Ein Avdat (or Ein Ovdat) and Avdat National Parks are located close to each other in the Negev desert, south of Sde Boker. Ein Avdat National Park (Ein means spring in Hebrew) offers a hike in the desert canyons along Zin stream, and in Avdat National Park you can see remains of a Nabatean city.
Two notes before we start:
- If you do not have a subscription to National Parks, then you can buy a combined ticket for both the canyon and the ancient city at the entrance to Ein Avdat National Park. If you are wondering about combo tickets and subscriptions to National Parks, you can find additional information at National Parks And Nature Reserves in Israel.
- Both these National Parks are located in the desert. Therefore I would not recommend visiting them in the Summer. Especially, if you want to visit both of them in one day. Spring is the best season for a visit. And of course, take plenty of water and wear sunscreen.
Map of the area:
David Ben Gurion
Before getting to Ein Avdat let’s talk about Ben Gurion for a second. David Ben Gurion was the first Prime Minister of Israel. And while most Israeli Prime Ministers and Presidents are buried and Mount Herzl National Cemetery in Jerusalem, Ben Gurion chose to be buried near Sde Boker. He even picked the spot, from which you can see the Zin Canyon.
The reason for this selection is: “Ben Gurion loved the desert.” His also believed that the future of Israel is linked to bringing people to the Negev. Moreover, he believed in the economic potential of the desert and its contribution to overall prosperity.
Ben Gurion not only believed but also acted. He and his wife, Paula, joined Kibbutz Sde Boker and lived there the remainder of their life.
Ben Gurion’s Hut
It’s a truly incredible story, and Ben Gurion lived in Sde Boker for the remainder of his life apart from a brief spell in which he returned to politics. He hosted world-leaders, and many other dignitaries in his home there, and, as a member of the community worked like the other members. His passion for developing Israel’s desert and membership of Sde Boker has undoubtedly been of paramount importance in securing investment in infrastructure and the creation of the thriving communities and industries in the Negev which continue to flourish.
Visitors travel to Sde Boker to visit the hut in which Ben Gurion lived with his wife and the surrounding gardens and exhibits which pay tribute to him. The hut also houses the Ben Gurion Archive, amazingly modest compared to that of other world leaders, contains over 5,000 books (the kibbutz built a large building to house the archive and him, but he refused, demanding to be treated like all members). The adjacent hut, which housed Ben Gurion’s bodyguards is now a museum about the development of the Negev and the impact Ben Gurion has had on it.
Ben Gurion Memorial Site
Just before entering Ein Avdat National Park, you will see parking to your left. I suggest stopping there for a short break. Ater a two-minutes walk you will reach a small park. In the center of this park, you can find the burial place of David and Paula. Moreover, from there you can get great views of the Zin Canyon. Like the following one:
Ein Avdat National Park
After a break at Ben Gurion Memorial Site, you need to return to the car and drive to the entrance of Ein Avdat National Park. Though the entry is at the upper parking, the trail starts in the canyon. Thus, after entering you will be driving down along the road (you can see part of it in the photo below) till you reach bottom parking inside the canyon.
Archaeological evidence shows that Nabateans and Catholic monks inhabited Ein Avdat. Numerous springs at the southern opening of the canyon empty into deep pools in a series of waterfalls. The water emerges from the rock layers with salt-tolerant plants like Poplar trees and Atriplexes growing nearby.
There are two options to hike inside Ein Avdat National Park. You can make a circular route which starts at the lower parking at Ein Mor. Goes to the last pool and then returns to the parking. Or you can make one directional path. It starts at the lower parking and goes to the ending pool. From there, instead of returning, you climb up along the ladders till you reach the top of the canyon. As I mentioned, The Ladder Route is one directional route (you cannot go down to the valley from that point). Thus, if you want to make The Ladder Route, then you will need two cars. Leave one at the “back” entrance to Ein Avdat National Park (marked on the map) and then drive through the front opening as shown above.
Inside Ein Avdat National Park
I made Ein Avdat ladder route more than a decade ago. Back then there were no smartphones. I was not into photography, and I had a very basic digital camera. Thus, the following photographs are horrible, but I think they will be helpful.
These are the Euphrates poplar trees which grown next to Ein Mor which is a small seasonal spring mostly used by the local vegetation and herds of ibexes.
The poplars which grow in the Negev are a remnant of a wetter climatic period than today’s. They have only survived near two springs – Ein Shaviv, and the two groups in the Ein Ovdat Canyon.
The poplar is a tall tree which grows on riverbanks and can tolerate a certain amount of salinity in the ground. The Euphrates poplar has two types of foliage: the younger long leaves and wider more mature diamond-shaped leaves. That is a deciduous tree which loses its leaves in winter. The leaves have prominent gallnuts, shaped like a white half ball (gallnut means a swelling or growth in the leaf following penetration of a foreign body, such as laid eggs or an insect sting). The poplar gallnuts contain pests which secrete a sweet substance off which the ants inside the tree feed.
It is well worth looking at the cliffs while walking along the gorge. We might be able to spot ibexes. The ibexes, kings of the cliffs, live near sources of water. There is a large number of ibexes in the Ein Ovdat Canyon. They have a brown hide, a robust and muscular body and the structure of their feet is ideally suited to the surroundings.
The ibexes live most of the life in separate herds – males in one group and females and kids in another. Males and females can be clearly distinguished from each other: the male is large, heavy and muscular, the back of the neck is well developed and the horns are large and bent backward. The male’s horns serve as a means to reduce the number of male rivals. The female is smaller with slender, short horns which bend slightly to the rear.
The sexes meet during the mating season – between September-November – and the largest and strongest male in the herd mates with the females after a long courting period. The pregnant female ibex leaves the herd and gives birth in the spring to one or two kids. The ibexes can be spotted early in the morning and in the afternoon. They descend the cliffs to eat and drink near the spring. In the past, the number of ibexes decreased. Today, due to enforcement of nature preservation laws, the number of ibexes has increased.
Ein Ovdat Canyon
Ein Ovdat Canyon is cut into the Ovdat Heights and exposes the rocks of the heights, the principal ones being: the chalk, lime, and flint. These rocks were formed in the sea which covered the region around 50 million years ago. The chalk was formed by the settling of skeletons of microscopic monocellular creatures. The rock is white and soft.
The limestone – formed by the settling of limey skeletons of marine creatures. The parts of these creatures and their reconsolidation give the lime its rigidity. Fossils are frequently found in the lime rocks. The lime has a white and hard appearance.
Flint – a dark and hard rock. During the prehistoric era, flint was used as a raw material in the preparation of tools and for lighting fires. As a result of its sharpness, one of the uses of stone is mentioned in the Bible: “And Joshua wrought narrow swords and circumcised the Children of Israel on the Foreskin Hill (Joshua 4, 3).
The waterfall is 15 meters high and there is a large 8-meter deep pool at the base of the waterfall. Bathing in the pool is prohibited!
The spring is active all year round although the flow varies through the seasons. The salinity of the water also changes. The area of the springs attracts large numbers of animals: insects, songbirds, rock doves, birds of prey and ibexes.
The canyon cliffs are sometimes used by eagles as nesting spots. Other birds of prey can also be seen, including vultures, hawks, bustards, etc. There are rising airflows near the edge of the cliff, and the birds of prey use these to climb. Near here, there are nesting places of rock doves and swifts. The area is used by passing waterfowl, such as coots and landfowl like partridges and herons, a rich variety of rodents, dragonflies, etc.
Ein Ovdat is a stratum spring – some of the rainwater which descends from the heights seeps through the fissures in the horizontal strata of the chalk, lime, and flint until they reach an impervious layer. Water flows along this stratum like groundwater. The water breaks through as a spring in places where the stratum is exposed due to erosion by the river.
At this point, you can either return to Ein Mor parking or continue to the ladder route if you have second at the “back” parking.
The Ladder Route
There is a giant bell-shaped cave at the end of the steps which contains numerous nesting places used by rock doves. At the end of the route we can catch a bird’s eye view of Ein Ovdat before turning towards the poplar grove.
The Euphrates poplar trees will already be familiar to us from the starting point of the route, next to Ein Mor. The path starts to climb from here leading to quarried steps and two iron ladders.
We will climb the quarried steps and will see a narrow path pointing to the north before the first ladder. We can follow this path which leads to one of the caves cut out of the cliff side. These caves were formed to serve as isolation chambers for Byzantine monks. One of the caves contains a Greek inscription which addresses Theodoros, who was known as the patron of the city of Ovdat, which is located around three kilometers south of this point.
As you can see, though there are several ladders the way is not that hard, and older children can comfortably make it.
And here is a short video from Ein Avdat my Dad prepared after his last visit:
Ein Avdat National Park – Summary
The trail at Ein Avdat National Park is about two kilometers long. And since most of the train is on level ground, you can make it quite quickly. But if you make stops for looking around and photographing, completing the trail can take up to several hours.
When thinking about the desert, this is not what comes to mind. And, in my opinion, this is one of the most beautiful trails in Israel. That is why I included it in my top 10 National Parks And Nature Reserves in Israel.
Avdat National Park
Avdat National Park is located only several kilometers from Ein Avdat National Park. When you continue driving south on road #40 (from Ein Avdat), after several minutes, you will see a small complex. In this complex, there is a gas station, McDonalds, Aroma, and the entrance to Avdat National Park.
At the entrance, there is a small museum. The museum is a small room with several exhibits. But first let’s start with a fundamental question, what was Avdat? Incense trade route stretched from Arabian Peninsula to the port of Gaza, and from there, they exported the merchandise to the lands of the Roman Empire. Avdat was station number 62 on the Incense route.
In the third century BCE there was a small Nabatean settlement here, and in the Byzantine period, Avdat grew into a planned agricultural town. In 630 CE and earthquake struck this area. Due to significant damage, the residents abandoned the city.
At The Nabataean City
2380 km divided by 65 gives us 36.6 km per day. And, if there were no break days, it took 65 days to pass this route. Just for comparison, today such distance can be covered in around three hours by a plane.
We made the short trail with parts of intermediate and long trails.
The Nabatean people believed in many gods. Dushara was the chief god. Al Uzza the goddess of strength, queen of heavens, mistress of the earth mistress of the netherworld, protector of sea travelers and of those who ply the roads. Qos – the chief Edomite god. The god of storm and rain, harvest, and fertility. And there were others.
Temple of Oboda
The temple dedicated to the cult of Obodas the King was built with a hard-limestone in the year 9 BCE during the reign of Obodas II. The temple is a tripartite structure: consisting of a porch, hall, and adytum. Its overall dimensions are 14 x 11 meters (45×36 ft). The building was divided into four rooms.
A worshiper entered through the porch, which faces south, proceeded through the hall to the rooms of the adytum at the northern end. The worshiper then turned about face toward the south to worship the images of the deities placed in niches in the wall. The western room contained two niches which may have contained the images of two Nabataean gods Allat and Dushura. The other room contained a larger single niche where it is believed the defied image of Obodas the King was worshiped. The temple was built to be his eternal resting place and the center of worship for his cult.
If you are looking for a half day trip in the desert then visiting both Ein Avdat and Avdat National Parks can be perfect. The combination of nature and archeology makes the tour exciting and versatile. And the closeness makes it comfortable to travel.
Have you ever been to Ein Avdat and Avdat National Parks? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.
That’s all for today, and I’ll see you in future travels!