways to explore the gully. Here we describe the most challenging route, from which other, shorter routes can be derived.
  • Recommanded season

    Autumn, winter, spring
  • Geographic location-

    Jerusalem - Judean highlands and surroundings,Jerusalem Hills
  • Area-

  • Target audience-

    Fit walkers
  • Track length-

    6 km
  • Track type-

    Walking path
  • Difficulty-

    Fit walkers - Hard
  • Season-

  • Duration-

    3-5 hours
  • Features-

    Views and landscapes
  • Interest-

    Hiking and Walking Tracks

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.

The long, challenging circular route

Our starting point is the KKL-JNF recreation area named after Rabbi Gershon Hadas and his wife Hannah, which is equipped with a children’s playground. Close by is a stone building from the time of the British Mandate, which was used by local woodsmen. Buildings of this kind, which can be found all over Israel, are known today as “foresters’ houses,” and KKL-JNF has repaired and restored many of them.

We make our way down a green-marked dirt track that turns immediately to the left, leaves the planted forest and enters an area of natural woodland. About half a kilometer after the starting point we arrive at a red-marked trail, which we follow as it descends towards Nahal Dolev (“Plane Tree Stream”), revealing views of the ever-growing urban expanses of Beit Shemesh as it does so.

The red trail leads us to a black-marked route that crosses our path from right to left. Those of us following the shorter circular route will arrive from the right along the black-marked trail, thereby saving around 1.5 kilometers of footslog in each direction (see instructions at the end of the description of the route).

The Nature and Parks Authority sign informs us that the Nahal Dolev Nature Reserve begins here and extends southwards. Very nice. We climb slightly up the black-marked trail, pass under a high-tension cable and follow the route as it winds downhill to a broad valley containing a large vineyard. This valley forms part of the upper reaches of Nahal Dolev.

The black-marked trail brings us to the fence that surrounds the vineyard, then immediately turns to lead us downstream. The Nahal Dolev gully exemplifies the finest aspects of the Jerusalem Hills landscape: it boasts a dense and well-developed woodland of Israeli common oak (Quercus calliprinos) and its companions, including mastic trees (Pistacia lentiscus), snowdrop bushes (Styrax officinalis), Greek strawberry trees (Arbutus andrachne) and numerous rockroses (Cistus salviifolius and Cistus creticus). Here and there along the riverbed the remnants of flagstones or man-made terraces can be glimpsed. These are all that remain of an ancient road along the riverbank that may have branched off the main route that made its way down from Jerusalem to the Elah Valley and descended directly to Beit Shemesh. If this is indeed the case, then these are the remains of a transport route that operated in Roman times.

While we follow the black-marked trail downstream beside the riverbed, this ancient route climbs up to the northern bank and does not descend again until it reaches Ein Dolev (“Plane Tree Spring”). The spring is located to the west of old terraces in the gully, which broadens out into a small, attractive valley at this point. The spring is hidden away behind a bushy mastic tree, and in recent years it has dried up almost completely. To reach it we have to descend a number of steps to a stone-faced rectangular shaft. If we can’t find the precise location, we need to remind ourselves that the views and the woodlands are the main point of this excursion, not this elusive spring.

After the spring, the gully grows continually narrower over the next half kilometer or so, while the dense woodland shades our path very nicely. Later the ravine begins to open out again and makes its way through a type of natural gateway where the streambed has cut its way between shoulders of chalk rock layers that drop away steeply westwards. This is the edge of the Judean Hills, where they border upon the softer Judean Foothills. These riverside shoulders are covered in batha scrubland consisting mainly of thorny burnet (Sarcopoterium spinosum) and crowned with a thin scattering of trees.

The black-marked trail leads us alongside a large terrace planted with olive trees. Beside a solitary carob tree we come to a red-marked trail, which turns to the right (northwards). So far we have walked for about six kilometers. Those of us who have chosen the one-way route will continue downhill for another 800 meters (there are no trail markings at this point) to Route no. 3855, which is clearly visible from here. Beyond it lie the new neighborhoods of Beit Shemesh.

The alternative is to continue along the red-marked trail and climb a slight incline that leads us to the remnants of the fine terraces of the large long-deserted village of Deir Aban, which was notorious among early Jewish settlers in British Mandate Palestine. During the Arab Revolt of 1929, the villagers attacked the community of Har Tuv and forced its residents to retreat to Deir Aban Railway Station (now Beit Shemesh Railway Station) where they caught the train to Jaffa. As they pulled out, they could see their houses going up in flames.

Deir Aban was captured by Jewish forces during Israel’s War of Independence on October 21st, 1948, in Operation HaHar (“The Hill”).

From this point on, the red-marked trail leads us on a continuous ascent. We pass by the remains of the village buildings and of caves hewn into the rock, which once served as storehouses. Olive, almond and cypress trees can still be seen on the terraces that border our route as we walk uphill on a slope covered with the Bar Giora Forest: it’s payback time now for the height we lost as we followed Nahal Dolev downstream. Our red-marked route meets up with a blue-marked trail that turns left to Moshav Mahsiya, but we continue to climb for another two kilometers to meet up with the black-marked trail that we encountered near the start of our route. For those of us who have vehicles waiting here, this is the end of our excursion. If, however, we have plumped for the long version of the route, we have another 1.6 kilometers of steep climbing before we arrive back at the Gershon and Hanna Hadas Recreation Area, where our car awaits us.