Arbel National Park – Visitors Guide (with Tracks)

Arbel National Park and Nature Reserve is located on Mount Arbel by Tiberias. It offers tracks with stunning views and history.

Map

Arbel is situated north of Tiberias and overlooks the Sea of Galilee. You can see Arbel National Park and Nature Reserve on the left side of the following map.

Sea Of Galilee Map
Sea Of Galilee Map

And on the following map of the area, you can also see the Ancient Synagogue of Arbel and Arbel Nature Reserve:

Directions for drivers: Link to Waze and Link to Google Maps
Directions for public transport: Link to Moovit

Interactive map of the area:

Offers:

  • Hotels, hostels, and appartments in this area:
Booking.com

Tracks

Here is the map from the official brochure you receive at the entrance.

Map of Arbel National Park
Map of Arbel National Park

Note: you can click on the map to enlarge it.

Also, in the official brochure Israeli Nature And Parks Authority propose six hikes. And I will list them now so that you can come prepared.

#Track NameStarting PointDescriptionApproximate Duration (hours)Hike DifficultyNotes
1The Short Track – Carob LookoutThe Main Parking (black track)The Carob lookout path will take you from the main parking lot (at the top center of the map) to the Carob lookout and back.0.5EasyThis is an accessible path.
2Loop Track – Fortress and the CavesThe Main ParkingIt begins at the parking lot and continues to the Carob lookout (black). From there, it descends west along the cliff’s edge and meets the red trail, which reaches the fortress and the caves. From the fort, continue east on the red path and climb back to the parking lot.3Medium – Fortress and the Caves is a loop track with steep descent and ascent.This path is suitable for experienced hikers. It involves some rock climbing and rope walking (both with handles).
3Labor Battalion Rest Area HikeThe Main ParkingThe route begins at the parking lot, continues to the Carob lookout (black track), and continues along that trail for another 200 meters to its junction with the blue trail. The blue trail reaches the Kinneret lookout and continues down the slope to the Labor Battalion Rest Area.2Medium – Labor Battalion Rest Area trail follows a steep slope.One directional hike, and you need another car at the Labor Battalion Rest Area.
4Arbel Spring HikeThe Main ParkingThe trail begins at the parking lot and continues along the black path to the Carob lookout. From there, it descends to the caves and Arbel Spring (at the mountain’s base).2 – 3Medium – The track follows a steep slope requiring hand-and-foot-holds on the cliff.One directional hike, and you need another car on the road near Hamam.
5The Synagogue PathThe Synagogue ParkingThe Synagogue loop track is short and easy. It begins at the small parking lot at the side of the road near Moshav Arbel (at the top right corner of the map), reaches the synagogue and the Arbel Talmudic-era village, and returns to the parking lot.0.5EasyThis is an accessible path.
6Synagogue and Arbel Spring TrackThe Synagogue ParkingSynagogue to the Arbel Spring trail begins at the small parking near the synagogue. It reaches the synagogue and continues descends using a fairly steep green track via burial caves to the Arbel Spring.1.5 – 2MediumOne directional path.

Note: hikes #1 and #5 are easy, and the rest are for experienced hikers (not suitable for small children – probably eight or older). Also, #1 and #2 are the most popular tracks.

Directions

If you are reaching by car, enter “Arbel National Park and Nature Reserve” into Waze or Google Maps, which will take you there. There is a big free parking lot on site (at no extra cost beyond the entrance fee).

When I look at Moovit, I see that the nearest bus stops at Wadi Hamam Intersection. And from there, it is a 3.3 km walk to the park entrance. Thus a more expensive and convenient option would be reaching Tiberias and taking a cab from there.

Opening Hours

Sunday – Thursday and Saturday: 8:00 – 17:00 (16:00 in winter).
Friday: 8:00 – 16:00 (15:00 in winter).
On holidays eves usually 8:00 – 13:00.

Note: since the pandemic, Israel Nature and Parks Authority has started to limit the number of people in each park. Thus, reservations are recommended through the official site (you can find the link below).

The entrance to the park closes one hour before the time mentioned above. And the last entry to trails down the cliff is three hours before the closing time.

Entrance Fee

Adult 22 NIS, child 9 NIS, and student 19 NIS. Free for National Parks annual subscribers.

If you visit several National Parks, then consider purchasing a combo ticket. You can find additional info at National Parks And Nature Reserves.

Note: opening hours and ticket prices were updated in December 2022. In any case, recheck the official site before visiting.

Mount Arbel

Mount Arbel is a mountain in The Lower Galilee near Tiberias in Israel, with high cliffs, views of Mount Hermon in the Golan Heights, trails to a cave-fortress, and ruins of an ancient synagogue. Mt. Arbel sits across from Mount Nitai; their cliffs were created as a result of the Jordan Rift Valley and the geological faults that produced the valleys.

There are four villages on the mountain: Kfar Zeitim, Arbel, Kfar Hittim, and Mitzpa. The peak, at 181 meters above sea level (380 meters above the surrounding area), dominates the surroundings (much of the area is below sea level) and from the lookout atop the mountain, almost all of the Galilee into the Golan Heights including Safed, Tiberias and most of the Sea of Galilee, is visible.

History

Nearby are the ruins of an ancient Jewish settlement with a synagogue from the fourth century CE with pews and columns.

Dug into the mountain itself are some cave dwellings, expanded from natural caves. There are documented Jewish cliff dwellings dating back to the Second Temple period in the area. The existing fortification walls protecting some of these caves are from the 17th century and were built by Ali Bek, son of the Druze emir Fakhr ad-Din al-Ma’ani. Josephus writes about how Herod the Great, with the help of Roman soldiers, defeated some of the last rebels who supported the Hasmonean king Antigonus and had taken refuge in the cliffs of Mt Arbel.

Source for both quotes: Wikipedia

Arbel in the Bible

Arbel is mentioned once in the Bible in Hosea 10:14 (New International Version):

the roar of battle will rise against your people,
    so that all your fortresses will be devastated—
as Shalman devastated Beth Arbel on the day of battle,
    when mothers were dashed to the ground with their children.

This is the first mention, and it is attributed to the eighth century BCE. Later Arbel is mentioned in the Books of the Maccabees 1, Josephus Flavius, and other sources.

When to Visit Arbel National Park?

We visited Arbel Nature Reserve and National Park during the winter. You can visit this park all year round, but keep in mind that it gets boiling in this area in summer. Thus, I would suggest other seasons. Moreover, since all trails have many rocks, which become very slippery after rain, wait at least twenty-four hours from the last rain before visiting this nature reserve.

Mount Nitai Viewpoint – Nitai of Arbel

We parked at the main parking, which appears at the top center of the map, and as you can see, there are several trails and half a dozen points of interest. We planned to make a loop trail that consists of red, green, and black tracks (variation of #2). It will cover the Arbel Fortress, the Caves, and two viewpoints (the Carob viewpoint and Mount Nitai viewpoint). And then drive to another parking (in the top right corner) to see Arbel Synagogue.

The main parking is close to Mount Nitai viewpoint. Thus we headed there first.

Mount Nitai Viewpoint
Mount Nitai Viewpoint

Where the name Nitai comes from? The mount is named after Nittai of Arbela.

Nittai of Arbela was av beit din or vice-president of the Sanhedrin under the Nasi Joshua ben Perachyah at the time of John Hyrcanus (134–104 BCE). In Jerusalem Talmud Moed II 76d he is called Mattai of Arbela, which is also found in ancient and linguistically reliable manuscripts of the Mishnah, such as Codex Kaufmann, Codex Parma A, and the Cambridge Codex. The confusion in the rendering of his name seems to be due to faulty textual transmission, i.e., the Hebrew mem being separated graphically into two parts, which looked, respectively as a nun and a yod, thus Mattai became Nittai. Arbela was a city of the Galilee not far from Tiberias.

Source: Wikipedia

In the following photo, you can see the sign telling about the defense line of Mount Nitai, and in the distance, you can see the sign pointing to red and green trails.

Mount Nitai Viewpoint ar Arbel Nature Reserve And National Park
Mount Nitai Viewpoint

On top of Mount Nitai, a wall with guard towers facing west was found. Why west? They expected the Roman army to come from the road to the west.

Archeological findings indicate that this was the defensive line of the caves. Josephus Flavius (at the beginning of the First Jewish–Roman War in the year 66 CE) described it as: “walls the caves in Lower Galilee in the neighborhood of the lake of Gennesaret.”

Arbel Nature Reserve And National Park, Israel

Since we saw the red trail sign towards the Fortress and the Caves, we decided to follow this path. And it was a mistake.

The Horns of Hittin

In the distance, you can see a mountain with two “horns”. This is the Horns of Hittin. It is an extinct volcano with twin peaks. And it is also believed to be the site of the battle of Hittin.

The Horns of Hittin
The Horns of Hittin

Kurûn Hattîn is believed to be the site of the Battle of Hattin, Saladin’s victory over the Crusaders in 1187. The Battle of Hattin was fought in summer when the grass was tinder-dry. Saladin’s troops set fire to the grass, cutting off the Crusaders’ access to water in the Sea of Galilee. Saladin built a “victory dome,” Qubbat al-Nasr, on the hill. Thietmar, a German pilgrim who visited the site in 1217, wrote that the “temple Saladin had erected to his gods after the victory is now desolate.” In the early 17th century, ruins were found on the summit that appeared to be those of a church. Before 1948, an Arab village, Hittin, lay at the foot of the hill.

Source: Wikipedia

Choosing Tracks – The Order is Important

At this point, we understood that starting with the red trail was a mistake, at least for us. We arrived at a zone with a 5 – 7 meters decline. There are no stairs and no ladder. Instead, there are two ropes along the rocks. You hold on to the top rope and stand on the lower (steep slope requiring hand-and-foot-holds in the cliff). In this manner, you pass about ten meters.

Then climb down several meters to a lower level and do the same again. There are four or five such levels with ropes.

I called in a veto since I thought my daughter was not old enough. This is more appropriate for older kids, like eight or older. If you want to make this loop track, starting with the black trail and climbing up using the red path would be easier.

And this is precisely what we decided to do. So we headed back to the parking using the red trail. Thus we continued with the green and black paths until we reached the Carob viewpoint. Here are several photos from the way:

Carob Viewpoint

The carob tree symbolizing Arbel Nature Reserve collapsed following rains and strong winds in 2017.

The tree passed pesticide treatment, and the remains of the trunk were closed with a fence. Here is the tree:

Here is a 2.5D Parallax Effect I created from Arbel’s photos.

The black trail starts to go down shortly after the Carob Viewpoint. On this side, the decline is easier.

There are metal handles on big rocks.

But at this point, we were already walking for one and a half hours. I was unsure how much more my daughter could continue. Thus we decided to leave the original plan. We took the blue trail to the Kinneret Viewpoint.

Kinneret Viewpoint

You can mostly see the central and northern parts of the Sea of Galilee from the Kinneret Viewpoint.

We used the blue and the black trails to return to the parking from the Kinneret Viewpoint.

Arbel Nature Reserve And National Park, Israel

Close to the parking, we found restrooms, a food stand, and a small photo exhibition with half a dozen Arbel Nature reserve photos. Since we did not visit Arbel Fortress and the Caves, I took a picture of one of the exhibition’s photos for my readers.

Arbel Fortress
Arbel Fortress

At the same place, you can find a model of something similar to the window cleaning platform or suspended scaffold. Herod had difficulties fighting the Jewish rebels. The mountain is almost vertical, and the trails leading to the cave are narrow. Thus, the army had no access to the caves.

After considering different options, they used something similar to scaffolds. Troops were put into the platforms, and from there, they initiated the attack.

Suspended Scaffold
Suspended Scaffold

The Ancient Synagogue of Arbel

We took the car and drove to the parking lot next to the Synagogue of Arbel.

The road to the Ancient Synagogue of Arbel
The road to the Ancient Synagogue of Arbel

After an approximately five-minute walk on a paved trail, we reached the Ancient Synagogue of Arbel.

Arbel Synagogue – the remains of ancient Arbel were found in the northern part of Moshav Arbel, among them the ruins of an ancient synagogue that was built in the 4th century CE and destroyed in the 8th century. To set the synagogue apart from other buildings in the area, it was a drywall construction of large limestone blocks, which stood out against the basalt rock that was common in the area and was used to build the houses. One very impressive pillar still stands in the building’s façade. Other parts of the doorway remain scattered around the site, decorated with vegetal designs.

Note: unless stated otherwise, all quotes were taken from the official site.

The Ancient Synagogue of Arbel
The Ancient Synagogue of Arbel

Here are several additional photos:

Arbel Fortress and Caves

Since we did not visit Arbel Fortress and the Caves on foot, we drove the car to the doves` valley.

Arbel Fortress and the Caves – there are hundreds of gaping caves in the cliff, initially formed in a natural (karstic) process, and then carved out and enlarged by man as prehistoric dwellings. Later the caves were turned into a large fortress, with concealed passages, staircases, halls, and cisterns. A life-and-death battle took place here between Herod and his opponents, who lived in the Arbel caves. The experience starts with a challenging descent to the Fortress, with the help of stairs, spikes, and cables that have been installed as hand-holds for the visitors’ safety.

I hoped it would be close to the road and visit the fortress from the valley below. But as you can see from the photos, this is not the case. Though it looks very close to the top of the mountain, it is pretty distant when reaching the doves` valley. Plus, there is a fence along the road.

Here is a closeup at almost 300mm.

Arbel Fortress and Caves
Arbel Fortress and Caves

After taking several photos, we headed home. When my daughter gets older, we will return to Arbel and complete the fortress and caves trail.

Summary

Arbel Nature Reserve is a beautiful place for a hike, and it offers different trails for exploring this national park. But remember that some tracks, like the fortress and cave trail, are unsuitable for small kids. While there, I saw other parents having the same dilemma (to go down or not). And the more challenging tracks are suitable for children (probably) eight or older. And you can always hike the easy trails.

All in all, we enjoyed the hike and the stunning views. I wish I had known beforehand the track difficulty and some age guidance next to each trail.

For additional nearby attractions, browse the interactive map above and see the guide to the Sea of Galilee.

Have you ever visited Arbel Nature Reserve And National Park? What is your favorite part? Tell us in the comments below.

That’s all for today, and I’ll see you in future travels!

Stay Tuned!

   

Additional Resources

Here are several resources that I created to help travelers: And if you have any questions then check out Useful Information For Tourists To Israel.  
Did not find what you were looking for? Leave a comment below, and I will do my best to answer your questions.

Lev Tsimbler

Lev from israel-in-photos.com. You can contact me at hi@israel-in-photos.com

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