Camping, I thought, was for other people. Not for me. There was so many challenges; the tent — a DIY project of colossal proportions for someone as engineering-averse as myself. The food preparation — I’m happy to eat Rocky Mountain toast, but couldn’t see myself frying up a mess of eggs on a portable gas canister, an obvious fire hazard. And that was before even considering the discomforts of sleeping on the ground, waking up covered with a layer of heavy dew, or becoming the main mosquito magnet for miles.
But then we began looking around for vacation options and prices were steep. Add together five people for five days in a tzimmer up north — that’s one room for all five of us — before adding in day trips, ice cream and dinners out, and we were looking at a four-figure vacation of dubious value.
Then a friend said, “Why don’t you go camping?”
I was willing to listen. “We took our kids every year to Hurshat Tal,” she said. “It’s gorgeous. You don’t even have to leave the campsite. There are these streams running through the place and they sit there, in the water, racing leaf boats down the water.”
It sounded pretty idyllic. And, it turns out, after embarking on camping conversations with various friends, plenty of people go camping with their kids, probably because there are some great campsites in these parts, and some of them, although not all, don’t even necessitate tents, sleeping bags or portable gas burners.
This week, a top five list of some great places to go camping, with, or without a tent.
1) Hurshat Tal (where we didn’t end up camping this summer, though we did take a look at it en route elsewhere). This campsite in the northern Hula Valley is large, about 250 dunams in size, and is part of the Hurshat Tal National Park. What’s special about the park is that a tributary of the Dan River crosses the park, filling a large, squared-off pond for swimming (during the summer), with high water slides that are cold and slippery.
Besides the pond and creeks running through the park, there’s also fishing at no extra cost and hundreds of massive, centuries-old Tabor oaks to lie under and gaze up at the blue sky. Visitors can pitch tents, but there are also guest rooms and bungalows for rent, along with showers, running water, electricity access, “KKL” picnic tables (named for the Keren Kayemeth L’Yisrael, or Jewish National Fund, which was the first organization to place wooden picnic tables in local forests and parks) and a snack bar. Plenty of families end up spending much of their day at the campsite, going swimming, fishing and playing ball. What else do you need?
Road 99 (northeast of Kiryat Shmona); prices range from NIS 60 per adult for camping to NIS 350 for four people in bungalow (weekday) and NIS 450 for four people in a vacation cabin (weekday).
2) Odem. For a camping-like experience but with additional amenities, try Odem in the Golan Heights. Situated in Moshav Odem, the actual campsite is called Deer Forest for the deer that run wild in Odem Forest, the dense plain of trees surrounding the moshav. With corrugated tin huts furnished with mattresses and electricity (but only for a few hours each evening) as well as a basic kitchen that includes gas burners and running water (as well as bathrooms and showers), it’s a great option for campers like myself who are are happy to have facilities provided to boil a cup of hot water. I was also impressed by the families who fried up bags of french fries, put up fresh bread dough to rise each night and clearly put more thought into their camping culinary experience than we did, with our more mundane hot dogs and corn on the cob.
For a modest fee you can have a pile of wood delivered by golf cart to your tent, and build a bonfire for fireside s’mores. There’s also plenty of activities for kids, from a zip-line and an impressive handmade climbing rope structure appropriate for pre-schoolers to bouncy castles, a modified carting track as well as ponies and a petting zoo, and, a somewhat lackluster daily tour to see the deer. Just outside the campsite is an organic orchard with fruit-picking in season — there were grapes, raspberries and blueberries at the end of August — and next door is the Odem Winery (kosher), so you can pick up one of their tasty Chardonnays to drink along with your marshmallows.
Deer Forest, Moshav Odem; NIS 50 per child, NIS 30 per adult; call for reservations, 050-522-9450.
3) Achziv. For some folks, it’s all about the beach. I love the sea myself, but I’m not quite ready to deal with sand in my sleeping bag. Luckily, there are several beach camping sites that offer that sea access without the ever-present sand. One of the best is Achziv, just south of Rosh Hanikra (literally, within walking distance), where tents can be pitched on grass only a four-minute walk to the beach, which is known for the sea anemones, urchins and mini octopi hidden between the rocks. It’s a family-friendly kind of place, with accommodating, service-oriented staff that helps out with all the small details, offering unofficial discounts for the NIS 10-per-night mattress rental (highly recommended) and allowing campers to charge phones at the line of sockets near the kiosk. And yes, there are showers.
Achziv, western Galil; NIS 25 per adult, NIS 15 per child, call 04-982-3263 for more information.
There are those who want actual camping on the beach, waking up to wide-open views of the water and sky. If so, there are a few good options highly recommended by beach lovers. Mid-country, the Beit Yannai-Michmoret beach, just north of Netanya, is popular among campers, both for the family-friendly, quiet and clean beachfront, with showers and the all-important kiosk, as well as easy access to M-Haderech, a nearby highway stop that includes, among other offerings, an Aroma, one of the country’s “original” House of Pancakes, a burger bar and a camping store. Slightly up the coast is Caesarea’s Aqueduct Beach, with the ancient water system forming a natural entrance to this wide-open expanse of sand and sea. There’s plenty of room to set up camp here, but there are no bathrooms or showers, just very good iced coffee at Nagumi, a sushi restaurant next to a well-stocked local grocery store, Politzer.
Entry at Beit Yannai is NIS 24 per adult, and varying fees for full cars. Entrance includes entry into the Alexander Stream, home to its own crop of local turtles. Aqueduct Beach, Caesarea, free entry.
4) Makman Dunes Desert Lodge. If you head down south, which is certainly worth considering as it starts to get cooler, try the Makman Dunes Desert Lodge near Revivim, where Rodney Hirsch, a South-African-born, Israel-raised cowboy came up with his concept of a sand dune campsite after driving back to Israel from Capetown many years back. “I wanted to make a little place which is far from the mainstream, getting a piece of land and building my way of life,” said Hirsch.
This is the kind of place where the kids can pitch a tent while their grandparents sleep in bedside comfort in the perfectly respectable tzimmer huts made of mud and local materials, and everyone gathers around the wood-burning stove in the cold, winter evenings, or stares at the stars sitting around the campfire. Located just 20 minutes south of Beersheba, the nature reserve surroundings offer plenty of space for climbing sand dunes and examining the local flora and fauna. If you need more structure, try one of the yoga or meditation workshops.
Camping at Makman Dunes ranges from NIS 40-NIS 70 per person, depending on weekday or weekend, while the tzimmer cabins range in price from NIS 150 to NIS 450 per person.There are kitchen facilities available, and meals at the lodge during the weekend — not kosher, vegetarian options available.
5) Khan Beerotayim. Need another night or two down south? Head a little bit farther to Khan Beerotayim, as far off the beaten track as you can get without crossing into Egypt. The adobe huts and rooms of this charmingly rustic desert inn are basic, but with some startlingly unexpected details, like the hand-painted sinks in the bathroom, or the row of glass lanterns used when the skies turn dark and the only illumination comes from the stars above and some strategically placed solar lighting. There are several options for sleeping arrangements, including rooms for couples, families and groups, each with mattresses and a covered outdoor seating area, and meals are served in another communal room, where diners perch on cushions around low tables, desert-style. During the day, there are options for camel caravan tours or bike rides, until you’re ready to head back to the khan and take a nap in a hammock.
Khan Beerotayim, Nitzana, 08-655-5788. Prices range from NIS 100 per person per night when sleeping in the group hut, to NIS 720 per night, for a family of four in a private hut. Breakfast and dinner are available for an extra change, kosher.