Ben Shemen Forest - Archaeology & Hiking in Central Israel

Argentina car park, Ben Shemen forest. Photo: Amir Hermes

A green lung in central Israel: Ben Shemen Forest is the largest forest in Central Israel, and offers a diversity of hiking routes, bicycle paths, picnic areas, archaeological sites, a profusion of wildflowers in winter and spring.

  • How to get there

    - From Highway 1 turn east at Ben Shemen Interchange to Maccabim and Re’ut (443).

    - From the north, from Highway 6, exit at Ben Shemen Interchange (444) towards Tel Hadid.

    - From Jerusalem, drive on Highway 443 towards Ben Shemen.

    The forest has 6 entrances, each with a big sign that has a map: Gate 1 – Herzl Gate, near Gimzo; Gate 2 – Tel Hadid Gate, at the entrance to the Quartermaster Corps Memorial; Gate 3 – Mitzpe Modi’in Gate; Gate 4 – Kedumim Gate, near Ne’ot Kedumim Park; Gate 5 – Maccabim Gate, near the Tombs of the Maccabees; Gate 6 – Monks Valley Gate.
  • Geographic location-

    Sharon and coastal plains
  • Area-

  • Facilities-

    Picinic - Barbecue area, Archeological or Historic site, Lookout, Active recreation area, Marked path.
  • Other sites in the area-

    Ne’ot Kedumim Park (entrance fee, closed on Saturdays and Jewish holidays), Church ruins in Mevo Modi’im (closed on Saturdays), Hasmonean Village in Shilat (entrance fee, by appointment), Old Courtyard in Ben Shemen, Monkey Park (entrance fee).
  • Access-

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

    Accessible parks,Overnight parks,Picnic parks
  • Interest-

    Hiking and Walking Tracks,Bicycle track,Lookouts,Archeology

Projects and Partners Worldwide

Ben Shemen Forest and its many sites have been developed and
are maintained with the support of friends of KKL-JNF from
Israel, USA, Canada, South America and other countries.
Ben Shemen forest. Photo: Avi Hayun.

Site History

Ben Shemen Forest is the largest “green lung” in Central Israel, with 22,000 dunams of forested areas, hiking routes, bicycle paths and picnic areas, and is the main leisure site for residents of Israel’s central region. The scenic roads in the forest are marked and feature landscapes and historical sites. The forest has many recreation areas, charming spots, archeological sites and a profusion of wildflowers in winter and spring. In the fall and spring migrating seasons, one can watch the storks that land to look for food in the farmed fields near the forest.

Ben Shemen Forest exemplifies the Zionist dream and its realization. Theodore Herzl understood the essence of the redemption of the land and said, “When the plow returns to the strong hand of the Jewish farmer, the Jewish problem will be solved.”

KKL-JNF, turning this dream into reality, began purchasing lands in Israel in 1907 and proceeded to prepare them for afforestation and for inhabitation. Ben Shemen Forest was the first and the largest afforestation initiative in the history of the State of Israel and at present covers an area of 22,000 dunams east of the city of Lod. It is adjacent to Modi’in Forest, and both forests together cover a total area of around 30,000 dunams.

The first people to recognize the importance of the Ben Shemen area were Eliahu Sapir and Yehoshua Henkin, who were looking for land in the vicinity of Lod in 1904. The acquisition was made about a year later, and the land became Jewish property. A hundred dunams of the land was allocated for founding a factory for producing oil, which is how the place got its name. The factory employed fifty workers and was successful, until 1915, when it burned down.

When KKL-JNF purchased the land in 1907, olive groves were planted there, but the yield fell short of expectations, so the experts decided to plant pines and cypress trees. Along with tree planting, KKL-JNF undertook land development for settling the area.

The National School for Agriculture was established at the site on the initiative of Israel Belkind, but it closed after a short time, and in 1908 an educational farm was founded. In 1911, Professor Boris Schatz, one of the founders of the Bezalel Art Academy, established a village for silversmiths and goldsmiths. KKL JNF granted a two dunam plot to each of the ten families who came from Jerusalem to live there, with the intention of combining small industries with agriculture. This novel attempt to establish a community failed, however, but a few of those houses can still be seen.

In 1913 the Ben Shemen Courtyard was established, with the assistance of a Jew from Rumania, as the marble sign at the entrance states: “Baruch Kahana from Ploesti, Rumania, donated the sum of £6,000 to the Jewish National Fund in 1910 to build Moshav Ben Shemen.” Another stage in the settlement of the area was the establishment of the Ben Shemen Youth Village in 1927, which is still functioning today. There were fierce battles in the area during the War of Independence and the entire region was under siege until Lod was conquered by the IDF. After the establishment of the State of Israel, Moshav Ben Shemen was founded anew on the foundations of the abandoned moshav.

In the 1950s, KKL-JNF increased foresting activities thanks to the manpower of new immigrants in the vicinity, and new roads were paved. KKL JNF helped establish new communities, among them Gimzo, Kfar Daniel, Beit Arif and Beit Nehemia. The infrastructure for the Patrol Road was constructed in the 1960s, and next to it the nahal settlement of Mevo Modi’im. In addition, a hilltop stronghold was established, an amphitheatre, and the Maccabim Forest was planted. In the 1970s and the 1980s an active recreation area was constructed as well as a tree planting center for tourists.

Additional communities were established, including Kfar Ruth, Shilat, Nili, Matityahu, Maccabim, Re’ut and the city of Modi’in. Ne'ot Kedumim Park, a botanical reserve on the edge of the forest, which focuses on ancient farming methods and flora from biblical times, was created. In the 1990s, Ben Shemen Forest became the largest “green lung” in Central Israel serving the residents of the Dan metropolitan area as a recreational and leisure zone for spending time in the great outdoors.

Recreation Areas for Picnics and Vacationing

The marked scenic roads and trails traverse the forest and lead to a variety of landscapes and sites. The forest roads are suitable for all kinds of private cars, for bicycles and for pedestrians, and they offer an opportunity to be in nature in Central Israel and away from the noise of the city. The large expanses in the forest contain solitary, quiet spots, picnic areas, playground equipment and sports facilities.

Visitors may combine recreation with a tour of archeological sites and, in the right season, may hike among an abundance of wildflowers such as cyclamens and anemones. In the fall and in the spring, visitors can watch flocks of migrating birds and storks that winter in Israel and look for food in the fields farmed nearby. In the vicinity of Tel Hadid, there is an olive grove that bears fruit at the end of the summer and a grove of ancient jujube trees.

The Active Recreation Area

There are many picnic areas and playgrounds for children in the vicinity. KKL JNF has been maintaining the olive grove there for years and plants new trees there annually.

On the western edge of the forest, not far from the Ben Shemen Interchange, an active recreation area was constructed with hundreds of meters of sports equipment for the whole family. It is also a good place for a picnic and has benches, tables, and water faucets. Near the recreation are there is a large white monument commemorating the Jewish community of Mexico, which was donated by that community.

About 200m north of the recreation area there is a forest grove of Brutia pines that were planted in 1929. The Brutia pine, also known in Israel as the Cypress pine, was brought to Israel in the 1920s as a complementary tree to the Jerusalem pine. It is less resistant to aridity but has a straight trunk, neat foliage and tends to live long. There are about fifteen big, beautiful trees left there, which survived all the fires and other misfortunes that transpired since they were planted.

There are marked hiking trails that go into the forest from the recreation area. A central route goes to the different forest areas, leads to Mitzpe Modi’in and wends its way to the memorial commemorating the community of Zaglembia next to Highway 443.

How to get there: From the road that branches east from the road to Moshav Gimzo (4314).

Mitzpe Modi’in (Modi’im)

As soon as you arrive in Mitzpe Modi’in you see a watchtower that looks like a flaming torch and symbolizes the Hasmonean revolt. From the great height of the tower there is a beautiful panoramic view toward the cities of the Coastal Plain, from Netanya in the north to Ashkelon in the south. You can see the city of Elad, the forest of Givat Ko’ah, Shoham, the slopes of the Samarian Hills, the Shilat communities, Canada Park and Modi’in Forest.

The hilltop stronghold was built in 1963, and an amphitheatre was constructed below it, which is used for festivals and different performances. During the War of Independence there was an IDF post there called Deir Abu Salam. At the foot of the tower there is a big lawn with olive trees. Nearby, there is picnic area that was constructed by KKL JNF, with picnic tables, bathroom facilities and colorful playground equipment, a slide and swings.

How to get there: From Highway 443, by following the brown sign to Mitzpe Modi’in.

The Electricity Trail

Although electricity and nature seem to contradict each other, the Israel Electric Company has a major power line that crosses the forest, so it was decided to create an artistic connection to it and name it the Electricity Trail. The power line passes between the trees in a straight line and creates a kind of waterfall of wires on the slope of the hill. Around it, a sculpture garden was initiated by KKL-JNF, which is also a combination of modern abstraction and local boulders.

As a result, you can see metal sculptures with sharp angles and phosphorescent colors next to huge stone sculptures inspired by the forest and the surroundings. Among the stone sculptures you can see a giant hand carved in the rock holding a stone, salamanders in relief, a row of deer engraved on a huge boulder recalling Nabatean wall paintings in the Negev, a woman’s face carved in stone, a train of ants, even a takeoff on Rodin’s Thinker in the shade under some trees.

How to get there: By continuing east from Mitzpe Modi’in about 1 km and following the signs.

The Dan Cooperative Recreation Area

This recreation area is in a section of the forest commemorating members of the Dan Cooperative who fell in Israel's wars. It has picnic tables and a scenic terrace facing northwest toward Nahal Modi’im and the Coastal Plain. There is playground equipment nearby and a fire watchtower. The watchtower was manned prior to the construction of the security fence, when the forest suffered from frequent arson. The tower is unmanned nowadays, and entering it is forbidden.

The Sounds and Voices Recreation Area

This recreation area adds a dimension of art and music to the experience of being in nature, with large scale interactive sculptures. Big, colorful pipes of different sizes and diameters installed under and above ground serve as a device for telephonic communication. Another sculpture has large gates standing in a row and a huge pole that goes through them with a gong at the end of it. The gong can by rung by a group of people who can move the pole together. There is a sculpture shaped like a giant harp, which produces musical sounds that can be heard from a great distance. The sculpture garden was founded by the Morris Philip Arnold family, England.

How to get there: From the Kedumim Gate.

Special Sites in the Forest

Israel-Thailand Friendship House

The Thai house is a very unusual sight in the forest so it might surprise you. It was designed like a traditional Thai temple made of wood and marble in shades of gold, red and white. The jujubes and Judas trees planted next to it add to its Oriental ambience.

The house was given as a gift to the people of Israel from the people of Thailand as a token of friendship in honor of the 50th anniversary of the State of Israel’s independence and 50 years from the coronation of the king of Thailand, Bhumibol Adulyadej. The house is situated with a view of the hills of Modi’in Forest. There is a fence around the site in order to protect it from environmental hazards.

How to get there: From Highway 443, it is right next to Mitzpe Modi’in.

The Morris Kaufman Recreation Area for the Blind

A special recreation area created to give the blind and the visually impaired an opportunity to hike on their own in nature. The footpath is circular and is about 500m long. Along the path there are metal railings to hold on to. There are plots of herbs with strong scents scattered throughout the recreation area, and near every section there is a metal sign with a map and explanations in Braille, in English and Hebrew.

Relief drawings describe the flora and the archeological findings that were discovered there, including a winepress, a cistern and storage caves. There are signs that explain and describe the herbs, rosemary, hyssop and sage. Additional signs tell about the Jerusalem pine, the almond, pomegranate, fig and grapevine. The recreation area was constructed thanks to a contribution from friends of KKL JNF in the USA.

How to get there: From the Mitzpe Modi’in Gate, from Highway 443 toward the Electricity Trail.

Modi’in Forest

Modi’in Forest is located northeast of Ben Shemen Forest and reaches Nahal Modi’im. KKL JNF constructed the Patrol Road here, which served the IDF until the Six Day War. The dirt road goes on the edges and inside the forest and is marked in green. It is a wide and easy road with picnic areas along it. When you cross the forest and look towards the Arab village of Midya, you can see a big hill to the south. That is Tel a Ras, which is the Hasmonean town of Modi’im. There is a scenic road there marked in black. This road was blazed after the construction of the security fence and provides a beautiful view north and east all along the way.

From Highway 443, about 850m east of the entrance to Ne’ot Kedumim Park. the road turns into a dirt road and becomes paved again near the Tombs of the Maccabees.

The Hasmonean Tombs

A little before the Tombs of the Maccabees there is a stone building where, according to tradition, Matityahu, son of Yohanan the High Priest and father of the Maccabees, was buried. Next to the building is a monument commemorating the soldiers who fell in the battle for Post 219 during the War if Independence. The road proceeds to a small hill on top of which are two rows of graves and a small burial cave. There are nine tombs carved in the bedrock, and each of them has two bases. Tradition attributes these graves to the Hasmoneans and the Maccabees.

Sheikh al Arbawi

The name means Western Sheikh. This is a domed building believed to have been built next to a monument erected by Shimon the Hasmonean to commemorate his family. According to this tradition, this is where the Maccabees were buried.

Post 219

Right near the tomb of the sheikh is a sign that tells the story of the army post in the days of the War of Independence. On April 29, 1949, the post was attacked by a large force of Arabs. Twenty-three Israeli soldiers were killed, and the others retreated. Reinforcements arrived that night and re-conquered the post.

Bir a Shemi

This is an ancient site located next to the southeastern edge of Ben Shemen Forest. A trail marked in blue leads to an ancient pool and to Monks Valley. A grove called the Children’s Channel was planted near the caves there, and it includes Callitris trees, a kind of cypress, which were planted in the shape of the number six, which used to be the number of the children’s TV channel. When you climb above the monks’ caves, you can see the number six formed by the trees.

Monks Valley

The road to Monks Valley passes orchards cultivated by KKL JNF with pastures near them where herds of sheep and cows graze. Here you can hike by foot and climb to the area of the caves carved in the bedrock, which were used for burial during the Roman era. In later times, monks lived there and engraved crosses on the walls of the caves. There is a pool for collecting water nearby and a mysterious, ancient jujube tree. Muslim tradition claims that a spirit dwelling in its branches protects the tree from harm.

Tel Gimzo

Tel Gimzo has a long history of a Jewish community in ancient times and afterwards an Arab period. From the height of the hill, one can view the landscapes of Latrun, the valley of Lod and, on the horizon, Herzliya. To the east one can see the buildings of the city of Modi’in, to the west Kfar Daniel, and to the north Ben Shemen Forest. The panorama is even more beautiful at sunset and sunrise. There are almond trees on Tel Gimzo, hedges of prickly pears, saltbushes and boxthorn, and on top of the hill there is a monument called the Lookout of the Two, which commemorates two soldiers from the Religious Brigade who fell in the War of Independence. You can get to it by climbing stairs that were constructed from the direction of Gimzo.

Tel Hadid

This ancient site in the heart of Ben Shemen Forest is surrounded by a grove of ancient olive trees interspersed with wild prickly pears. The grove covers an area of one thousand dunams and between its paths there are ancient winepresses and olive presses. On the ground there are shards that have been dated to the Iron Age. Scientists estimate that Tel Hadid was a town surrounded by a wall until the time of Joshua, which flourished in the days of the Kingdom of Judah.

Archeological excavations here disclosed a mosaic floor depicting a boat sailing on the Nile, a fortified city and flora and fauna on the riverbanks. The mosaic has been installed at the Sea Museum in Haifa, but you can still see the panoramic view from Tel Hadid, which views the Judean plain, the Dan metropolis and the coastline. There are groves of jujubes nearby, carobs, almonds figs and a few pomegranates, and a grove of seven ancient jujube trees, the largest in Israel, which are accessible by foot or ATV.

How to get there: The Tel Hadid Gate in Ben Shemen Forest is accessible from Highway 444, half a kilometer north of Ben Shemen Interchange toward Rosh Ha’ayin. At the first light turn left. At the second light turn left again. After another 1.3 km turn right to the Quartermaster Corps Memorial and Tel Hadid.

Bicycle Paths

The Israel National Trail goes through Ben Shemen Forest, as does the Tel Aviv Jerusalem Bicycle Path. In recent years, Ben Shemen Forest has become a major cycling location. Hundreds of bicycle riders are there every morning to ride in the forest and enjoy the open spaces. KKL JNF created two bicycle paths in the forest which together are 32 km. long. The paths, marked in blue and red, start at Mitzpe Modi’in.