Tel Dan guide starts with basics (history, map, trails, Tel Dan Stele). And then hike through the nature reserve. Let’s begin!
Tel Dan Nature Reserve is located in Northern Israel, not far from Kiryat Shmona and near Kibbutz Dan, surrounding Dan Stream.
Map of the area:
Note: you can click on the image to enlarge it.
Sunday – Thursday And Saturday: 8 – 17 (16 during winter).
Fridays and holidays eve: 8 – 16 (15 during winter).
Adults 28 NIS, children 14 NIS, and Students 24 NIS.
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 in most other national parks and nature reserves, the entrance is free to subscription members.
Note: opening hours and ticket prices were updated in November 2018. In any case, recheck the official site before visiting.
The city of Dan was mentioned in the Bible. It is the northernmost city of the Kingdom of Israel, and belonging to the tribe of Dan. And at Tel Dan, remains of the Biblical Dan were found (the Archeological findings include the Ancient Dan with the Israelite and Canaanite gates).
Moreover, each city needs a supply of fresh water. Dan stream, the most significant of the three sources of the Jordan river, has a powerful flow all year round and provided the city with water.
Tel Dan – the remains of a 5000-year-old ancient city. The city reached its height during the Canaanite and Israelite periods. In Canaanite times, it was called Laish or Leshem. The town is mentioned in the Bible, in particular in connection with the capture of the city by the tribe of Dan, which migrated here from its original land in the Judean plains, and changed its name to Dan after the forefather of the clan. Dan was a significant reference point in the unified kingdom – “from Dan to Beersheba.” After the nation was divided Jeroboam, son of Nabat, made Dan one of the two centers of worship in the Kingdom of Israel, at which golden calves were set up. The city decreased in importance with the development of the nearby town of Panias (Banias).
Note: unless stated otherwise, all quotes were taken from the official site.
Dan In The Bible
In the Bible, the site of Tel Dan makes its first appearance in Genesis 14:14 as a place unto which Abram chased the captors of Lot, but in two other narratives, the site features more prominently. In Judges 17-18, it is the final resting place for the itinerant Tribe of Dan who leave the Coastal Plain and overpower a peaceful and unsuspecting people of Canaanite Laish (the same name of the city in 18th century BCE texts from Egypt and Syria, and in the 15th century BCE conquest list of Thutmose III). And renaming the city Dan and installing a Levitical priest descended from Moses as a priest in a shrine there.
The religious significance of the site is again highlighted in 1 Kings 12 in a narrative that describes Jeroboam’s installation of a golden calf at the site accompanied by sacrificial pilgrim festivals (cf. also Amos 8). Dan is also mentioned as a victim of the conquest of Ban-Hadad of Aram in 1 Kings 15:20 and as the northern limit of the idealized borders of the kingdom in the biblical refrain “from Dan to Beersheva” in the biblical histories (cf. Jeremiah 4:15).
Besides, if you get tired from the ruins, you can dip in a wading pool. The pools are the reason why families with kids love this nature reserve. And not in all nature reserves entrance to the water is allowed. For example, at Banias Nature Reserve the entrance to the water is prohibited.
What Does Tel Dan Mean?
The name Tel Dan consists of two words. You probably met the word Tel in many places all over Israel. Shortly, Tel is a hill created by many generations of people living and rebuilding on the same spot (you can find additional info at Megiddo National Park post). And the city was named Dan after the forefather of the clan, the Dan tribe.
What Does Dan Mean?
Dan in Hebrew means to discuss, judge, debate, or sentence. It can also mean that somebody judged or sentenced another person.
According to the Book of Genesis, Dan (Dan, “judgment” or “he judged”) was the fifth son of Jacob and the first son of Bilhah. He was the founder of the Israelite Tribe of Dan. In the biblical account, Dan’s mother is described as Rachel’s handmaid, who becomes one of Jacob’s wives. (Genesis 30:1–6)
The text of the Torah explains that the name of Dan derives from dananni, meaning “he has judged me”, in reference to Rachel’s belief that she had gained a child as the result of a judgment from God.
You can choose the desired hike from several available trails:
- The red trail is the shortest one, and it is about 1 hour long. It offers views mostly of the Dan River, which is the most important source of the Jordan river. You will also visit flour mill and wading pool.
- The green path is the medium one, and it takes about 1.5 hours. In addition to the POI of the red trail, you will visit En Dan and “Paradise Springs.”
- The yellow hike is the longer one, and it will take you about 2 hours to complete. It will lead you to the ancient Dan city, including Israelite gate, Canaanite gate, and cultic site.
- At the map above they also offer a yellow-green combination which will take about 2.5 hours. But, since the park is not big, you can choose the POI you want to visit and create a trail for yourself.
The yellow-green trails cover almost everything. Thus I will show the highlights of both of them.
Wheelchair Accessible Trail
All trails start together, and at some point, they split. Here are the signs at the split junction:
Tel Dan reserve was upgraded in recent years, and now big parts of the short trail are wheelchair and baby strollers accessible.
Hiking trails for people with difficulty walking and families with baby buggies – in the entrance plaza are accessible toilets and accessible picnic benches. Accessible benches can be found throughout the site, alongside the hiking trails. The accessible trail begins at the entrance to the site, follows the first part of the hiking trail, and reaches the wading pool, the Israelite Gate, and the Abraham Gate (the Canaanite Gate). Another short trail goes to a new accessible observation point, looking out over a wooden terrace towards the flowing waters of the Dan Stream.
Dan Forest is one of the “greenest” forests in Israel. That is mostly due to the melting snow from Mount Hermon. And as a result, large quantities of water that pass at Dan stream and make this nature reserve luscious green.
Despite the small size of the nature reserve, it is particularly rich in wildlife species in general, and water- and shade-loving species in particular – different types of fish, amphibians (including the Near Eastern salamander), and many invertebrates. Particularly noteworthy among the mammals are the otter and the wild boar. On rainy days or immediately afterward, visitors to the nature reserve are likely to meet the rare salamanders alongside the trails.
Abraham Gate – Canaanite Gate
One of the most important finds at this site is the ruins of the Canaanite city of Laish, which was captured by the tribe of Dan during the period of the Judges. The Israelite city gate has been restored, as has the Canaanite gate, which perhaps is the earliest constructed arch ever discovered.
Abraham Gate (the Canaanite Gate) – the most impressive find of the Tel Dan excavations is the ancient Canaanite Gate. The gate was built of mud bricks and had three arches that are considered to be the earliest of their kind in the world. The gate has been preserved to its full height of 7 m. Nature and Parks Authority has implemented measures to protect the gate from weather damage.
The Israelite Gate – the remains of the entrance gate to the city of Dan and the fortification walls from the Israelite period. The remains of a palanquin were found at the site, on which the ruler of the city would have been elevated, alongside benches for the elders of the city.
Part of this post title is “The Gate To Paradise,” thus will elaborate on this topic. As, you probably understood by this point, by “Gate” I was referring to Canaanite Gate. And paradise refers to Paradise Springs. If you take the green trail, then you will pass through it.
Paradise Springs – calmly babbling brooks creating channels along which a well-developed riverside forest grows. It is the only place in Israel with a “wetland forest” of northern trees – the narrow-leafed ash and bay laurel. This forest is shady throughout the year and is home to many species of climbers. Cool rivers flow at the foot of the trees, populated by rare salamanders and invertebrates.
The many surveys carried out at the nature reserve indicate that the salamanders are mainly found in the Paradise Springs area, where they have not only shade and water but also stones among which they can conceal themselves.
Ritual site – another unique find is the ritual compound, with a paved platform. This structure recalls the biblical stories of the golden calves.
Is it my association or this tree was created with love?
The flour mill – the remains of some flour mills were found at Tel Dan, which used the strong current of the water to turn the millstones and grind flour. The flour mill that can be seen today along the hiking trail is the latest of them and was in operation until the 1960s. It has been conserved, and work was carried out to stabilize the walls, which were in danger of collapse. The aqueduct bringing water to the mill has also been conserved, and now carries water to a part of the nature reserve where water has not flowed for many years.
And here we are at the Wading pool. Usually, you will find many kids playing there, but since that visit was in the middle of the week, we practically had this place for us.
Wading pool – a shallow pool that is part of the hiking trail. An excellent place to get your feet wet in the cool and refreshing waters of the pool. An accessible path for people with difficulty walking reaches this pool. It has recently been expanded and surrounded by a wooden deck and benches, accessible to people with disabilities. The wading pool is the only place in the nature reserve where it is permitted to paddle in the water. Wading is prohibited in other parts of the nature reserve to protect the natural habitat from the matter being stirred up from the bed of the river.
Tel Dan nature reserve has a large variety of wild plants from some different areas, in particular, “northern” plants that grow alongside the cool flowing brooks. One of these, the marsh fern, grows nowhere else in Israel, while for others this is the southernmost point at which they are found. In addition to flowering plants, the reserve also has a great diversity of lichen and algae.
Tel Dan Excavations
Archaeological excavations of the ancient site of Tel Dan were renewed in 2005. And according to the official site, there were excavations in June and July of 2018. Thus, if you would like to join the diggings for several weeks (minimum two weeks are encouraged), check the official site.
Tel Dan Stele
The Tel Dan Stele is a broken inscribed stone discovered during excavations at this site.
The Tel Dan Stele consists of several fragments making up a part of a triumphal inscription in Aramaic, left most probably by Hazael of Aram-Damascus, an essential regional figure in the late 9th century BCE. Hazael (or more accurately, the unnamed king) boasts of his victories over the king of Israel and his ally the king of the “House of David” (“bytdwd”). It is considered the earliest widely accepted reference to the name David as the founder of a Judahite polity outside of the Hebrew Bible, though the earlier Mesha Stele contains several possible references with varying acceptance.
A minority of scholars have disputed the reference to David, due to the lack of a word divider between “byt” and “dwd,” and other translations have been proposed. The stele was not excavated in its primary context, but its secondary use. The Tel Dan stele is one of four known inscriptions made during a roughly 400-year period (1200-800 BCE) containing the name “Israel,” the others being the Merneptah Stele, the Mesha Stele, and the Kurkh Monolith.
Tel Dan Stele is currently on display in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
Here are several nearby attractions that might interest you:
We visited the Tel Dan Nature Reserve many times before and will return. It is a lovely place to visit. Besides the ruins, there is plenty of greenery, shade, and water. Thus it can serve as a nice place for hotter days as well. And since this site is not big, you can either cover all of it in several hours or choose a different trail each time.
Have you ever visited the Tel Dan Nature Reserve? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.
That’s all for today, and I’ll see you in future travels!
If you have any questions then check out Useful Information For Tourists To Israel. And if you are looking for ideas on where to visit, then read Israel Trip Planner, National Parks And Nature Reserves, and Events And Festivals By Season.
Here 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.
And if you have any questions then check out Useful Information For Tourists To Israel.