Beit Keshet Forest - Mt Tabor Oaks in the Lower Galilee

Bicycles in Beit Keshet forest. Photo: KKL JNF Photo Archive

Panoramic Lookouts, unique trees and scenic routes in the Lower Galilee: Israel's Beit Keshet Forest covers the eastern slopes of the mountains of Nazareth, which offer beautiful views of the Lower Galilee and the Jezreel Valley.

  • How to get there

    • North Entrance – from the Shimshon Army Base on Highway 77, about 2km west of Golani Junction.
    • South Entrance – from Upper Nazareth. From Hahativot Road proceed on Ma'aleh Yitzhak Rabin Boulevard and follow the signs to the IMI factory and Churchill Forest. From the Churchill Forest Observation Point proceed about 2 more kilometers until the road turns where it crosses Nahal Barak, and follow the signs.
    • East Entrance – from Highway 65 (Afula – Golani Junction) via Kibbutz Beit Keshet. After the sharp left turn there will be signs to the Scenic Road.
  • Geographic location-

    Sea of Galilee - the valleys and lower Galilee
  • Area-

  • Special Sites in the Forest-

    Alonei Beit Keshet Scenic Lookout, The Karst Trail/Tarshonim Trail, Tel Govel, Aznot River, Tabor Scenic Lookout, Forester’s House Recreation Area.
  • Facilities-

    Lookout, Active recreation area, Marked path, Accessible trail.
  • Other sites in the area-

    Mount Precipice, Lavi Forest, Tur’an Scenic Road and Lookout, Mount Tabor, Nazareth, Kafr Kanna.
  • Access-

    Special (adapted for the disabled)
  • Type of parking-

    Accessible parks,Picnic parks
  • Interest-

    Hiking and Walking Tracks,Bicycle track,Lookouts,Archeology

Projects and Partners Worldwide

Beit Keshet Forest was developed thanks to contributions from friends of KKL‑JNF all over the world, especially from Australia, who contributed towards the restoration of the Forester’s House Recreation Area.
Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive

About the Forest

Beit Keshet Forest covers the eastern slopes of the mountains of Nazareth. The region is blessed with forests, woodlands and mountaintops with beautiful views of the Lower Galilee and the Jezreel Valley. Beit Keshet Forest covers an area of 25,000 dunams and includes a splendid remnant of a Tabor oak forest that used to cover much of northern Israel.

Henry Baker Tristram, the English explorer and priest who visited the region in 1864, described what he saw:

“We left Nazareth for Tiberias and traveled along the ridge. We continued at the foot of the hills north of Mount Tabor and entered an expansive oak forest, the first of its kind we had seen in the land of Israel. We finally found a forest worthy of its name. The terrain was covered with dense, low shrubs—mastic, wild almond, bay laurel and arbutus—and was brilliantly carpeted with anemones and other red flowers, clusters of pretty cyclamens, and a diversity of other flora. (Henry Baker Tristram, The Land of Israel, a Journal of Travels, 1865.)

The Tabor Oak. Photo: Yaakov Shkolnik.
The Tabor Oak. Photo: Yaakov Shkolnik.

The Tabor oaks comprise what is called a forest park, which is an open forest with a lot of space between the trees. This allows for the development of a great deal of perennial vegetation, which flowers in many colors in winter and spring.

Between 1901 and 1913 Eliahu Krause, an agronomist and the Sejera Farm manager, developed the oak forest. Helped by the farmers of the village, he pruned and thinned the trees, and the cuttings provided for the local coal industry. Joseph Weitz, who later became the director of the KKL-JNF Land Development Authority in his stead, took it upon himself to protect the oak forest during WWI, when the fuel scarcity was felt in Israel and people were using more wood. The forest was unfortunately not saved from the ax of the Ottoman sovereign who used the trees for building tracks and for fueling the trains to the southern front.

The members of Kibbutz Beit Keshet, together with KKL-JNF foresters, took part in the rehabilitation of the forest from the early 1950s.

Sites in the Forest

The Scenic Road

KKL-JNF created a scenic road in Beit Keshet Forest that flanks Nazareth on the south and on the east. The road is 18km long and is well packed. KKL JNF also marked the road with signs, built recreation areas along the road for nature lovers, blazed trails for hiking and cycling and created scenic lookouts for the benefit of visitors. The steeper segments of the road were paved with asphalt and are suitable for two-way traffic by car or van, but there is no entry for buses and trucks.

The scenic road is recommended for people looking for a pleasant and unusual trip in the north in the vicinity of the Afula – Golani Junction road (Highway 65) and the Golani Junction – Hamovil Junction road (Highway 77).
Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive.

Tur’an Scenic Lookout

The Tur’an Scenic Lookout is on the peak of the climb from the Tur’an Valley to the Nazareth mountain range and it is 320m above sea level. From the lookout one can view the landscapes of the Tur’an Valley and Mount Tur’an, at the top of which is a watchtower for spotting fires used by KKL-JNF foresters. Tur’an is mentioned in Jewish sources. “You are beautiful, my beloved, like Tirza – these are the girls of Tur’an...” (Shir Hashirim Rabba).

An ancient Roman road that went from Akko via Tzipori toward the Sea of Galilee crossed the length of the Tur’an Valley. Some people identify it as the Beit Rimon Valley, which is also mentioned in Jewish sources. Remains from the Roman period were found in the village of Tur’an.

On clear days you can see Mount Hermon from the lookout as well as Mount Canaan, Mount Meron, Mount Hanaton and Mount Carmel.

The Forester’s House Observation Point and Recreation Area

The Forester’s House, which is covered with stone, was built in 1946 and marks the beginning of tree planting on the eastern slopes of the mountains of Nazareth. Members of the Mitzpe Hagalil pioneering organization, who were living in harsh conditions on the Sejera Farm without work, had reached the point of hunger and decided to turn to KKL-JNF for help. Their representative arrived at the Jerusalem office of Joseph Weitz, director of KKL-JNF's Land and Afforestation Department. Weitz, who had heard his secretary arguing with the uninvited guest from the Sejera Farm, invited him into his office and made an appointment with him on the spot for a tour in order to locate suitable areas for tree planting.
The Forester's House. Photo: Mira Zer.
After touring the area, Weitz determined that the forest could span the area between Mount Tabor and the Nazareth – Tiberias road. In preparation for the tree planting, the Forester’s House was built to store tools and saplings. The house was used by the forest workers as a place to rest and to dream about establishing their own community. It was also known as the Keren Kayemeth House.

The main recreation area in the forest was developed near the Forester’s House. It is one of the main projects on the Beit Keshet Scenic Road and can host many visitors. It also has a short trail that was made wheelchair accessible, which goes all the way from the Forester’s House to the Forester’s House Scenic Lookout, where there is a great view of the Beit Keshet Oak Forest, Givat Hamoreh, Mount Tabor, the Gilboa Mountains, Ramat Kochav and Ramat Yavniel. A venue for events in the forest was constructed right next to the observation point.

Alonei Beit Keshet Scenic Lookout

The Alonei Beit Keshet Scenic Lookout views the south, east and northeast toward Givat Hamoreh, Mount Tabor, the Gilboa Mountains, Ramat Kochav, Ramat Yavniel, Ramat Poriah and Upper Tiberias. The lookout is wheelchair accessible.

Down below one can see the forest park of Tabor oaks, which is a deciduous species that grows in the eastern part of the Mediterranean basin. The Tabor oak flowers in Mediterranean climatic conditions such as those of northern Israel, and it grows well in various types of soil—the basalt earth of the Golan Heights, the rendzina earth of chalkstone in Givot Alonim, the terra rosa earth on the dolomite bedrock and the hard chalk in Beit Keshet Forest and in light soil such as the red loam of the Sharon region.

The Karst Trail

The Karst Trail starts from below the Ancient Oak Recreation Area that is farther on down the road, past the Tabor Oak Scenic Lookout and Nahal Hashiv’a. It is about 700m long and ascends through the dolomite karst, a hard limestone that contains magnesium, which gives it rigidity and its gray color. The chemical composition of dolomite makes it sensitive to chemical weathering that disintegrates it and, together with the wind, created the karst rock all along the trail.

The level where the trail is situated is where the Tabor oaks climb up to meet the Mediterranean woodland species that descend from the top of the ridge. In the lower forest, there are many wildflowers in the springtime and plants that like dampness such as navelwort and moss.
Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive
Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive

Tel Govel

Tel Govel was identified as the biblical town of Aznot Tavor, which defined the border between the tribes of Issachar and Naftali. “The border returned westward to Aznot Tavor and from there to Hukok,” (Joshua 19:34). An archeological survey done at the site, which covered an area of about ten dunams, disclosed shards from the Israelite period and the Roman period.

There is a marked trail to the top of the hill, which begins at the Ancient Oak Recreation Area. From the top of the hill there is a beautiful view of Mount Tabor, Givat Hamoreh and the southeastern towns of the Lower Galilee.

Aznot River

The Aznot streambed meets the Hashiv’a streambed north of Kibbutz Beit Keshet. In rainy winters there is a wellspring that flows in the channel called Ein Aznot. Along the streambed there is an interesting combination of oak trees and buckthorns. One can see scores of buckthorns on the way down from Tel Govel to Kibbutz Beit Keshet, parallel to the streambed. The buckthorn is a plant that originates in the African savanna. In Israel it is found mainly in the valleys and on the coastal plain.

The Tabor Scenic Lookout

From the Tabor Scenic Lookout one can see Mount Tabor in all its splendor. This lone mountain, which towers above its surroundings, is a horst—a landmass that rose beside the surrounding rift. Its topographical uniqueness made Mount Tabor a sacred mountain in ancient times. Christian tradition identifies the mountain as the place of the miracle of the transfiguration of Jesus. Starting from the Byzantine period (the 5th century) churches and monasteries were built on its crest. The structure on the mountain peak is a Franciscan church that was built from 1921 to 1925.

At the foot of Mount Tabor are the villages of Daburiya and Shibli. The first, on the right, is identified as Dovrat, one of the Levite towns in the region of the tribe of Issachar. The other, on the left, is populated by a Bedouin tribe called Arb a Sabiah. One can see a combination of natural woodland and planted forests on the slopes. Tree planting on Mount Tabor began in the 1940s.
Photo: Yaakov Shkolnik.

The Mandate Pines

At the foot of the northern slope of Mount Deborah, where the Scenic Road makes a sharp turn to the northwest, there are some very tall pines known for their broad trunks. These pines are the remains of trees planted by the British. In 1926 the Mandatory Forest Service began planting trees on the northern slopes of Mount Deborah. Two kinds of trees were planted—Jerusalem pine and Stone pine. This pine forest, which was maintained and protected by KKL JNF foresters, allowed the natural woodland, which had been suppressed for years by felling and overgrazing, to regenerate and flourish.

A tour of the forest reveals species of natural woodland that grow thanks to the protection provided by the planted forest, including Tabor oak, Palestine oak, terebinth and carob.

Recreation Areas in the Forest

The Queen of Holland Recreation Area

This is a small recreation area among Stone pines located next to where the Scenic Road turns, near Highway 77, where it ascends southward towards the Nazareth mountains.
Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive.

Barak River Recreation Area

This watercourse drains the Mount Yonah ridge all along the southeastern slope of the Nazareth mountain range towards Kesulot valley, where it creates the Nahal Tavor channel. Its higher section, near the cemetery of Upper Nazareth, has clusters of Nazareth irises (an endangered species). The streambed passes landscapes of chalkstone until the highway.

After the turn the landscape changes. The stream created a small gorge by eroding the hard chalkstone, and it is covered with Mediterranean vegetation. Water flows in the streambed in winter months and early spring, and there is a marked trail that starts at the turn in the channel and descends it toward the Kesulot Valley. In the winter months and in early spring there are many wildflowers and orchids all along the way.

At the turn in the road there is a gate to the scenic route and a small recreation area with a few tables. From here one cannot continue by bus to Beit Keshet Forest.

The Mount Debora Recreation Area

Mount Debora is on the southeastern corner of the Nazareth mountain range. Its peak is 437m above sea level. Access is from the south entrance to the scenic road where Nahal Barak turns. There is a paved road from there that proceeds about 2km. At the top of the mountain there is a stone monument marking the silver anniversary of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip of England.
Photo: Vera Etzion.
Mount Debora is composed of hard chalkstone and dolomite, and the soil is terra rosa, which is a good habitat for dense Mediterranean woodland with a lot of Palestine oaks. At the foot of the north slope of the mountain there is a forest park of Tabor oaks.

Mount Debora was declared a forest reserve in 1926 by the British Mandate in the land of Israel. At that time it was called the Sartava Forest and was designated as forest reserve number 95. At the crest of the mountain KKL JNF constructed a recreation area under the shade of the natural woodland trees. There is a marked trail from the recreation area that descends to the south entrance at the turn in Nahal Barak. In the month of March the orchids and the bee orchids bloom on Mount Debora. Don’t forget—these are endangered species.

Churchill Forest Recreation Area and Lookout

The Churchill Forest Lookout is 350m above sea level and offers a beautiful view of the Kesulot Valley, Givat Hamoreh, the Gilboa Mountains, Mount Amir and the northern mountains of Samaria. There is a small recreation area next to it.