Ein Avdat and Avdat National Parks are located within 10 minutes drive from each other south of Sde Boker, in the Negev desert. Ein Avdat National Park offers a desert canyon hike along Zin stream, and in Avdat National Park you walk through remains of a Nabatean city. And today we are going to visit both. Let’s begin!

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 at 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 when he retired.

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.

Source: touristisrael.com

Ben Gurion Memorial Site – Ben-Gurion’s Tomb National Park

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

This site is also called Ben-Gurion’s Tomb National Park. There are no opening hours, i.e., it is always open, and the entrance is free.

The graves of David and Paula Ben-Gurion overlook a breathtaking view of the Tsin canyon and the Avdat highlands in the heart of the Negev. The path from the parking lot to the tranquil grave site goes through a garden of carefully nurtured local flora that can thrive in the arid climate and saline conditions of the local soil.

Source: official site

And lastly, there are restrooms nearby.

Map

Map of the area:

When To Visit?

Both these National Parks are located in the desert. Therefore I would recommend against visiting them in the Summer (temperatures can reach above 40 C). 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, hats, and wear sunscreen.

Moreover, do not visit the desert after rains. Floods in the Negev can be dangerous, and unfortunately, there were cases in Israel, when people died in desert floods.

Ein Avdat National Park

Opening Hours

Sun. – Thu. And Saturday: 8 – 17 (16 during winter).
Fridays: 8 – 16 (15 during winter).
On holidays eves usually 8 – 13.

Entrance Fee

Adults 28 NIS, children 14 NIS, and Students 24 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.

Moreover, there is a special combined ticket for both the canyon and the ancient city at the entrance to Ein Avdat National Park. I know it exists since the cashier offered to purchase it, but I did not find any reference to it on the official website.

Note: opening hours and ticket prices were updated in December 2018. In any case, recheck the official site before visiting.

Map Of Ein Avdat National Park

Here is the map from the official brochure:

Map Of Ein Avdat National Park

Ein means spring in Hebrew, and as you can see from the map, most of the hike will be along the spring inside the canyon.

 

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.
Ein Avdat

The Trails

There are two options to hike inside Ein Avdat National Park. You can either make a circular route which starts at the lower parking near 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 last pool. From there, instead of returning, you climb up along the ladders till you reach the top of the canyon. 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 – the upper parking) 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.

Avdat National Park

Ein Mor

After parking at the lower parking, Ein Mor we start walking along the trail which looks pretty much like this.Avdat National Park

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. 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.

Source: boker.org.il

And hence we mentioned ibexes, here is one that was busy eating at Ein Mor.Avdat National Park

Ibex

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. You can clearly distinguish them one 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 curve 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.

Source: boker.org.il

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 lime 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).

Source: boker.org.il

Ein Ovdat

Avdat National Park Avdat National Park Avdat National Park

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.
Eagles sometimes use the canyon cliffs 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.

Source: boker.org.il

Avdat National ParkAvdat National Park
Swimming in the pools is not allowed. Moreover, the water is not drinkable, thus as I mentioned above, bring plenty of water with you.
Avdat National Park Avdat National Park Avdat National Park Avdat National Park Avdat National Park Avdat National Park

At this point, you can either return to Ein Mor parking or continue to the ladder route (if you have a second car waiting at the “back” parking).

The Ladder Route

Starting the climb.Avdat National Park

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.

Source: boker.org.il

Avdat National Park

Almost at the top:Avdat National Park

Rock formations:Avdat National Park

And here is last part of the route from above:Avdat National Park

As you can see, though there are several ladders the trail 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 round 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 spectacular 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 on your left. In this complex, there is a gas station, McDonalds, Aroma, and the entrance to Avdat National Park.

How To Get From Ein Avdat To Avdat?

As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, if you have a car then this is a five-minute drive along road #40 south.

If you do not have a car then getting around is problematic. I have checked public transport directions at Moovit, and though there is a bus stop near Avdat, there is no stop near to Ein Avdat. According to Google Maps, the distance between Ein Avdat’s back entrance (as I marked it on the map at the beginning of this post) to Avdat entrance is a little more than 4 km. Though it is not too far away, since you will be hiking in both these national parks, this will add up to the total difficulty. Moreover, a 40-minute hike along the road is not fun and a waste of time. The best option would be to hitch with somebody you meet at Ein Avdat.

If you are determined to hike, then there should be a trail leading from Ein Avdat’s back entrance to Avdat. The trail goes along Tsin stream. And I would suggest asking National Parks personnel for further information before hiking there (mainly due to the possibility of floods).

Opening Hours

Sun. – Thu. And Saturday: 8 – 17 (16 during winter).
Fridays: 8 – 16 (15 during winter).
On holidays eves usually 8 – 13.

Entrance Fee

Adults 28 NIS, children 14 NIS, and Students 24 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.

As I mentioned above, there is a special combined ticket for both the Avdat and Ein Avdat National Parks.

Note: opening hours and ticket prices were updated in December 2018. In any case, recheck the official site before visiting.

Map Of Avdat National Park

Map of the site:
Avdat National Park in Southern Israel

As you can see from the scale of the map (50 meters in the bottom left corner), Avdat is not a big site. The coffee shops, the gas station, and Avdat’s small museum are located next to road #40. And then you drive up the mountain to the top parking.

Trails

There are three routes on site. The red trail is the shortest one, and it takes you through the most important findings. The intermediate trail is a combination of the red and the blue routes. And the long trail is a combo of red, blue and green. It also takes you down to the lower parking. But in this case, I would not worry too much that long route is not cyclic since the distances are small (though they are not short if you will be there on a hot day – see when to visit at the top of this post).

In this post, I will be describing the short trail with parts of intermediate and long trails.

Before entering this UNESCO World Heritage Site, we decided to have some snacks on the benches at the complex. Immediately guests started arriving. Here are some of them:
Avdat National Park in Southern Israel

And here, on top of the hill you can see the remains of Avdat:
Avdat National Park in Southern Israel

Museum

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 the 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.

Historical Extract

Avdat was founded by the Nabateans in the 4th century BCE. Initially, it was a waystation on the Nabatean Incense Route – the ancient trade routes crossing the Arabian Peninsula to the city of Gaza and the Mediterranean Sea. These routes served the camel caravans, mainly carrying spices and incense. The city developed in the days of King Obodas II (1st century BCE), and was named after him. A temple, an army camp, and other buildings from this time have been found. At the end of the 1st century CE, the city’s inhabitants moved over to agriculture as their main livelihood, and an inscription from this period found at the site mentions the Nabatean king Rabbel II – “Restorer and deliverer of his people.” Apparently, under pressure of the heavy hand of the Romans, who damaged the Nabatean economy, he laid the foundation for the development of agriculture and animal husbandry.

In the year 106 CE, after the death of the king, Avdat was annexed to the Roman empire and continued to develop. The height of its prosperity was in the Byzantine period (4th – 7th centuries CE). The city’s inhabitants converted to Christianity and built magnificent churches, developed intensive agriculture, constructed water storage systems, and dug many caves in the hillside. The caves were used mainly as workshops and storerooms for keeping and processing the agricultural produce. Towards the end of the Byzantine period, the security situation in the city was undermined. In around 630 the city was damaged by a strong earthquake, and shortly after, in 636, the area was conquered by Arab tribes. These two factors together sealed its fate, and the city was abandoned.

Note: unless stated otherwise, all quotes regarding Avdat National Park were taken from the official site.

Model of the city along with photos of other Nabataean towns in Israel.
Avdat National Park in Southern Israel

The Nabataean City

We left the museum and drove to the upper parking and continued exploring the city itself. Avdat National Park in Southern Israel

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.

Near the parking, there is a tower you can climb. And this is the view from the there.Avdat National Park in Southern Israel

Arches:
Avdat National Park in Southern Israel

At Byzantine Quarter:
Avdat National Park in Southern Israel Avdat National Park in Southern Israel Avdat National Park in Southern Israel

I liked the fact there were signs on the ground that helped with the orientation.Avdat National Park in Southern Israel

Winepress:Avdat National Park in Southern Israel

Water

When I see such a massive city in the desert, the obvious question the rises is where the water was coming from.

The water supply consisted of Nabatean storage cisterns and various streams.

At the foot of the city runs the course of the Tsin Stream, one of the largest streams in Israel (120 km long). This is a seasonal stream, and only rare winter floods disturb its tranquility. About 1 km to the west of the city (outside the boundaries of the national park), the Ramliya cisterns are carved in the rock – a series of Nabatean storage cisterns for capturing the floodwaters and utilizing them to irrigate their crops. The water supply for the city itself came from local cisterns and a well next to the bathhouse. In walking distance of the city, there are some springs – En Ma’arif, En Avdat, and En Mor in the Tsin Stream (in En Avdat National Park), and Upper En Akev and En Akev in the Akev Stream.

Fortress gate:
Avdat National Park in Southern Israel

Outside:
Avdat National Park in Southern Israel

Storage inside the fortress:Avdat National Park in Southern Israel

Here we climbed the walls of the fort, and this is the view towards churches area.
Avdat National Park in Southern Israel

Religion

The early 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.
Avdat National Park in Southern Israel

Later on, they converted to Christianity, and this is St. Theodorus church.
Avdat National Park in Southern Israel

Model of the church:
Avdat National Park in Southern Israel

Finding both temples and churches on one site is quite amazing. You can witness the transformation.
Avdat National Park in Southern Israel

Temple of Oboda

Nabataeans changed city’s original name to Avdat in honor of their King Obodas I, who, according to tradition, was buried on site. And this is the temple in honor of the same king.
Avdat National Park in Southern Israel

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.

Source: Wikipedia

View from the porch towards the complex I mentioned in the beginning.
Avdat National Park in Southern Israel

I know we did not cover everything, but we went through the most important things, and it gets hot in the desert.
Avdat National Park in Southern Israel

Summary

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!

Stay Tuned!

Did not find what you were looking for? Hit me up at hi@israel-in-photos.com, and I will do my best to answer your questions.

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