Arbel Nature Reserve And National Park is located on Mount Arbel near Tiberias. Arbel offers both stunning views and a glimpse of history. Let’s begin!
Map of the area:
How To Get There
If you are reaching by car then enter “Arbel National Park and Nature Reserve” into Waze of 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 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 to Tiberias and taking a cab from there.
Sunday – Thursday And Saturday: 8 – 17 (16 during winter).
Fridays: 8 – 16 (15 during winter).
On holidays usually 8 – 13.
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.
Adults 22 NIS, children 9 NIS, and Students 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 on December 2018. In any case, recheck the official site before visiting.
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.
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
Israeli Nature And Parks Authority propose six routes.
From The Main Parking
- 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. This 30 minutes trail is accessible.
- Fortress and the Caves loop trail including a steep descent and ascent. It is suitable for experienced hikers.
Begins at the parking lot and continue 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 ‘black’ trail back up to the parking lot.
This path takes around 3 hours.
- Labor Battalion Rest Area is not a cyclic hike, and you should have a vehicle waiting at the Labor Battalion Rest Area. Also, keep in mind that the 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.
Approximate time: 2 hours.
- Arbel Spring hike is also one way. Thus you should have a vehicle waiting on the road near Hamam.
The 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.
Duration: 2–3 hours.
From The Synagogue Parking
- 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. The visit to the synagogue will take around 30 minutes.
- Synagogue 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. Approximate time is 1.5–2 hours.
Hikes #1, #5 are fairly easy, and the rest are for experienced hikers (not suitable for small children).
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 in summer it gets boiling in this area. Thus, I would suggest other seasons. One notice though, all trails have many rocks which 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, 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.
Where the name Nitai comes from? This 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.
At 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 to red and green trails.
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.”
Since we saw the sign to the red trail, towards the Fortress and the Caves we decided to follow this path. And it was a mistake.
Another look at Mount Nitai:
And here you can see Tiberias in the background.
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.
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.
Caves in Mount Nitai:
The Order Of The Trails
About at this point, we understood 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 leader. 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.
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.
And this is exactly what we decided to do. So we headed back to the parking using the red trail.
Then we continued with the green trail and the black trail till we reached 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 it the tree:
Here are several views from the Carob viewpoint.
View towards the Sea of Galilee:
Here is a 2.5D Parallax Effect I created from Arbel photos.
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.
But at this point, we were already walking for one and a half hours. I was not sure how much more my daughter could continue, thus we decided to leave the original plan. We took the blue trail to the Kinneret Viewpoint.
From Kinneret Viewpoint you can mostly see central and northern parts of the Sea of Galilee.
And in the distance, you can see Tiberias.
From the Kinneret Viewpoint, we used the blue and the black trails to return back to the parking.
Close to the parking, we found restrooms, food stand, and a small photo exhibition. About a half dozen photos of Arbel Nature Reserve. Since we did not visit Arbel Fortress and the Caves I took a photo of one the photos from the exhibition for my readers.
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.
The Ancient Synagogue Of Arbel
We took the car and drove to the parking lot next to the Synagogue Of Arbel.
After 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: all quotes, unless stated otherwise were taken from the official site.
In the photo above you can see suggested reconstruction.
A small bridge near the ancient synagogue.
Arbel Fortress And The Caves
Since we did not visit Arbel Fortress and the Caves by foot, we drove the car to the valley of the doves.
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 that it is close to the road and we could visit the fortress from the valley below. But as you can see from the photo above, this is not the case. Though from the top of the mountain it looks very close, when reaching valley of the doves, we saw that it is quite distant. Plus there is a fence along significant parts of the road.
Here is a closeup at almost 300mm.
After taking several photos, we headed home. I guess in a year or two when my daughter will get older, we will return to Arbel and complete the fortress and caves trail.
Arbel Nature Reserve is a beautiful place for a walk. It offers different trails. The fortress and caves trail is less suitable for smaller kids. While we were there, I saw other parents having the same dilemma as we did (to go down or not). It is more suitable for children who are eight years old or older (See Routes section). But, you can probably do it with younger kids as well, depending on their height and skills, but is riskier.
All in all, we enjoyed the hike and the stunning views. The only thing I wish I knew beforehand is trail difficulty and some age guidance next to each trail.
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!