Arbel National Park and Nature Reserve – Visitors Guide (with map & trails)


Arbel National Park and Nature Reserve is located on Mount Arbel near Tiberias. Arbel offers both stunning views and a glimpse of history. Let’s begin exploring!

Map

Arbel is situated to the north of Tiberias, and it 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 here is an interactive map of the area (with The Ancient Synagogue Of Arbel and Arbel Nature Reserve And National Park marked):

Trails

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

Map of Arbel National Park
Map of Arbel National Park

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

#NameStarting PointDescriptionApproximate Duration (hours)Notes
1The Carob LookoutThe Main ParkingThe Carob Lookout path will take you to from the main parking lot (appears at the top center of the scheme) to the Carob Lookout and back.0.5This trail is accessible.
2Fortress and the CavesThe Main ParkingFortress and the Caves loop trail, including a steep descent and ascent.
It begins at the parking lot and continues to the Carob Lookout (marked in black). From there, it heads west along the edge of the cliff and meets the red trail, which reaches the fortress and the caves. From the fortress, continue east on the red trail back up to the parking lot.
3This path is suitable for experienced hikers.
3Labor Battalion Rest AreaThe Main ParkingLabor Battalion Rest Area trail follows a steep slope.
The route begins at the parking lot, continues to the Carob Lookout on the black trail, and continues along that trail for about 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.
2One directional hike and you need another car at the Labor Battalion Rest Area.
4Arbel SpringThe Main ParkingThe trail follows a steep slope requiring the use of hand-and-foot-holds in the cliff.
The trail begins at the parking lot and continues along the black path to the Carob Lookout. From there, it proceeds to the caves and down to the Arbel Spring.
2 – 3One directional hike and you need another car on the road near Hamam.
5The SynagogueThe Synagogue ParkingThe Synagogue loop trail 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.0.5
6Synagogue to the Arbel SpringThe Synagogue ParkingSynagogue to the Arbel Spring trail begins at the small parking near the synagogue. It reaches the synagogue and continues down a fairly steep along the green path, via burial caves to the Arbel Spring.1.5 – 2One directional path.

Note: hikes #1, #5 are fairly easy, and the rest are for experienced hikers (not suitable for small children).

Directions

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

When I am looking 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 but also more convenient option would be reaching Tiberias and taking a cab from there.

Opening Hours

Sunday – Thursday And Saturday: 8:00 – 17:00 (16:00 during winter).
Fridays: 8:00 – 16:00 (15:00 during winter).
On holidays usually 8:00 – 13:00.

Entrance to the site 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. And free for National Parks’ annual subscribers.

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

Note: opening hours and ticket prices were updated in January 2021. 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 at 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.

At Arbel Nature Reserve and 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. One notice, though, all trails have many rocks that become very slippery after rain. Therefore, I would suggest waiting at least twenty-four hours from the last rain before visiting this nature reserve.

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 POI. We planned to make the round trail that consists of the red, green, and black trails. It will cover the Arbel Fortress, the Caves, and two viewpoints (Carob viewpoint and Mount Nitai viewpoint). And then to drive to another parking (appears in the top right corner) to see Arbel Synagogue.

Mount Nitai Viewpoint – Nitai Of Arbel

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 (r. 134–104 BCE). In Yer. Hag. 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.

Mount Nitai
Mount Nitai
Rosularia Lineate
Rosularia Lineate
Arbel Nature Reserve And National Park, Israel

And here, you can see Tiberias in the background.

Arbel Nature Reserve And National Park, Israel

The Horns Of Hittin

You can see a mountain with two “horns in the distance,” 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

Caves in Mount Nitai
Caves in Mount Nitai
Cyclamen
Cyclamen

The Order Of The Trails

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 the use of 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.

Arbel Nature Reserve And National Park, Israel

I called in a veto since I thought my daughter was not old enough. I think this is more appropriate for older kids, like eight or older. Anyway, if you want to make this round route, it would be easier to start with the black trail and climb up using the red trail.

Arbel Nature Reserve And National Park, Israel

And this is exactly what we decided to do. So we headed back to the parking using the red trail.

Arbel Nature Reserve And National Park, Israel

Then we continued with the green trail and the black trail till we reached Carob viewpoint.

Carob Viewpoint

The carob tree that was a symbol of 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:

Arbel Nature Reserve And National Park, Israel
Carob Viewpoint at Arbel Nature Reserve And National Park, Israel
Carob Viewpoint

View towards the Sea of Galilee:

Arbel Nature Reserve And National Park, Israel
Carob Viewpoint

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

Arbel Nature Reserve And National Park, Israel

Not long after the Carob Viewpoint, the black trail starts to go down. On this side, the decline is easier. There are metal handles on big rocks.

Arbel Nature Reserve And National Park, Israel

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.

And in the distance, you can see Tiberias.

Arbel Nature Reserve And National Park, Israel
Arbel Nature Reserve And National Park, Israel

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 photo of one of the exhibition’s photos for my readers.

Arbel Nature Reserve And National Park, Israel

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 were 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.

Arbel Nature Reserve And National Park, Israel

The Ancient Synagogue Of Arbel

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

Arbel Nature Reserve And National Park, Israel

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

In the photo above, you can see the suggested reconstruction.

Arbel Nature Reserve And National Park, Israel
The Ancient Synagogue Of Arbel
The Ancient Synagogue Of Arbel

A small bridge near the ancient synagogue.

Arbel Nature Reserve And National Park, Israel
Arbel Nature Reserve And National Park, Israel

Arbel Fortress and The Caves

Since we did not visit Arbel Fortress and the Caves by 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.

Arbel Fortress and The Caves
Arbel Fortress and The Caves

I hoped that it is close to the road and visit the fortress from the valley below. But as you can see from the photo above, this is not the case. Though it looks very close from the top of the mountain, we saw that it is quite distant when reaching the doves’ valley. Plus, there is a fence accompanying significant parts of the road.

Arbel Fortress and The Caves
Arbel Fortress and The Caves

Here is a closeup at almost 300mm.

Arbel Fortress and The Caves
Arbel Fortress and The 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 keep in mind that some trails, like the fortress and cave trail, are not suitable for small kids. While we were there, I saw other parents having the same dilemma as we did (to go down or not). And some trails are more suitable for children who are eight years old or older (see Trails section). And you can always hike the easy trails.

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

For additional attractions in the area, check out my 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? Email me at [email protected], and I will do my best to answer your questions.

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