Golan Trail: From the Golan Amphitheater to Mevo Hama

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 Head of Nahal Meitzar

From the KKL-JNF overnight campsite we walk to Route no. 98, turn eastwards and continue for about 300 meters until we come to a little cluster of eucalyptus trees beside a small cattle pen. Nearby is the green sign that announces our arrival at the Nahal Meitzar Nature Reserve. Before we make our way down into the gully, it’s worth taking a look around. The hillsides are clad in a magnificent woodland of Tabor oaks (Quercus ithaburensis), a species of tree well suited to the hot summers and rock configuration of this part of the country. Another important constituent of the woodland is the Mount Atlas mastic tree (Pistacia atlantica), which prefers precipitous landscapes, as water is more available among the rocks.

The Nahal Meitzar Nature Reserve is home to the wild almond tree (Amygdalus korschinskii), a characteristic feature of the borders of the Mediterranean region that can be recognized by the spiky ends of its branches and its comparatively pale leaves. Like the Tabor oak, it sheds its leaves in winter. Another small deciduous tree, the spiny hawthorn (Crataegus azarolus), which produces tasty round fruit in springtime, can be identified by its prickly branches and deeply lobed leaves. These two local residents are joined by the snowdrop bush (Styrax officinalis), an elegant tree characterized by soft leaves with pale undersides.

Along the way we shall also encounter the lotus jujube (Ziziphus lotus), a prickly bush with slender white branches that zig-zag slightly. Its fruit is not edible, unlike that of its larger relative the Christ-thorn jujube (Ziziphus spina-christi). Desert broom (Retama raetam) also grows here, and can be identified by its long scepter-like branches that burst into profuse, brilliant white, scented bloom in February, after having remained bare for most of the rest of the year. As its name implies, this bush is characteristic of desert regions, including Israel and the Sahara. It has also spread to the southern Golan Heights via the Jordan Valley.

Nahal Meitzar

The path leads through a gate and over open high ground among prickly lotus jujube bushes. Before the steep descent, at the end of the slope above the river, the expanses of the nature reserve can be seen spread out below in all their glory, with the Hills of Gilead rising directly before us. A steep path leads straight down to Wadi Barbara (“Babbling Riverbed” in Arabic), a deep, broad two-kilometer tributary of Nahal Meitzar that rises below Kibbutz Kfar Haruv. Our path crosses the stream and continues downhill on the southern bank. The riverbed is full of oleanders and densely tangled brambles, both evidence of the damp earth below. Here we can easily find a patch of shade for a rest beneath a big Tabor oak. Wadi Barbara meets up with Nahal Meitzar at the foot of the high hill known as Ras al-Hasmasa. From this point on the riverbed is bordered by thickets of willow of the brook (Salix acmophylla). The surrounding slopes are clad in expanses of parkland dominated by Tabor oaks, and there is a Tabor oak growing in the middle of the river, too. So far we have covered a distance of around 2.5 kilometers, and an oak tree provides welcome shade at this point. The path continues downhill along Nahal Meitzar before leaving the riverbank about a kilometer further on to climb to the right up a steep slope to the upper patrol road.

Warning: Do not follow the riverbed beyond the patrol road!

The Patrol Road

Once arrived on the patrol road we turn right and start to climb: now it’s payback time for the 250-meter descent we enjoyed earlier. Most of the road is paved, albeit poorly, and walking is easy. After 1.3 kilometers we encounter a paved road that turns off to the left, barred by a gate that is usually open. The paved road ends after about 300 kilometers at a small open space that offers a magnificent view of the basin of Nahal Meitzar, which descends to the Yarmuk River at our feet. The sharp-eyed will discern the remains of buildings, a wall and caves at this site. Pottery from the Ancient Israelite Period – and from earlier and later, too – was found nearby, the most recent dating back to Ottoman times. The whole area lies within the area allocated to the tribe of Menashe. Examination of the pottery and the ruins has shown that new settlements were founded in this area during the Ancient Israelite Period.

We continue uphill amid more Tabor oaks. 1.8 kilometers beyond the gate to the Israelite site is a pile of stones to the left of the trail with a number of beautiful Mount Atlas mastic trees growing out of it. If we keep very quiet we may be able to observe the family of hyraxes that lives there.

We have now reached the plain known as Ard al-Baluta, which is covered in a deep layer of soil and farmed by the local communities of Mevo Hama, Kfar Haruv, Afik and Meitzar. As noted above, the Arabic name of this area means “Land of the Oak Tree,” and the steep slopes that descend from it are indeed covered with Tabor oaks.
From here we can already see the buildings of Kibbutz Mevo Hama, and all that now remains is to return to Route no. 98 and close the circle.