Ein Gedi Nature Reserve guide starts with the basics (map, trails, directions, weather, in the Bible), and then takes you on a hike. Let’s begin!
What Does Ein Gedi Mean?
Ein Gedi consists of two words, and the literal translation from Hebrew means “the spring of the young goat.” That is, according to modern Hebrew. In Biblical Hebrew, the word “GDI” referred to the baby of any animal.
Today, when you are walking at Ein Gedi, you will see Nubian Ibexes drinking water from the spring. I guess our ancestors saw the same, hence the name.
Ein Gedi Nature Reserve is located near the Dead Sea and Kibbutz Ein Gedi.
Map of the area:
If you are reaching by car, then enter “Ein Gedi Nature Reserve” into Waze or Google Maps, and it will take you to the main parking. Furthermore, you will find a free parking lot near the entrance.
And if you are using public transport, then you can take bus #444 from Jerusalem to Eilat and exit at Nahal David Field School. Here is the updated link to Moovit. Enter your starting point, and you will get the updated directions.
Ein Gedi Nature Reserve is located in the desert. Thus it is boiling in this area. Moreover, after the rain, there is a danger of floods. Hence, do not visit the Dead Sea area within several days after the last rain.
When to Visit Ein Gedi?
Due to the weather, the best season for a visit is Spring or Autumn (and not after rains). Moreover, visit early as it will get hot by noon. Also, if you plan to hike the longer trails, then you have to come early.
And always take hats, sunscreen and plenty of water.
Sunday – Thursday And Saturday: 8 – 17 (16 during winter).
Fridays: 8 – 16 (15 during winter).
On holidays usually 8 – 13.
You can enter Wadi Arugot only before 14:00.
Adults 28 NIS, children 14 NIS, and Students 24 NIS. And free for National Parks annual subscribers.
If you are going to visit only the ancient synagogue then your entrance fee will be 14 NIS per adult, 7 NIS per child, and 12 NIS per student.
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 November 2019. In any case, recheck the official site before visiting.
As you can see from the following trails map there are several parking lots, and many starting/ending points. And you can combine the trails in at least a dozen different ways.
Note: you can click on the trail map to enlarge it.
The brochure that you receive on entrance suggests 9 different trails. And I will list the most popular ones, together with the one we did.
|Entrance||Trail||Level||Hiking Time (hours)
|Synagogue Parking||The Ancient Synagogue||Easy||0.5|
|Main Entrance||Wadi David and David Fall||Easy||1|
|Main Entrance||David Fall, Shulamit Spring, Dodim Cave, and Ein Gedi Spring||Medium||3 – 4|
|Wadi Arugot Entrance||The Hidden Fall||Medium||2 – 3|
|Wadi Arugot Entrance||The Hidden Fall, and the Upper Pools||Hard||4 – 5|
|Start: Ein Gedi Field School
Ending: Main Entrance
|Tsafit Trail, The Dry Canyon, Ein Gedi Spring, David Fall||Hard||4 – 6|
|Our trail: Main Entrance||David Fall, Shulamit Spring, Chalcolithic Temple, Ein Gedi Spring, Tel Goren, and the Ancient Synagogue||Medium||It took us 3.5 hours at a moderate pace|
Also, keep in mind that if you want to hike the longer trails, you have to start early. Here is the time limitation sign that you can find near David Fall.
Streams And Springs
As you probably noticed in the previous section, most trails will go near water. Afterall, Ein Gedi is the largest Oasis in Israel.
At Ein Gedi you can find two streams. The main entrance is near David Stream, and the other entry is close to Arugot Stream.
There are two year-round streams in the nature reserve: David Stream (relatively short, draining an area of some 18 km2), and the larger Arugot Stream (40 km in length, draining an area of 200 km2 in Mt Hebron and the Judean Desert plateau). Four small springs rise in the nature reserve: En David (in David Stream), En Arugot (in Arugot Stream), En Shlomit, and En Gedi spring on the hillside between the two streams. Their total output is around 3 million m3 per year, and the source of this water is the rainfall in the Judean Hills, which seeps into the groundwater and gushes up in the area of the nature reserve.
Note: unless stated otherwise, all quotes were taken from the official site.
Water, especially in the desert, is life. And it also means human settlements. And this brings us to the next section.
Archaeology and History
The abundance of water at En Gedi has made human settlement possible since early times, especially settlements that engaged in growing crops based on irrigation systems. In the past, the area irrigated by spring water was some 1,100 dunams, as compared with only 500 dunams today that is cultivated by Kibbutz En Gedi using modern methods.
The most well-known ancient crop grown at En Gedi was the Biblical persimmon, Commiphora gileadensis, an ancient fragrance plant known as Bossem (not to be confused with the fruit known as persimmon today), which gained a wide reputation. Another plant that stood out here was the henna plant, mentioned in Song of Songs: “My beloved is to me a cluster of henna blossoms from the vineyards of En Gedi”
The first settlement at En Gedi appears to have been in the Chalcolithic period, some 5,000 years ago. At this time, there was a major temple here, attracting pilgrims from far and wide. No contemporaneous remains of the permanent settlement were found around the temple, but it is estimated that the trove of copper vessels from this period found in the Treasure Cave in Mishmar Stream belonged to those using the temple.
En Gedi is mentioned a number of times in the Bible. It is one of the towns of the tribe of Judah in the desert and is where David concealed himself when he fled from King Saul in around 1000 BCE (after whom the David Stream is named). The archaeological documentation of the Jewish settlement at the site dates to a later period, the 7th century BCE. The Jewish settlement existed (with breaks) for over a thousand years until its destruction in the 6th-century CE.
The early settlement at En Gedi is at Tel Goren. Its inhabitants made use of the spring water for irrigated farming, and the main crops in the area were dates (“Hazazon-Tamar, that is, En Gedi,” II Chronicles 20:2) and persimmon fragrance.
Destruction And Rehabilitation
En Gedi was destroyed by the Babylonians, rebuilt in the Persian period, abandoned and renewed again in Hasmonean times, after which there was a Jewish settlement for some 700 years. The inhabitants developed intensive farming methods, built water storage pools and aqueducts, and built a fortress looking over Arugot Stream. There was an estate of the Hasmonean royal house here, which was then leased to King Herod, who turned it into a Roman imperial estate.
The residents of En Gedi took part in the Great Revolt and the Bar Kochba revolt and were fatally harmed by Zealot incursions into the settlement. A Roman military camp was set up alongside the settlement to protect the supply of persimmon.
In the 3rd century CE, the settlement was rebuilt, and a synagogue was built, in which there is an inscription enjoining the residents not to reveal the secrets of the town to strangers. It is usually assumed that this secret was the process of growing the persimmon and producing the persimmon oil.
En Gedi was destroyed in the mid-6th century CE, and in the Middle Ages (13th – 14th centuries), a small village was established here, with a flour mill. In recent generations, there has only been seasonal settlement here by Bedouins of the Rashaida tribe.
In the 1947 Partition Plan, En Gedi was included in the Jewish state, and in March 1949 the area was captured by the Alexandroni Division. The Nahal settlement of En Gedi was established in 1953, and it became a civilian settlement three years later.
Biblical Persimmon – Shemen Afarsimon
In the history section, Biblical Persimmon was mentioned several times. That is not the modern persimmon, and we do not know for sure what it is. According to mentions in ancient texts, we know that this plant grew in the Dead Sea area, Gilad, and across the Yarden River.
Researchers think that Biblical Persimmon is Commiphora gileadensis. And from the plant, they created the perfume in the form of oil. They called it Persimmon oil.
Eusebius from Caesarea (historian of Christianity and the bishop of Caesarea Maritima at about 314 AD) noted that the Biblical Persimmon grew in Ein Gedi during his time. Some researchers believe that Biblical Persimmon was cultivated in this area until the eight century CE. And at that time the demand for Persimmon oil decreased due to the silk road.
Source: translated from Wikipedia.
And now I will elaborate on the trail we took during our latest visit and the POI we saw.
At the main entrance, you can find a picnic area, restrooms, a small shop, and cages for dogs. Entrance with dogs is forbidden. Thus at the entry, there are cages where you can leave your dog. But since the cages are quite small, it is better not to bring your pets at all.
As we entered Ein Gedi Nature Reserve, we met a herd of Nubian ibexes. But I will not get into wildlife at this point. We will discuss it later in the post when we will meet group rock hyraxes. Now I will only mention the Ein Gedi mineral water. You can find it in most Israeli supermarkets, and its logo, as you probably guessed, is Nubian ibex.
Note: Another popular place in Israel where you can meet Nubian ibexes is Mitzpe Ramon.
Parts of this park were made accessible. And as you can see, the trail near the main entrance is wheelchair accessible.
According to the official website, here is the list of accessible parts:
The main entrance to the site including parking, entrance area, visitor service station, and an accessible restroom.
There is also a wheelchair-accessible trail along Nahal David Stream. The trail is about half a kilometer long.
The parking near the ancient Synagogue, and the movement through the archeological site on foot on well-paved paths.
Also, keep in mind, service animals are not permitted in the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve. Animals may be left in a cage at the reserve entrance for the duration of the visit.
The accessible trail reaches the lower waterfall.
From the lower waterfall, we continued to hike along David stream.
Most of the trails include climbing on rocky terrain, and there are also many small pools and slippery rocks. Thus either wear waterproof climbing shoes or water sandals or both. In any case, they should be comfortable and non-slip.
Ein Gedi in the Bible
The hike from the main entrance to David Waterfall took us about 40 minutes.
At this point, while we at David waterfall, I want to talk about the name. David stream and waterfall are called after king David. When David fled from King Saul, he hid at Ein Gedi, one of the towns of the tribe of Judah.
But this is not the only time Ein Gedi is mentioned in the Bible. According to a simple search query that I run at BibleGateway, En Gedi is mentioned six times.
Joshua 15:62 (NIV):
Nibshan, the City of Salt and En Gedi—six towns and their villages.
1 Samuel 23:29 (NIV):
And David went up from there and lived in the strongholds of En Gedi.
1 Samuel 24:1 (NIV):
[ David Spares Saul’s Life ] After Saul returned from pursuing the Philistines, he was told, “David is in the Desert of En Gedi.”
You can find all mentions at BibleGateway.
From David Waterfall, you can return to the main entrance. This round route is probably the most popular trail among tourists. But we decided to take a longer hike and started climbing the hill towards Shulamit Spring.
We decided to skip the visit to Dudim Cave since I was afraid that the hike would be too hard on my daughter. So we headed to Chalcolithic Temple.
The earliest remains discovered in Ein Gedi are from the Chalcolithic period (5,000 years ago). During this period, copper began to be used in Israel. A central shrine was erected at Ein Gedi that attracted pilgrims from a distance. The temple was erected above the Ein Gedi spring in front of the Dead Sea and the Moab Mountains. There was a ritual associated with water. In a cave at Mishmar Stream, 429 worship vessels made of copper and ivory were found. They are probably related to this temple. And today they are on display at the Israel Museum.
From the Chalcolithic Temple, we started to descent towards Ein Gedi spring.
Ein Gedi Ascent
Looking back towards Mount Yishai:
The black trail along Ein Gedi Ascent, towards Ein Gedi Lookout, leads to the top of that mountain.
En Gedi Ascent – 5 steep trails climbing up from the En Gedi oasis to the Judean Desert plateau: Mt Yishay Ascent, En Gedi Ascent (an ancient path that some consider being the Tsits Ascent mentioned in II Chronicles 20:16), the Bney Ha’Moshavim Ascent, the Essene Ascent (an ancient Roman path), and Tsruya Ascent. All are for experienced hikers only, and not for hiking during the summer or on sweltering days.
Ein Gedi Spring
En Gedi Spring – rises in the mountainside, and sustains abundant vegetation. By the spring are the remains of an ancient flour mill.
As I mentioned above, you can find Ein Gedi mineral water in most supermarkets. Thus at Ein Gedi spring, you will not find a big spring and lots of water. Instead, you will see plastic pipes and a small wading pool. And some vegetation near the pool.
After several minutes we saw the remains of a flour mill.
This “chimney” type flour mill was built during the Mamluk period (13 – 14 centuries CE).
We continued our descent along the black trail towards ancient Ein Gedi.
Ein Gedi Ancient Synagogue
The first trail that I mentioned in the “Trails” section is the Ancient Synagogue. It is a small national park, and you can visit it separately. There are nearby parking and restrooms. As per the entrance fee, you can find it in the relevant section above.
On the site, you can see the synagogue, the nearby street, and several houses around it. You can also see, remains of the ancient Jewish community, dating back to the Second Temple period.
Ancient Ein Gedi – Archaeology and History
The ancient Jewish settlement in Ein Gedi, on the site of the synagogue and its surroundings, is dated to the third to sixth centuries CE. This period is known by the researchers: the late Roman and Byzantine periods, or the Mishnah and Talmudic era.
Beneath the remains of the settlement from the Mishnah and Talmudic period, remains of a Jewish settlement from the end of the Second Temple era (Early Roman period) were found.
According to the testimony of Eusebius (historian of Christianity and the bishop of Caesarea Maritima at about 314 AD), there was a “very large Jewish village” in the place.
From ancient sources, we know that the residents of Ein Gedi grew dates and Biblical persimmons (for more info see Biblical Persimmon section above). From the Biblical persimmon tree, they created a precious perfume, which was in great demand in the past. The agricultural terraces to the west, are evidence of the residents’ agricultural occupation.
The remains of the settlement, which were exposed, include streets, homes, and a synagogue. The houses near the synagogue may have been used by the people who served at the synagogue. And maybe the houses were used as a guest house as well (the synagogue structure was fully exposed, and streets and houses were partially revealed).
The synagogue was built at the beginning of the third century CE. The structure has a Trapeze shape. The northern wall, facing Jerusalem, had two openings. Its floor was made of white and black mosaic stones. The holy ark was a movable box.
At the beginning of the fourth century CE, changes were made to the structure of the synagogue (the mosaic was only repaired). The central doorway, in the northern wall, was blocked and became the niche where the Holy Ark stood. The area of the building was divided using columns to the main hall and two elongated spaces to the south and east.
In the middle of the fifth century CE, the synagogue was rebuild (this is the building we see today). It included a hall that is bounded by three elongated spaces. Near the northern wall, the Holy Arc was placed. And there was a rectangular stage in front of him. Also, the mosaic floor was installed in the hall and a dedication inscription in the western space.
The Jewish settlements and the synagogue were destroyed in the fire. And in the courtyard of a house near the synagogue, a bundle of coins wrapped in cloth was discovered. Those coins are from the days of Emperor Justinian. During the beginning of Emperor Justinian’s rule, Jews suffered from persecution. In light of these facts, scientists conclude that the settlement and the synagogue were destroyed that wave of persecution, at around 530 CE.
Source: translated from the official booklet.
Mosaics at the Ancient Synagogue
The mosaic at the central hall of the synagogue:
As you can see in the next shot, there are numbers on-site and the booklet that you receive at the entrance explains each one.
Number #8 is where the Holy Ark once stood.
And near the Torah Ark, the floor is decorated with three small menorahs.
Here is a wider view of the synagogue’s mosaic floor. And you can also see part of the inscription.
The inscription is divided into four blocks with eighteen lines in total. The fifth part, which consists of three rows, was added at a later stage when the synagogue was fixed.
So far we saw Nubian ibexes and several species of birds. But in my previous visits, I remembered seeing rock hyraxes in the area. And I was a little disappointed that we have not seen them. But as we walked from the Ein Gedi ancient synagogue towards the main entrance, we heard a noise. It was coming from the trees by the road. And when we looked closely at the trees, we saw dozens of rock hyrax on one tree and dozens of Tristram’s starlings another tree.
Note: you can also see rock hyraxes at Rosh HaNikra.
The Nubian ibex (Capra nubiana), which also stars in Nature and Parks Authority emblem, is adapted to living in craggy and rocky areas. The reserve is home to one of the largest herds of ibex in the country. Also very noticeable here, in addition to the ibex, is the rock hyrax (Procavia capensis).
Other mammals, such as foxes, wolves, and bats, are active at night, and 16 species of bat have been documented in reserve. Birds of prey such as the vulture (Gyps) nest in the cliffs. A widespread bird is Tristram’s starling (Onychognathus tristramii) – a medium-sized member of the starling family, recognizable by its black color and the orange patches on its wings. It is named for Henry Baker Tristram, the British priest, and zoologist who discovered this species. Also noteworthy are the fan-tailed raven (Corvus rhipidurus), the blackstart (Cercomela melanura), and the sand partridge (Ammoperdix heyi).
Among the reptiles is a rare and poisonous snake that it is hard to meet – the Israeli burrowing asp (Atractaspis engaddensis). Other snakes living in the area are the echis (Echis) and the braid snake (Coluber rhodorachis). The abundance of water in the nature reserve also supports populations of marsh frogs (Pelophylax ridibundus), river crabs (Potamon potamios), gastropods such as the melanopsis (Melanopsis praemorsa), and dragonflies (Anisoptera). Among the insects living in reserve, it is worth mentioning the weaver ant (Polyrhachis simplex), which builds nesting colonies in the rocks along Arugot Stream.
Where to Stay?
There is Ein Gedi hotel, hostel, camp lodge, and even apartments. Thus, there is a variety of options. You can check the availability and prices of all of them, plus the nearby hotels and apartments on booking.com.
David went to Ein Gedi to hide from King Saul. And according to 1 Samuel 24:1 David Spares Saul’s Life after finding him unarmed. Afterward, they reconcile and Saul recognizes David as his successor.
Yes, Ein Gedi beach is closed due to sinkholes.
You can either drive there or take a bus. For additional info check out the directions section.
Ein Gedi consists of two words, and the literal translation from Hebrew means “the spring of the young goat”. That is according to modern Hebrew. In Biblical Hebrew, the word “GDI” referred to the baby of any animal.
Ein Gedi is about 80 km from Jerusalem. And driving there, depending on traffic, will take about one and a half hours.
Ein Gedi is the largest Oasis in Israel. Thus it attracts people starting from ancient times. Moreover, it draws wildlife as well. Therefore, the combination of history, archeology, wildlife, and nature makes Gedi Nature Reserve Park one of the most popular attractions in the Dead Sea area.
Have you ever been to Ein Gedi Nature Reserve Park? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.
That’s all for today, and I’ll see you in future travels!
Additional ResourcesHere are several resources that I created to help travelers:
- Israel Trip Planner is the page that will help you to create your perfect travel route.
- National Parks And Nature Reserves page lists and put all national parks on the map. There is also a top list, information about ticket types and campsites.
- If you are looking for things to do, here are the pages for Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Sea Of Galilee.
- Wondering what events are there in Israel? Here is the Events And Festivals By Season guide.