Today we are going to visit Ein Hemed and Castel National Parks. Both these National Parks located within ten minutes drive from each other and not far from Jerusalem. Let’s start!
Map of the area:
Ein Hemed National Park
Ein Hemed National Park (official site) lies in the Nahal Kesalon riverbed. There are springs in the park, as well as remains of a 12th century Crusader castle. It is also known by its Latin name Aqua Bella.
Ein Hemed is not a big National Park. It takes only five – seven minutes to go from one end to another. And as you enter this park, you will see a lot of families with kids. The main reason is the characteristics of this park. There is a lot of greenery, water, shade and a place for kids to run. Thus, many families come here for a picnic and relaxing time.
My last visit to Ein Hemed National Park was more than a decade ago. Back then I did not have kids and when traveling my main purpose was to see and learn new and interesting things. Thus, Ein Hemed did not impress me at all and it took me more than a decade to return for another visit.
Stroll through Ein Hemed National Park
We arrived on a Saturday morning during September. September is usually already not too hot, but it is before the rainy season. thus Ein Hemed Spring barely had any water.
One of the ponds.
Water in the pond was not clean, but there was another place where kids could splash in the water.
The water route is almost completely dry.
You rarely see autumn in Israel, thus when I saw these leaves I decided to make a small photo book for them 🙂
The Crusader Farmhouse
This farmhouse was built during the Crusader period (1140 – 1160). It is one of the buildings constructed along the road to Jerusalem, and it was owned by members of the Hospitalier family.
The lookout trail takes you a little into the mountain, but you do not see much because of the trees.
After about five minute walk we returned to the parking (which is located near the entrance to Ein Hemed National Park). And since it was the time for brunch, we made a small picnic.
A note for those who like barbecue. While in most areas fire is not allowed, in some parts of this National Park fire is permitted. Just follow the signs.
Since that visit, we were at Ein Hemed once more. We were in Jerusalem for a half day and had food with us. So we looked for a nice place for a picnic. And Ein Hemed was the perfect candidate.
That perfectly sums up Ein Hemed. It is a lovely shaded park, with water and grass area that allows kids to explore and have fun. Thus, it is the perfect place to have a family picnic in the Jerusalem area. Moreover, Ein Hemed can be combined with nearby attractions for a half day or a full day trip. That is what we did. After having brunch at Ein Hemed, we continued to Castel.
Note: this is a National Park. Thus you have to buy tickets at the entrance. Unless you are a frequent visitor to Israeli National Parks (like me) and have an annual pass. Last time I checked, if you visit National Parks more then three times per year, then the annual pass is worthwhile.
Castel National Heritage Site
The hill rising over Road 1 has become a symbol of the struggle to break through to Jerusalem during the War of Independence. Between trenches and bunkers, the Castel Park is a hands-on memorial to one of the fascinating chapters of the war.
Source: Official Site
At Castel National Park
We left Ein Hemed and after ten minutes drive parked at Castel National Heritage Site.
While we walked towards the cashiers, we saw several signs. One of them was a map of the surrounding area. Castel is on far right, and two roads to Jerusalem (via Tzuba and Sha’ar HaGai, which is new road #1) go through Castel. Or more exactly beneath Castel. It makes it a strategic point.
And here you can see fighting spots of Palmach Harel division during the war of Independence. Orange means Arab settlement and blue is a Jewish settlement.
The cashier told us there are two movies. The first one tells the history and the importance of this place and the second is more about the battles themselves. She told that the second is less appropriate for children, so we skipped it.
Watching the first movie.The first movie is just next to the cashiers. It is a ten minutes movie, and you activate it by pressing a button. There are two buttons, one for Hebrew and another for English.
From that point, we started climbing to the top of the hill. On the way, we saw signs telling Castel’s history in chronological order.
The first sign mentions the Crusader fortress Castellum Beivoir. This twelfth-century fortress guarded the road to Jerusalem. In 1187 it was conquered by Saladin. The fortress was destroyed, and up till the War of Independence, there was an Arab village here.
On this trail, besides the historical signs, there are also several spots highlighting important human qualities. Qualities that were needed to take over Castel and allow passage of supply convoys to Jerusalem.
Besides the main trail, there is also a scenic path. We did not take this path. While we were at Ein Hemed, it was nice and cool. But at Castel, there is no shade and no grass. Thus, though it was September, we felt the sun hitting us from both sides (skies and ground). Therefore we explored less and headed straight towards the top of the hill.
At the top of the hill, you can find a topographical map of the area as well as the description of Operation “Nahshon”. Jerusalem was cut off. Bringing vital supplies using “escort” method failed. Thus, David Ben Gurion decided to open the road to Jerusalem. For this purpose a new brigade of 1500 soldiers, the “Nahshon” brigade was created.
On the night of between 5 and 6 of April 1948, the operation started. The operation ends with the capture of six Arab villages, for the first time in the War of Independence. And three convoys consisting 335 vehicles bring supplies and arms to the city.
It is also a nice lookout of the surroundings. Here, for example, you can see Ein Kerem neighborhood with The Hebrew University Ein Kerem Campus.
At the top of Castel National Heritage Site:
We decided to go down from the other side.
And as you go down a little further you can see the graves.
During our climb, we saw war trenches. My daughter asked to go in one of the trenches. Since we made our way up using the trail, we went down in one of the trenches.
Castel is an important heritage site, and I do recommend visiting it. Just keep in mind there is no shade and no greenery. Thus, you would enjoy it more in cooler weather. Also, to make it more enjoyable for kids prepare some games/activities in advance.
Our visit took us about two hours, but according to the official site, the average visit takes three hours (maybe because we skipped the second movie and lookout path).
That’s all for today, and I’ll see you in future travels!
For similar posts check out National Parks category.