September is not only one of Israel’s most beautiful months, it also has some of the most important holidays in the Jewish calendar where vacations are expected especially to beautiful nature destinations in Israel. We’ve already celebrated Rosh Ha Shanah and Sukkot is almost here. After the solemnity and quiet introspection of Yom Kippur, Sukkot is a wonderful opportunity to enjoy ourselves. Families across Israel will be indulging their children with a home-built sukkah and outdoor meals and stories.
Sukkot is also a traditional time to venture out for walks, picnics, and fun days in Israel’s parks and nature reserves or any nature destinations in Israel. It’s a great chance for the whole family to get together and reconnect with nature – and for the kids to burn off some energy in a natural setting. There are no reports of any new COVID-19 restrictions for the remaining holidays, so Sukkot could be a lot of fun!
Everybody who’s hoping for some outdoor activity will be watching the weather forecasts carefully. The first day of autumn or fall this year is Wednesday the 22nd of September. We’re in the beautiful transitional month when the summer heat finally eases off, the days become more comfortable and the evenings are pleasantly cool. Well, in theory anyway… This is Israel and the weather doesn’t always obey the rules!
Sudden September heatwaves are not unknown. Last September delivered a scorching 8-day heatwave all the way up to 49℃ or 120 ℉ in some places – literally almost halfway to boiling point! If you’re planning a trip to a nature reserve, a hiking expedition this Sukkot, or any destinations in Israel, it’s worth having a Plan B just in case. Plan B basically has to involve air conditioning, which for most people will mean staying at home.
Staying at home needn’t be a drag. Plenty of people are already planning a quiet few days with family and friends. It’s a great chance to catch up with anybody you didn’t get to see over Rosh Ha Shana. Make an event out of kicking back and enjoying a good movie, catching up on some sleep, and just relaxing. 2021 was a really difficult and stressful year for a lot of Olim. Holidays are important and Israeli companies generally don’t offer enough paid leave. Recharge your batteries and find some balance if you struggled due to the COVID lockdowns or the economic situation.
Walk around any Israeli neighborhood and you’ll see the annual Sukkot construction boom underway. There’s also a sudden demand for s’chach palm leaves as families build a sukkah in the garden. These days, the traditional requirements for a sukkah that is open on two sides, with just a basic roof that can let in some rain have lapsed. Don’t be surprised if you see sukkahs that contain a small sofa and a TV, and take the place of the living room for a week. Some people go all the way, and run a small beer fridge on an extension cable. Most people will settle for a table and a few folding chairs and will bring out the evening meal on trays to give their children a taste of tradition.
As well as commemorating the forty years that the Israelites wandered in the wilderness, Sukkot is partly also a harvest festival. There isn’t really a single food associated with Sukkot, but there are some culinary traditions. Kreplach is usually eaten on the seventh day of the holiday – often with a soup prepared from harvest vegetables. Challah dipped in honey is a big favorite. Gefilte fish is often a Sukkot staple; Israelis tend to either love or hate the dish, with no in-between. Traditionalists will also eat a couple of ounces of grain inside the sukkah on the first night of Sukkot. Apart from that, Sukkot meals are a question of personal taste.
Another feature of the Sukkot break is a mass exodus of Israelis to the country’s wonderful national parks and nature destinations in Israel. This sounds delightful, but it can have its drawbacks. At the very worst, a Sukkot picnic in the park can involve hundreds of families crammed onto every green space, almost like summer sunbathers on a Tel Aviv beach. The following morning can require a major cleaning operation to remove the tons of dropped litter.
If you’re looking for a quieter or more private outdoor experience, it pays to plan ahead. If you’re willing to travel a little further into the countryside, it’s easy to find a quiet spot that you can share with like-minded people. What you need is a location that offers a degree of flexibility. Basic facilities like convenient parking, a small kiosk or shop, water fountains, toilets, and shade are a must for many families. It’s also great to be able to take a five or ten-minute walk away from these, and suddenly feel like you’re in a genuine wilderness. If you have kids, you need a location where they can run and play freely, but you can still keep an eye on them.
Check out some of the nature destinations in Israel and amazing national parks and beauty spots below. It’s not a definitive list – and we’ll feature more in the future – but there are some great places to try out this Sukkot. All the listed sites are accessible to the average family and offer enough variety to keep both children and adults interested and engaged. Whether you plan to park up and spread out a picnic blanket and enjoy the view or try a more ambitious hike, you’ll find something to suit your needs.
Israel is a small country that punches above its weight in pretty much every field. National parks and nature reserves are no exception – the country is full of them!
Although Ein Gedi and Masada National Park are separate places, they are conveniently close to each other. Ein Gedi is a peaceful desert oasis that offers a snapshot of Israel’s entire history. It dates back to the neolithic age and has a history and archaeology that covers every subsequent historical period. The modern nature reserve extends over 3,500 acres and is a favorite with bird watchers. You may also see animals like the Nubian ibex and hyrax.
Masada is worth an article in its own right. If you’re visiting the national park there, you’ll see some of Israel’s most stunning scenery. Dawn and sunset visits are especially spectacular. If you want to visit the monument you have a choice of Snake Path, the Roman Ramp Path, or a more leisurely cable car ascent.
Anybody who loves Masada will also enjoy Advat (south of Sde Boker). The ancient remains of a Nabatean city sit on a desert hilltop above the Tsin watercourse. The scenery is amazing and there is still a real sense of history, as well as a glimpse into an ancient desert culture.
The Negev is Israel’s true wilderness. If you’re visiting the Negev over Sukkot, expect hot temperatures and plan accordingly. There are some amazing locations that every Israeli should visit at least once!
The Golan is a truly wonderful place in September and October, especially if there is early rainfall. The Hermon National Park contains Israel’s only ski resort, located on the iconic snow-capped Mount Hermon. The whole area is ideal for hikers and the local Druze villages have some good restaurants. Popular destinations include the dramatic ruins of Nimrod Castle, once home to a Crusader garrison. Another ancient site in the area is Banias associated with the Greek god Pan. The remains of the temple and the grotto are definitely worth a visit.
If you’re touring the Golan, Gamla National Park has an important historical site. The site has huge symbolic significance to modern Israelis and is a fascinating and compelling location.
A quick drive will take you to the Tel Dan Nature Reserve and another important archaeological site. The tel (artificial mound) is likely an ancient city belonging to the Tribe of Dan. Its history can be traced back to neolithic times. If you visit, check out the Paradise Springs and the Abraham or Canaanite Gate, and the Israelite Gate.
One of the best hikes in the upper Galil is Nahal Kziv. The winding river path goes inland from the coast all the way to Montfort Castle – a striking Crusader ruin set on a rocky outcrop. The route is too long for the average day hiker, but any shorter section of it is a real pleasure. The entire area is great for rambling and exploring and nearby towns and villages like Mi’ilya, Abirim, and Hurfeish are good places to try appetizing Druze food.
A little further to the North is the coastal site of Rosh HaNikra. It’s almost on the border with Lebanon and is famous for its spectacular chalk caves and grottoes. Rosh HaNikra also boasts the world’s steepest cable car ascent with a gradient of 60 degrees. The tunnels were part of the old Cairo to Istanbul railway line and Rosh HaNikra was a strategic point on the ancient Middle Eastern trade routes. It was also the Northernmost border of the Tribes of Israel.
Going back a few hundred years, when modern Israel was a minor province of the Ottoman Empire, the landscape was quite heavily wooded. Going back to biblical times, parts of the country had substantial forests. The main trees were evergreen oaks, pines, and the distinctive terebinth or turpentine tree. Sycamore figs were also found in some parts of the country. The human population was small, wildlife was abundant and there was real biodiversity.
Historical Turkish railroad construction created a demand for wood and deforestation changed the landscape. Israel’s forests suffered systematic neglect until the establishment of the state. Since the 1950s we’ve seen an ambitious and successful reforestation scheme and the development of some stunning managed woodland. The Jewish National Fund planted over 180 million trees and created 280 forests.
One major problem is the recent spate of forest fires that blighted the environment, caused major destruction, and cost lives. If there is a sudden heatwave this month, we’d recommend caution when visiting forests. Check with the local authorities before planning a trip, and observe fire safety precautions if you visit these nature destinations in Israel.
The most popular Israeli forests include:
If you enjoy mountain biking, Israel’s forest trails can offer an exciting day out. There are plenty of routes that are easy enough for all the family. The forests can also offer some welcome shade and provide excellent picnic locations. Although it’s not the season yet, there are plenty of edible mushrooms growing in Israeli forests. It’s worth returning later in the year to pick them.
Whatever your plans are for the holidays, visiting nature destinations in Israel or not, we hope you’ll have a great time. We’d like to wish you and your family a Chag Sameach!
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