Ramot forest in Jerusalem

A family-friendly walk along the trails of Ramot Forest in Jerusalem

  • Geographic location-

    Jerusalem - Judean highlands and surroundings
  • Area-

  • Target audience-

  • Track length-

    2 km
  • Track type-

    Walking path
  • Difficulty-

    Wheelchair adapted
  • Season-

  • Duration-

    1-2 hours
  • Interest-

    Hiking and Walking Tracks

Ramot Forest is a remnant of the extensive woodlands that were formerly planted by KKL-JNF around Jerusalem to provide a green belt that encircled the capital. Part of the forest dates back to before the Six-Day War of 1967 and borders on the Green Line, which in those days passed slightly to the north of Hedgehog Park (Gan HaKipod). After the war, KKL-JNF added new trees to the woodland. The forest derives its importance both from its status as a large natural expanse within an urban area and from its function as a green access route to Cedar Valley (‘Emeq HaArazim), which forms an important part of the Jerusalem Park.

Ramot, whose official name is Ramot Alon, was built immediately after the Six-Day War. Over the years it has expanded to become Jerusalem’s largest neighborhood, and today has a population of over fifty thousand people. It takes its name from the nearby plateau (rama), the home of the Biblical prophet Samuel, who was known as HaRamati (“the Ramaite”). Later the name “Alon” was added to the district in memory of Palmach commander Yigal Alon, who held a number of government ministerial positions for many years following the establishment of the State of Israel.

To the south of Ramot, along the woodland trail, the Jerusalem Municipality has created Hedgehog Park, a broad expanse of lawns, pitches, playing fields and playground equipment that includes, of course, a slide in the shape of a hedgehog. The park is the starting point for routes in Ramot Forest, and KKL-JNF and the Jerusalem Development Authority are now planning a footpath that will conveniently link the Ramot neighborhood and Ramot Forest to the Jerusalem Park trail network. This new path will be designed for use by pedestrians, cyclists, and families with baby strollers, as well as wheelchair users.

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.

Nature in the forest

Ramot Forest grows on the slopes of Mitzpeh Naftoah hill, which overlooks the Nahal Sorek stream from the north, and on the hillside that descends from Ramot into the Nahal Shmuel gully that spills into Cedar Valley’s Sorek Stream (Nahal Soreq). Most of this area is covered with pine and cypress, but these are interspersed here and there with native species such as Mount Atlas mastic tree (Pistacia atlantica), spiny hawthorn (Crataegus azarolus), Palestine pistachio (Pistacia palaestina) and Israeli common oak (Quercus calliprinos). The open spaces and the areas between the trees are covered with batha plants such as sage-leaved rockrose (Cistus salviifolius), soft hairy rockrose (Cistus creticus), Syrian marjoram (Origanum syriacum) and thorny burnet (Sarcopoterium spinosum). A survey conducted by Ron Frumkin in 2008 recorded ninety-six species defined as being of special importance for conservation: of them fifty-nine were protected, thirty-one were rare and nine were flagged as “red,” i.e., in danger of extinction in Israel.

The open areas have been colonized by a wealth of annual and geophyte flowers. Flagship species here include hundreds of narcissi, cyclamen and anemones, together with numerous representatives of the orchid family, such as the pyramidal orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis), the drone bee-orchid (Ophrys holoserica), the Carmel bee-orchid (Ophrys umblicata), the early spider-orchid (Ophrys Sphegodes), the yellow bee-orchid (Ophrys lutea), Ophrys fleischmannii, the Anatolian orchid (Orchis anatolica), the Galilee orchid (Orchis galilaea), the butterfly orchid (Anacamptis papilionacea), the three-toothed orchid (Neotinea tridentata) and the narrow-leaved helleborine (Cephalanthera longifolia).

Large mammals inhabiting the forest include the mountain gazelle (Gazella gazella), the red fox (Vulpes vulpes), the golden jackal (Canis aureus) and the porcupine. Hundreds of migrating raptors – such as the steppe buzzard (Buteo vulpinus), the steppe eagle (Aquila nipalensis), the lesser spotted eagle (Aquila pomarina) and the black kite (Milvus migrans) – overnight in the forest, and the Eurasian sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) nests in the branches of its trees.

In springtime numerous varieties of insect such as the Old World swallowtail butterfly (Papilio machaon) make their way up to the top of Mitzpeh Naftoah hill. Two varieties of amphibian – the European green toad (Bufo viridis) and the Middle East tree frog (Hyla savignyi) – have also been observed in the area. Both are in danger of extinction.

The Biblical Garden

The forest is home to archeological discoveries from the period of the Judean kings (6th-8th century BCE), including fragments of pottery, wine presses, olive presses, lime pits, water cisterns and a device that may once have formed part of a millstone. The experts who conducted the archeological survey believe that the area was the site of agricultural settlement during the First and Second Temple periods, at a time when wine production was an important industry. The wine presses found at the site are notable for the large recesses cut into the wall adjacent to the pressing floor, in a style believed to have been characteristic of the late First Temple period.

These findings, together with the presence of plants mentioned in the Bible, encouraged Ramot resident Dr. Ricky Yona to create a biblical garden in the neighborhood, with the help of KKL-JNF and the local community. This site, which is currently in its initial stages of construction, is intended to preserve the local archeological discoveries, promote the care of shrubs and trees mentioned in the Bible, give visitors an impression of life in First Temple times and emphasize local community involvement in the site.

The site serves as a venue for family workshops and guided tours of the First Temple village. “The findings and the vegetation at the site are a national resource for tourism in Jerusalem,” says Ricky Yona. “We want to recreate the atmosphere of farming life here in Jerusalem in First Temple times. Among other things, we’re going to reconstruct the wine-making facilities, and we’ll bring the prophet Isaiah’s vineyard allegory to life, using the Biblical text as a foundation for unforgettable visits.”

The fight for the forest

or the construction of a new neighborhood at the expense of the forest. Ramot residents, however, are not prepared to surrender their sacred spot. After establishing the Ramot Environmental Association, they used it as a tool in their tremendous battle to conserve Ramot Forest as an open space. The Association is also involved in environmental education, rubbish recycling and the organization of local forest events. “If you want to conduct a successful struggle to conserve the environment, you would do well to learn from the Ramot Environmental Association,” says KKL-JNF Judean Hills Forest and Community Coordinator Gidi Bashan. KKL-JNF itself has made common cause with Ramot residents and helps them in their struggle.

“Our struggle began about twenty years ago,” explains Hilary Herzberger of the Ramot Environmental Association. “Building plans for a new neighborhood changed all the time, but one thing remained constant: they all came at the expense of the forest. We believe that the public has power, and we’re not going to let anyone else make our decisions for us.”

The battle has been conducted in a judicious manner and it is backed up by opinions from leading environmental professionals. The ecological survey carried out twenty years ago by Dr. Tamar Achiron-Frumkin and Dr. Ron Frumkin revealed the forest to be richly endowed with a wide biological variety of plants and wildlife, including several herds of gazelle (only an unusually unlucky visitor will not spot at least one gazelle while exploring the woodland).

During its struggle, the association has relied on documents and professional opinions to prove that land reserves in both Jerusalem and Ramot itself can meet local construction needs without damaging the forest. The association has set up a coalition of green organizations that includes KKL-JNF, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and the Ramot Alon Community Administration.

The association has submitted around eleven thousand (!) objections to the building plan in its most recent form. These include opposition from highly respected experts on ecology, economy and geography. In March 2016, after a day of listening to the objections, the researcher appointed by the planning committee for priority building areas realized that the planning process had been faulty from the start and returned the plans to the Jerusalem Municipality’s planning committee, which likewise submitted an objection to construction in Ramot Forest.

The Ramot Environmental Association, KKL-JNF and the Ramot Alon Community Association have submitted an alternative plan for the development of a community forest park for Ramot and Mitzpeh Naftoah. The plan was lodged with the regional committee, and after it was returned to the normal Jerusalem planning channels, Jerusalem’s mayor, speaking in the local committee, expressed a desire to participate in the plan as a stakeholder. “Just recently the mayor of Jerusalem was supposed to sign off on KKL-JNF’s plan for the city’s development,” says Hilary Herzberger. “We are grateful to him for opposing the construction plan and for having said that he wants the municipality to be involved, but we’re still waiting impatiently for him to sign.”

An excursion along the Ramot Forest trails

Ramot Forest contains two circular routes indicated by trail markings: the Mitzpeh Naftoah Trail (black markings) and the Gazelle Trail (Shvil HaTzvaim; red markings). The most convenient starting point for both trails is Hedgehog Park (Gan HaKipod), which takes its name from the attractive children’s slide in the form of a prickly hedgehog. As the routes are circular, the park will also be our finishing point. Adjacent to the park, in the shade of the conifers, is the Ramot Forest Picnic\Recreation Area.

The Mitzpeh Naftoah Trail is 1.5 kilometers long, and the Gazelle Trail is 2.5 kilometers long. Both trails start out along the same route but diverge later.

The shared section of route

As soon as we leave Hedgehog Park we are greeted by a KKL-JNF sign bearing a map of the forest trails. About fifty meters further on we arrive at a blue-marked trail. If we turned to the left here, we would find ourselves on the promenade route, but instead we turn right, and just a few steps further on, we see on our left two domes of the kind familiar from sheikhs’ tombs in the Judean Hills. In this case, however, they belong to an art installation entitled ‘Tagine LeMakom’, which was made by girls from the Or Torah school under the guidance of artist Asher Dahan, in order to create a meaningful connection between the environment and its ancient culture.

To the right of the trail is the forked trunk of a eucalyptus tree, which is the work of pupils from the same school, this time under the direction of artist Amir Baumfeld. The girls have decorated the tree trunk with carved motifs that express unity and peace between human beings and between humankind and nature.

About a hundred meters further on we arrive at another junction where a green-marked trail branches off to the left. Before we follow it, however, it is highly recommended to turn right, walk for about 200 meters and make your way down the slope to the Biblical Garden. After we visit it, we retrace our steps back to the junction and continue straight on along the green-marked trail for another 100 meters or so, until we meet up with a black-marked trail that will take us to the top of Mitzpeh Naftoah.

This is the point at which the two routes diverge, and it is indicated by signs on a yellow background, in the signposting style used in Jerusalem Park. From here the longer, green-marked trail and the shorter, black-marked one go their separate ways. KKL-JNF and the Jerusalem Development Authority are currently busy planning and constructing a convenient path that will start at this point and link the Ramot neighborhood with the Jerusalem Park trail network. The new path will be designed to accommodate walkers, cyclists and families with baby buggies or pushchairs. In the meantime, however, we can enjoy the two routes described below.

The short route: Mitzpeh Naftoah Trail

This trail makes its way uphill through a sparse KKL-JNF forest and brings us quickly and easily to the summit, which is 707 meters above sea level. As we explore the hilltop we have views of the village of Lifta (Naftoah) and the northern outskirts of Jerusalem including Givat Shaul, Har Hotzvim, Pisgat Zeev and Nebi Samuel. The path leads us in a circle round the summit before bringing us back to our starting point.

The long route: The Gazelle Trail

From the point at which the two paths diverge the Gazelle Trail leads us to the right, down the slope into Cedar Valley (green trail markings), which can be seen now in all its glory. The railway bridge for the new train route to Jerusalem crosses the valley from side to side. To the right of the path is a fairly new olive grove planted on terraces. The grove appears overgrown and its trees blend in well with the natural surroundings of Ramot Forest.

Some three hundred meters further on we arrive at the Turchiner Recreation Area that was created by KKL-JNF in the shade of the forest trees. The site takes its name from the Turchiner (Tur Sinai) family, which in the 1950s planted orchards in Cedar Valley and along the northern slopes of Mitzpeh Naftoah. All that remains of their enterprise today is the farm adjacent to the recreation area, where organic produce is grown. It is also a popular wedding venue.

This recreation area is another important crossroads. From here we can descend directly into Cedar Valley (green trail markings), but our Gazelle Trail (red markings) instead skirts the recreation area and makes its way uphill along the paved road at the edge of the planted forest on the western slope of Mitzpeh Naftoah. The houses of Lifta as well as Highway 1 on the far side of Cedar Valley can be clearly seen from here.

The Gazelle trail skirts the lower slopes of Mitzpeh Naftoah, and it is here that we have a very good chance of spotting gazelles. Once more our route leads us among olive groves that appear to have been abandoned, before bringing us to the blue-marked Promenade Trail below the Ramot neighborhood. Here we turn left, and as we make our way through the trees we very soon find ourselves back at our starting point.