Blue Valley Park - Safed, Israel

Photograph: Avishai Tamuz Cohen, KKL-JNF

Blue Valley Park is situated at the northern approach to Tzfat. Its springs and orchards are nestled below Mount Meron.

Blue Valley Park extends over an area of around 580 dunam (approx 145 acres) at the northern approach to Tzfat. Its springs and orchards are overlooked by Mount Meron, which is visible from almost every corner of this park where deer, ibex and antelope graze among the footpaths. The paths were developed by KKL-JNF, working in conjunction with the Tzfat Municipality, and this partnership has also restored the springs, created pools and tended the orchards. The park gives residents of Tzfat and its environs an opportunity to enjoy nature close to home, while visitors from all over the country will enjoy taking a quiet break in the forest during their exploration of the city of the Kabbalists.

  • How to get there

    To the park gate:
    From the main entrance to Tzfat, drive in the direction of the city’s Central Bus Station. At about 500 meters from the main entrance junction, turn right into the park’s parking lot.

    To the pick-up point:
    Drive to the old cemetery of Tzfat and continue along the dirt road that follows the cemetery fence north until you reach the parking area.
    Note: The route this pick-up point serves is designed for fit and experienced walkers only.
  • Opening hours

    Daylight saving time:
    Sunday to Thursday: 7:30-17:45;
    Friday: 7:30-15:45; Saturday: 7:30-17:45

    Entrance to the park is up to an hour before closure

  • Entrance fee

    Entrance to the park is free.
  • Geographic location-

    northern Israel - Upper Galilee
  • Area-

  • Special Sites in the Area-

    The animal park, Nahal Birya (“Birya River”), Ein Hasil, the Blue Spring (Ma‘yan HaTekhelet), Ein al-Afya spring, Ein Sis spring.
  • Facilities-

    Picinic area, lookout, marked path.
  • Other sites in the area-

  • Interest-

    Hiking and Walking Tracks,Lookouts

Projects and Partners Worldwide

The Blue Valley Park was rehabilitated and developed thanks to the support of friends of KKL-JNF worldwide, including Australia and Canada.
An ibex in Blue Valley Park. Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive.

About the park

KKL-JNF, working in conjunction with the Tzfat Municipality, has provided the park with paths, restored its springs, created pools and tended its orchards. The park, which offers an opportunity for the peaceful enjoyment of nature, is designed for walkers, but not, however, for cyclists. motor vehicles are prohibited.

The park offers two walking routes:

The short route: Beside the pools (station no. 1) KKL-JNF has provided a circular route accessible to all and equipped with benches along its length. The two kilometers between stations 1 and 9 are suitable for all the family.

The long route: The full route from the park gate to the pick-up point measures around 4.5 kilometers. The lower section of this trail is steep, and thus suitable only for fit and experienced walkers.

Photo: Yaakov Shkolnik

The animal park

The park is home to a number of animals brought from elsewhere that now wander around it freely. These include the Nubian Ibex familiar to us from the precipitous landscapes of the Judean Desert and the Negev, whose curved horns and goatee beard (in the male of the species) are instantly recognizable. A small herd of spotted deer (Cervus axis) roam among the trees. In the summer the males grow branched antlers, which they shed when spring arrives.

Another horned inhabitant of the park is the antelope, a wild native of the deserts of North Africa, where it is in danger of extinction.

The park is also home to the Australian emu, a large flightless bird somewhat resembling an ostrich. The female emu lays up to fifteen eggs in a single clutch, but leaves it to the male to sit on them and incubate them.

Photo: Yaakov Shkolnik

Walking in the park

From the entrance gate we take the dirt road to the north, heading towards the pools KKL-JNF has created along the riverbed, where ducks and geese can be seen swimming happily. From the pools, we turn right along a paved path that runs parallel to the course of Nahal Birya, which rises on the slopes of Mount Canaan and Mount Birya and flows down along the entire length of Blue Valley Park. It drains into Nahal Sechvi, which is one of the tributaries of Nahal Amud.

The path makes its way among tall silver poplar trees that create pleasantly cool pools of shade in summer and drop handsome yellowing leaves in winter. At the third bridge, we cross over to the western bank of the river and, after turning left, we reach Ein Hasil. The Hebrew word hasil is the name of one of the types of locust mentioned in the Bible: “He gave also their crops to the grasshopper and the product of their labor to the locust…” (Psalms 78:46). This Hebrew name reflects something of the sound of the Arabic name of the spring, Ein al-Hasil, which means “Harvest Spring.” In the past, this water was used to irrigate vegetable gardens.

Now we return to the bridge and continue north along the meandering path, passing another small spring along the way. The soil of the park is of the pale rendzina type, which contains impermeable layers of chalk. When a chalk layer is exposed, the rainwater that has been absorbed into the ground emerges as small springs, and five such springs flow in the park throughout most of the year.

Ma'yan HaTkhelet. Photo: Yaakov Shkolnik
Ma'yan HaTkhelet. Photo: Yaakov Shkolnik

Here the path splits in two, but either route will take us to the next station along the way, which is Ma‘yan HaTekhelet (“The Blue Spring”). The small tunnel that was dug beside the path at some point in the past and which is now lined with hewn stones was designed to increase the spring’s rate of flow, and its water was channeled into a plastered pool from which it flowed down to the small plots of land below. KKL-JNF has restored the pool and built a stone wall on the slope above it to prevent landslides or subsidence of the Meron-Tzfat Highway (Route no. 89), which passes close by. Ancient carobs and fruit trees planted beside the spring by KKL-JNF complete the pastoral scene.

Here we make our way downhill once more, to station no. 3, and from there we descend along an unpaved path until it meets up with a bridge and a broad dirt road that once linked Tzfat to Birya.

In the Talmudic period, Birya was a Jewish township that was home to many renowned sages. Much later it was the scene of the activities of Rabbi Joseph Caro, one of the great halachic arbiters, and it was in Birya, in 1555, that he completed his book Orah Hayim, which forms part of his great work the Shulhan Arukh. Towards the end of the 16th century, however, the Jews of Birya appear to have abandoned the township. The Arab village that sprang up later on the site preserved its ancient Hebrew name, and its inhabitants, together with those of Kfar Zeitim, supplied agricultural produce to Tzfat: the paved road we are walking along now was once used by the donkeys and mules that carried this produce to the town’s Friday market.

A bridge over Birya River. Photo: KKL-JNF Archive
A bridge over Birya River. Photo: KKL-JNF Archive

Present-day Birya, which occupies what was formerly the site of the Arab village, was founded in 1949 as a foresters’ community. The Meron-Tzfat Highway (Route no. 89), which skirts the park to the north, dates back to 1915; since the construction of the new road, the importance of the old one has greatly declined.

The road is bordered by tall cypress trees that mark the site of the Muslim and Christian Arab cemetery that dates from the late Ottoman period. Ancient mastic trees grow among the graves, and in March this area teems with wild flowers such as chamomile (Anthemis), red chamomile (Adonis microcarpa), star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum), Italian orchids, fan-lipped orchids and Dinsmore’s orchids.

In April and May, the site is bright with the flowers of the Mesopotamian Iris, a species often found in Arab cemeteries. The flowering stalks of these plants can reach a height of 1.2 meters and they bear three or four large bluish-violet flowers. In the past this iris was believed to belong to a cultivated variety that had spread into the wild, but in recent years wild populations of it have been discovered in Upper Galilee and on the northern Golan Heights and Mount Hermon.

When we reach the pools (station no. 1) we can choose to end our walk at this point and return to our vehicle, in accordance with the short version of the route. Or, alternatively, we can continue slightly further and keep on walking downstream to station no. 9 before returning to our vehicle; those interested in continuing the long route until the very end will continue onwards after station no. 9 to the stations beyond. Some 200 meters further on the path is crossed by a grid beneath which flows a channel that drains a small spring. This is all that remains of Ein al-Afya, which once emerged around 100 meters uphill from this spot. This spring, whose waters were renowned in the annals of Tzfat for their curative properties, was destroyed in an excess of enthusiasm when the park was created. Although it is now covered up, its waters continue to flow underground down the slope before emerging at this point.

Beside the path, KKL-JNF has created shady sitting areas that provide a close view of the wealth of vegetation along the riverbank, which includes brambles, willows and fig trees. In summer, the banks are covered in flowering mint and willowherb. A short walk will bring us to the pergola that shades the observation platform that looks westwards towards the Ramat Yehoyariv ridge, Moshav Meron and the tall peaks of (from right to left) Mount Adir, Mount Hiram and Mount Meron.

An easy climb up a stepped path brings us to a fork adjacent to a grove of bear’s plum trees, a species found growing wild in Israel only in the heights of Upper Galilee. We take the right fork here and descend steeply (take care – it can be slippery here in winter!) to a beautiful spot where the river tumbles down a small waterfall into a pool. The edges of the pool and the waterfall wall are covered with fig trees and maidenhair ferns. The right-hand side of the path to the waterfall is damp, and drains into a channel covered by a grating. The source of this water is an inaccessible hidden spring called Ein Sis after the swifts (Sis HaHomot in Hebrew) that frequent the area. The Hebrew name of these birds retains something of the sound of the Arabic name of the spring – Ein Sayis, i.e., “Stableman’s Spring.”

Beside the pool below the waterfall, a wooden platform juts out, surrounded by a rail. The rock wall above it drips with water from another small and inaccessible spring that has no name and is not marked on the maps. Because of its awkward location on the sloping edge of the cliff, this spring may never have been used for irrigation, and so it appears to have been forgotten. It is very possible that additional springs make their appearance in this area in years when rainfall is especially abundant, only to disappear again in dryer years.

View to Mount Meron. Photo: Yaakov Shkolnik
View to Mount Meron. Photo: Yaakov Shkolnik

Here we retrace our steps slightly, and at the first fork we take the right-hand path, which leads downwards. We cross a small bridge shaded by eucalyptus and white willow trees, which affords us a view of the river vegetation, and the path leads us to pools where ducks and geese are paddling. In springtime we can sit beside the pools amid carpets of wildflowers. The hillsides around us are covered with thorny burnet (Sarcopoterium spinosum) and scattered with stalks bearing the pinkish lilac flowers of Jerusalem sage.

The end of the route

1st option: If you’ve left your car in the parking lot at the entrance to the park, we recommend finishing your walk at this point and returning to your vehicle. Fit and experienced walkers, however, are invited to continue and complete the Long Route.

2nd option: We can follow the dirt road westwards, exit the park through a gate in the fence and continue walking until we reach the pick-up point to the north of Tzfat’s old cemetery. Near the pick-up point, our route melds with a broad dirt road that descends from the village of Ein Zeitim before climbing up to the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Tzfat. This ancient road was the main entrance to the town until 1915, when Route no. 89 was built, and it was the route taken by Palmach fighters in Israel’s War of Independence when they came to the aid of the beleaguered town.

Opening hours

Sun - Thu: 08:00-15:30
Fri & eve of festivals: 08:00-13:00
Park is closed on Sabbath and festivals

Groups must book in advance, by calling 054-3929898

Entrance is free