American Independence Park - Friendship through Nature

USA Independence Park. Photo: Guy Assayag
USA Independence Park. Photo: Guy Assayag

American Independence Park (AIP) extends from Mahsiya Junction near Beit Shemesh to Bar-Giora Junction, on the southwestern slopes of the Judean Hills. It honors the deep ties between America and Israel.

The Mount Yaaleh Ridge and the Sorek River Nature Reserve are located in the northern section of the park, and the Sansan Ridge is in the south. KKL-JNF began to develop the park in 1976 to mark the 200th anniversary year of American independence, and it has provided the site with picnic areas, active leisure sites, scenic lookouts and footpaths. KKL-JNF has restored the area’s natural woodland and archeological sites and has established a bureau near Bar-Giora Junction where visitors can obtain information about excursions and other recreational possibilities the region has to offer.

  • How to get there

    1. From Jerusalem: From the Ein Kerem neighborhood in West Jerusalem take Route no. 386 from the Kerem Junction and continue along the Sorek River (Nahal Soreq) until you meet up with the Jerusalem railroad at Refaim River (Nahal Refa’im). From here the road leads up to Moshav Bar Giora, which is situated at the approach to the park.
    2. From Beit Shemesh: Take Route no. 3866, which climbs up the hill close to Moshav Mahseya until it reaches Mount Yaaleh.
    3. From the southwest: Take the Ela Valley Road (Route no. 375) that ascends to the park via Kibbutz Netiv HaLamed-Hey, Tzur Hadassah and Moshav Bar Giora.
  • Geographic location-

    Jerusalem - Judean highlands and surroundings
  • Area-

  • Special Sites in the Park-

    A memorial to the victims of the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster, a memorial to Ilan Ramon (who died in the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster), the Forester’s House (Beit HaYa‘aran), Sorek Cave, Forester’s Hill (Har Ya‘aran), Mount Yaaleh, ruins of a Byzantine church.
  • Facilities-

    Picinic area, Lookout, Marked path, Archeological or Historic site, Active Recreation, Accessible site.
  • Other sites in the area-

    The Ein Kerem neighborhood, the Sorek River, the Refaim River, Moshav Bar Giora, Kibbutz Netiv HaLamed-Hey, Tzur Hadassah.
  • סוג חניון-

    Accessible parks,Overnight parks,Picnic parks
  • Interest-

    Hiking and Walking Tracks,Lookouts,Archeology

Projects and Partners Worldwide

Independence Park was restored and developed thanks
to contributions from Friends of JNF USA.
Photo: KKL-JNF Archive
Photo: KKL-JNF Archive

About the Park

KKL-JNF began to develop the park in 1976, the 200th anniversary year of American independence, to celebrate the relationship between the two freedom-loving countries, Israel and the US. The forest developed and extended an existing woodland planted in the region in the 1950s by new immigrants from the surrounding area and nearby Beit Shemesh, who had arrived soon after the founding of the State of Israel.

Along the forest’s main roads, KKL-JNF has provided a large number of picnic areas, active recreation facilities and scenic lookouts that provide a magnificent view of the enchanting landscapes of the Sorek River and the Judean Hills, all the way from Jerusalem to the Mediterranean Sea. KKL-JNF has also provided footpaths that lead to attractive corners of the park, and the natural woodlands and archeological sites have been restored. The central area of the park offers a landscape of ridges and gullies and includes two nature reserves: Nahal Dolev (“Plane-Tree River”) and Nahal HaMe‘ara (“Cave River”).

Near Bar-Giora Junction KKL-JNF operates a center where visitors can obtain information on recreational and excursion possibilities in the area. The center’s permanent on-site presentation offers pictures, maps, suggestions of routes to follow and places to visit, information on beauty spots and archeological sites and useful background on the region, including geological, botanical and zoological explanations and charts.

The center is open every day of the week from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m., and it also offers services for visitors with mobility problems. Next to the information center is a café called Bar BaHar (“Bar on the Hill”), tel: 02-5333889. A number of local excursion routes begin at the center, and there are entrances to the park to both east and west, with an additional entrance to the southwest.

Photo: KKL-JNF Archive
Photo: KKL-JNF Archive

Routes within the Park

The route described below is accessed from the Beit Shemesh Industrial Area. At the start of Route no. 3866, near the entrance to Moshav Mahsiya, we turn eastwards and follow the road that takes us from the plain up into the hills until we reach Har Ya'alah Junction. This road was built by KKL-JNF and named Humphrey Road in honor of Hubert H. Humphrey, 38th vice president of the United States (1965–69), who was a true friend to Israel. The road that bears his name is around ten kilometers long, and it is the main highway linking the hill settlements to the city of Beit Shemesh and the communities of Israel’s Coastal Plain. Around 1.5 kilometers from the start of the road, we arrive at the western gate to the park, a site that includes a scenic lookout and recreation areas. Near the entrance is Mount Haruz, where archeological remains have been found, including wine presses, tombs and the remnants of buildings from the Second Temple period.

Photo: Guy Assayag
Photo: Guy Assayag

Further along the way, we pass a number of recreational areas and scenic lookouts, including a site equipped with a football pitch and a model of an ancient watchman’s shelter. Further up the road is the Forester’s House, a pre-State stone structure that has been restored by KKL-JNF. Beside it is a recreation area that includes children’s playground equipment and a scenic lookout with pergolas and seating facilities.

The road continues on to the Ya'alah Junction, but just before we arrive there we pass a memorial to the Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon who perished in the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster. The site offers a fine view of the surrounding countryside. Nearby is another memorial, dedicated to the memory of Israel Sela ; a rock engraved with the map of the Land of Israel. As we reach the junction, we see on our left an impressive memorial dedicated to the memory of the astronauts who died in the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster, in the form of an elliptic metal sculpture by Eli Ran that symbolizes the Earth.

Photo: KKL-JNF Archive
Photo: KKL-JNF Archive

If we want to visit the Sorek Cave, Israel’s most beautiful stalactite cave, we must turn left at the junction. After visiting the cave, we’ll return to the junction by the same route, then turn left along the dirt road that will take us to Forester’s Hill (Har Ya‘aran), the highest point in the park. From here we have a magnificent view of the area: the Judean Plain and the southern Coastal Plain to the west, Sorek River and the Jerusalem Hills to the north and Mount Hebron to the east. A natural footpath provides a route around the top of the hill, and it is here that KKL-JNF has situated its firewatchers’ lookout (please don’t try to climb the tower!).

Here, at the top of the hill, an explanatory sign describes the battle sites in the region, while the many remains scattered around are reminders of the Arab Village Deir al-Hawa, which was occupied in the 1948 Hill Campaign. At the height of Israel’s War of Independence, until Succoth 1948, the area south of the railway line from Jerusalem to Hartov station was “the other side of the border.” At this stage in the fighting, the Egyptian army had reached Ramat Rachel at the southern approach to Jerusalem, and the “shared fortified height” (i.e., “shared” by the Jewish Harel Brigade in the north and Egyptian forces in the south) where the town of Beit Shemesh stands today. During the Hill Campaign, which took place on October 19th-22nd, 1948, the IDF extended its control into the area across the Sorek River and the railway line all the way to Sansan Ridge, to the south of the highway from the Ela Valley to Bethlehem (Route no. 375). This, in effect, completed the creation of the Jerusalem Corridor.

The remains of the village and remnants of a more ancient settlement from the Byzantine period have been restored by young volunteers from overseas who have been working here for a number of years.

From the top of Mount Ya'alah we can descend on foot, following the footpath marked with a broken green line, which joins up later with another footpath marked in black that allows us to enjoy the wonderful meanderings of Sorek River gully – a three-hour route for experienced walkers. We can climb up to the ruins at Khirbet Tura and visit Dar al-Sheikh. Our route concludes at the KKL-JNF Bar BaHar Information Bureau.

As we walk along, we can observe the railway line that was first laid here in 1880s, and which is undergoing improvements and upgrades in preparation for its return to service.

Photo: KKL-JNF Archive
Photo: KKL-JNF Archive

To return to the main park road, we now travel eastwards, passing a road that leads south as we do so. Here, adjacent to Moshav Nes Harim, KKL-JNF has established a planting center and an educational field center that is usually filled with young people who come to engage in activities in the woodland. We continue along the main route until we reach the big Nes Harim Recreation Area to the east of the moshav. This recreation site occupies both sides of the road, and it is accessible to wheelchairs and visitors with mobility problems. It is also equipped with a children’s playground, benches and picnic facilities.

A footpath marked in black departs from the southern section of the recreation area, leading to Khirbet Beit Itab. This route is designed for families, and takes about two hours there and back. From Beit Itab we can continue to Nahal HaMeara (“Cave River”) and the Twins’ Cave (Me‘arat HaTe’omim). This route is for good walkers, and it is marked in red; vehicles should wait on Route no. 3855.

After our break in the recreation area, we continue along the main route until we reach KKL-JNF’s Information Bureau, which we described at the beginning of this article. From here we can depart on a number of walking tours of the area: Nahal Ktalav (“Arbutus River”), the Nahal Sorek Scenic Trail, a circular route opposite Nahal Ktalav (Also known as Schuster) and Nahal HaMeara. Bicycle routes are also available.

A scenic promenade 600 meters long, which starts at the Information Bureau and ends at the Nes Harim recreation area, overlooks the landscapes of the Sorek River. Surfaced with asphalt, it is suitable for all the family and especially accessible to visitors with limited mobility. Along the route, close to the Information Bureau, is an assembly area that can host up to sixty people for musical events in natural surroundings.

Photo: Guy Assayag
Photo: Guy Assayag

Back on the road, heading southeast, we reach Bar-Giora Junction, and further on (on Route no. 386), we come to the fork near Tzur Hadassah. Moshav Bar Giora is situated on the remains of a British officers’ recreational facility called Allar. The presence of this camp would appear to be the reason why the British planted one of the first forests of Jerusalem pine trees here. The forest was partly damaged in the snow of the 1990s, but today it is recovering and the natural woodland it contains – mainly oak, arbutus and terebinth – is being renewed and restored.

At the fork, we turn towards the southwest (Route no. 375) on to the continuation of the park road along the ridge between the Sansan and Zanoah rivers. This road takes us to Khirbet Hanut, about 1.5 after the turn to Moshav Mata. At the site the remains of a Byzantine church, a caravanserai and ancient wine presses can be seen.

A magnificent mosaic floor found inside the church has been covered with sand in order to preserve it. From Khirbet Hanut, we can embark on a number of different routes, either on foot or by car. The Emperor’s Road begins here, parallel to Route no. 375, and descends for three kilometers until it reaches the restored remains of an olive press. Part of this trail follows the route of the Roman highway constructed from Ashkelon to Jerusalem in honor of the Emperor Hadrian (hence its name).

Today this trail is popular with cyclists who enjoy a challenging route – please take care!

Photo: Guy Assayag
Photo: Guy Assayag

Back on the main road we find ourselves headed for the exit from the park. When we reach the junction we can either turn right on to Route no. 3855t, returning to our departure point in Beit Shemesh, or we can continue on to the Ela Valley and the Adullam region. The route is marked in black. It begins at the Bar Giora Information Bureau and leads westwards along the southern slope of the Sorek River as far as Mount Ya'alah. It is classified as an “easy” or “intermediate” route, and is suitable for families.