Until a few years ago, Israel’s most delightful natural phenomena and unique historic sites were out of bounds to parents whose toddlers were in strollers, anyone with a cane, and people who could only move about in wheelchairs. That meant whole families were stuck at home, staring at the walls, while the rest of the country could enjoy riverside trails, waterfalls, unique memorials and stupendous views – and picnicking in the forest.
Not any more, however — at least not in the Upper Galilee and Golan Heights, the best places to be in the summer. Here are a handful of northern sites that are suitable for everyone:
1. Me’arat Keshet (Keshet Cave): Off Route 8993
Once accessible only to good hikers, Keshet Cave is situated inside the Jewish National Fund’s beautiful Adamit Park. An asphalt path leads to the cave. Get there by following Route 899 east from Rosh Hanikra and heading north at the sign for Kibbutz Adamit (Route 8993). After your visit, enjoy a picnic at any number of lovely sites.
2. Montfort Observation Point: Off Route 899, east of Kibbutz Eilon
Situated on the slopes of a hill and surrounded by rich green trees all year, the Montfort Citadel is a dazzling sight. It is particularly stunning in late afternoon when the setting sun lights up portions of the fortress.
Montfort was originally built in Roman times. During the early Crusader period a small fortress was put up on the same site, apparently to defend a French nobleman’s estate. Decades later, the German Teutonic Order decided to set up its own headquarters. They bought Montfort (“strong mountain”) in 1228, then expanded and beautified the citadel until it became one of the loveliest in the whole Crusader Kingdom.
Your best view of Montfort is from within the JNF’s Goren Park, situated in the heart of the largest natural forest in the country and above the longest riverbed in the Galilee Nahal Kziv. From the Montfort Observation Point – easy to find – you have a breathtaking view of the citadel and the lush, green riverbed.
3. Tel Dan Nature Reserve: Off Highway 99 east of Kiryat Shmona
Few sights are more refreshing than a delightfully flowing river – like the glorious Dan. At the Tel Dan Nature Reserve, an excellent wheelchair–accessible path takes you over and right next to the river, with its deliciously rushing waters. The circular path takes about 45 minutes, during which you can enjoy the thickets on both sides of bridges built over the Dan’s flow.
On one side, you may see exceptionally tall Syrian ash trees endemic to Turkey and accustomed to freezing whether. And only a few meters away from the Syrian ash, stand thriving laurel (bay) trees, the kind whose leaves are used for cooking. Laurel trees need a Mediterranean climate, and that, too, is found in the reserve!
Excavations at Tel Dan have uncovered unique and fascinating remains, some of which have been restored. These are not wheelchair accessible, so instead, follow up your trip with a visit to nearby Beit Ussishkin. A natural history museum offering a fascinating overview of the region’s natural phenomena, it is also the only place in the world where the whole development of the biblical city of Dan is on display. Here you can find artifacts from four biblical eras: The time of Abraham, the period of the Judges, the Israelite Conquest and the divided Kingdom.
4. Ancient Katzrin Village: Near modern Katzrin, on Route 9088
When you visit an archeological site, your imagination has to work hard to fill in the holes. The restorations at ancient Katzrin, however, offer a unique and effortless peek into the past. Located about one kilometer east of modern Katzrin, the village was re created by archeologists and experts in Jewish law, and realistically portrays Jewish life between the 4th and 7th centuries.
A new, paved path takes you right to the restored ancient-house-under-construction, a completely restored home, and the famous Katzrin synagogue. Recently introduced, a golf cart is available to take visitors along the path as well! Round off your tour with a stop at the Golan Archeological Museum, in the modern city center (also on route 9088). Here you can view unique and exciting remains from the nearly 3 dozen Jewish villages that studded the Golan Heights long ago.
5) Salukiya Springs: Off Highway 87 between Bashan and Katzrin Junctions. Full of tiny waterfalls, this charming little park features wading pools for the kiddies and a dry path for the grownups. Mei Eden, the large mineral water company based in nearby Katzrin, helped develop the site for visitors and says it bottles water from these springs in its factory.
Little pools feature the riverbed frog, an amphibian that lives in sweet water and is up to 7.5 cm long. Fruit trees and old buildings remain from the Syrian period on the Golan. Absolutely enchanting, shaded by eucalyptus trees, this site was developed with local materials, mainly dark, basalt rock. The path, although not asphalt, is well-suited to strollers and wheelchairs.
6. Mitzpe Gadot – Gadot Overlook: Off Highway 91 and 1.5 kilometers northeast of the Daughters of Jacob Bridge
For 19 years following the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, Syrian troops stationed in the Golan Heights fired relentlessly on the settlers below. Life was a living hell for members of the kibbutzim for farmers plowed their fields from behind armored tanks and children played, studied and slept inside shelters. Until Israel captured the Heights in the Six Day War more than 400 shooting incidents occurred. On one black day over a thousand shells were fired at Kibbutz Gadot alone.
One former Syrian base is now called Mitzpe Gadot. The site of particularly harsh battles, it now hosts a central memorial for soldiers of the 33rd battalion who lost their lives taking this site and the adjacent position in ’67. Also remembered are those from the same battalion who were killed here during the Yom Kippur War and in the Lebanon campaign in 1982.
The overlook and memorial site is a lovely, tranquil spot sporting wildflowers, butterflies and lizards sunning themselves on the rocks. From a bench shaded by eucalyptus trees you can look down from the heights to see the eastern Huleh Valley spread out directly below and with it the fields of Kibbutz Gadot. Try to sense the immensity of the Syrian’s strategic advantage on this hill, and imagine spending night after night in underground shelters, or tilling your fields constantly accompanied by tanks. An audio guide provides additional information on the area and its history.
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