Naftali Mountains Forest in the Golan Heights

The Naftali Mountains Forest grows along the Ramim Ridge in the west of the Galilee Panhandle. These hills soar to a height of over 800 meters, and the ridge’s peaks offer a magnificent view of upper-northern Israel, including the Hula Valley, the Golan Heights, Mount Hermon and southern Lebanon.

Geographic location: Golan heights

Identity Card

Photo: Yaakov Shkolnik.

The Naftali Mountains Forest grows along the Ramim Ridge in the west of the Galilee Panhandle. These hills soar to a height of over 800 meters, and the ridge’s peaks offer a magnificent view of the Hula Valley, the Golan Heights, Mount Hermon and southern Lebanon. KKL-JNF began to plant the forest in the 1940s, and it now extends over an area of some 8,000 dunam (approx 2,000 acres) from Metulla to Keren Naftali, complete with KKL-JNF hiking trails, recreational areas and roads accessible to vehicles. After the Second Lebanon War, in which many local trees were destroyed by fire, KKL-JNF began to rehabilitate the forest with the help of its Friends worldwide; the main scenic route through the woodland forms part of the Israel Trail.

• Region: Northern Israel,  Central Galilee and the Golan Heights

• Notable sites in the park: The Tel Hai Courtyard, Kfar Giladi, Tel Hai Sculpture Garden, Hunin Fortress, the Banya Rein Scenic Lookout, Naftali Hills Forest’s main Scenic Route, Mount Nezer and the Mount Nezer Nature Reserve.

• Additional sites in the area: Ein Ro‘im (“Shepherds’ Spring”), the Liran Saadia Scenic Lookout, the Geological Park and Recreation Area, the Menara Cliffs, and the Nezer Observation Point.

• Facilities: Picinic area, Lookout, Marked path, Archeological site, Memorial, Water.

Projects and Partners Worldwide
Naftali Mountains Forest were rehabilitated and developed thanks to contributions from Friends of KKL-JNF worldwide, including Canada, USA, Australia, Mexico and Israel.

About the forest

KKL-JNF began to plant the Naftali Mountains Forest in the 1940s, and a great deal of effort was required before these steep rocky hillsides were finally clad in trees. Today the forest extends over an area of around 8,000 dunam (approx 2,000 acres) from Metulla to Keren Naftali; the woodland is crisscrossed with footpaths, trails and roads suitable for vehicles and dotted with recreation areas. The main scenic path that runs the entire length of the forest forms part of the Israel Trail.

Photo: Yaakov Shkolnik

During the Second Lebanon War, in the summer of 2006, a total of 7,500 dunam (approx 1,875 acres) of trees in the region were burned after being hit by Katyusha rockets. When the war ended, KKL-JNF launched an operation entitled Seeing Green Again, which was designed to restore these damaged areas of woodland with the help of its Friends both worldwide and here in Israel: burnt trees were cut down and replaced by different varieties of natural woodland trees and conifers, including large numbers of cedars.

The natural woodland along the ridge consists of a combination of Israeli common oaks (Quercus calliprinos) and terebinths (Pistacia palaestina, also known as Palestine pistachio trees), which grow well in the red clay soil known as terra rossa. Syrian pear trees and spiny hawthorn bushes (Crataegus aronia) complete the scene. On the upper slopes the Israeli common oak is increasingly replaced by the gall oak (Quercus infectoria), while the lower slopes are sparsely covered with a parkland of Tabor oak, jujube (Ziziphus spina-christi) and Mount Atlas mastic tree (Pistacia atlantica). Mount Nezer is home to a remarkable variety of wild orchids, gaily-colored anemones, narcissi, snapdragons and specimens of the oncocyclus bearded iris (Iris lortetii).

Photo: Yaakov Shkolnik

In the southern part of the ridge, between the hills of Malkiya to the west and Moshav Ramot Naftali to the east, lies Kadesh Valley, which is named after the Tel Kadesh site on its western edge. In geological terms Kadesh Valley is a polje, i.e., a large flat plain resulting from the collapse of underground caverns that were created over time as rainfall slowly dissolved the limestone rock.

The valley is bordered by the communities of Yiftah, Malkiya and Ramot Naftali, with the Metzudat Yesha fortress on its eastern flank. The valley lands are planted mainly with vines and deciduous orchards, and the grapes grown here are harvested for use by local boutique wineries and leading wine producers throughout Israel.

The sites within the forest were developed with the help of KKL-JNF’s Friends in Canada, Mexico and Israel.

Sites in the Northern Section

Tel Hai courtyard and Kfar Giladi

Photo: KKL-JNF Archive

The area in and around Kibbutz Kfar Giladi includes a number of sites related to the pioneering resettlement of the Land of Israel. Here we find the graves of members of HaShomer (“The Watchman”), i.e., the defense organization that guarded early Jewish communities in the Land of Israel and which constituted the basis for the formation of the Hagana in 1920; the eight Jews – including Josef Trumpeldor – who fell at Tel Hai are also buried here, and the cemetery is the site of the Roaring Lion Memorial, where a ceremony in memory of the battle of Tel Hai takes place every year. Inside the kibbutz is the Beit HaShomer (“Watchman’s House”) Museum and a pre-State weapons cache.

Tel Hai Sculpture Garden
Along the path that skirts the hill to the east of the Scenic Route is a series of environmental sculptures created by artists from both Israel and abroad. At the foot of the hill, on the north side, the Casualties Trail, along which those injured in the Battle of Tel Hai were evacuated on the night of the 11th of Adar 5680 (March 1st 1920),  leads from Kfar Giladi to the Tel Hai Courtyard.

Hunin Fortress
Hunin Fortress (Metzudat Hunin) is a crusader castle originally known as Châteauneuf (“New Castle”) that dominated the vital route from Damascus to the port of Tyre. It would appear to have been built in 1107, and its strategic importance increased after the Crusaders lost control of Banyas. After changing hands several times, Châteauneuf came under the jurisdiction of the Mamluk Sultan Baybars, who restored it in 1267. Part of the building collapsed in the earthquake of 1837, and many of the fallen stones were recycled for the construction of the nearby Arab village of Hunin. Today the remains of the castle’s large halls can still be seen, together with water storage cisterns and a moat dug for defense purposes. These ruins nestle amid the remains of the abandoned village of Hunin, near Moshav Margaliot, and the top of the castle provides a magnificent view of the Hula Valley.

The Benaya Rein Scenic Lookout

The Benaya Rein Scenic Lookout. Photo: KKL-JNF Archive

The observation point was established in memory of the late Major Benaya Rein, who was killed below Kibbutz Misgav Am in the Second Lebanon War. The lookout, which is situated at a height of 740 meters above sea level adjacent to the fence along Israel’s border with Lebanon, offers a view of the Golan Heights, the Hula Valley and the hills of Lebanon.

Mount Nezer and its Nature Reserve
The summit of Mount Nezer is 760 meters above sea level, providing a view of the eastern Upper Galilee hills, southern Lebanon, the Hula Valley and the Golan. Mount Nezer Nature Reserve is famous for the rare wild orchids that grow within its confines, including the Italian orchid (Orchis italica, also known as the naked man orchid), the Galilee orchid (Orchis galilaea) and the bee orchid Ophrys bornmuelleri, all of which flower in April.

Naftali Mountains Forest – The Main Scenic Trail
This thirteen-kilometer scenic trail starts on Route no. 9977 near the Tel Hai Courtyard and ends to the north of Kibbutz Yiftah on Route no. 899. Halfway along, at the Geological Recreation Area, there is an access route to Kiryat Shmona and Route no. 90. Although the northern part of the Scenic Trail is accessible to all types of vehicle, the southern section, from the Geological Recreation Area to Route no. 899, is narrower and suitable only for private cars. All along the route are scenic lookouts, memorials and picnic sites. Note: this route forms part of the Israel Trail.

Sites along the Way

Ein Ro‘im

Ein Ro'im. Photo: KKL-JNF Archiv

This recreation area includes a little spring whose waters flow into a small trough once used mainly for watering cattle. In the 1990s the water was piped into a pond, which, because of the meager rainfall of the past few years, is not always full. Near the pond are picnic tables.

The Liran Saadia Scenic Lookout
This observation point perpetuates the memory of Staff Sergeant Liran Saadia of the Egoz Patrol unit, who fell in battle in the village of Maroun al-Ras during the Second Lebanon War. The lookout offers a view of the Golan Heights, the Hula Valley and the city of Kiryat Shmona, where Staff Sergeant Saadia was born and grew up. Illustrations he drew for comics can be seen on rock-mounted ceramic tiles along the route.

The Geological Park and Recreation Area
Lumps of rock that have broken away from the Ramim cliff have created impressive environmental sculptures at this site. This is the highest cliff in the country, measuring 650 meters to its summit from the Hula Valley floor, and its steep escarpment is a consequence of the Syrian-African fault line that passes through the valley. Because of its great height, the cliff reveals ancient layers of different types of rock that represent the geological history of the Land of Israel.

Liran Saadia lookout. Photo: Yaakov Shkolnik

Rock plants such as cyclamen and ferns grow in the stony crevices, together with rarer plants such as the Italian orchid and the oncocyclus bearded iris. The area is home to large numbers of hyraxes. The site has been declared a geological park, and a special path has been created and provided with explanatory signs describing the various types of rock that can be observed at the site. At the bottom there is a picnic area with stone tables in the shade of lofty eucalyptus trees, playground equipment for children and, in the center, a rock that has been fashioned into a sculpture.

Menara Cliffs
These steep cliffs reach a height of 750 meters and are accessed by Israel’s longest cable-car route (1940 meters), which links the southern approaches of the town of Kiryat Shmona to Kibbutz Menara, perched high on the Naftali Ridge directly above the most northerly point of the Syrian-African fault line – the cliffs of Ramim.  This site, which operates in conjunction with KKL-JNF, offers a variety of attractions and experiences for visitors of all ages, such as alpine slides, rappelling, a climbing wall, a swimming pool (in summer) and short family excursions.

Photo: KKL-JNF Archive

The cable car has three stops, the last of which is at the top of the cliff and provides access to two hiking trails: the Woodland Trail (Shvil HaHoresh), a circular route 350 meters long, and the History Trail, also circular, which departs from the observation platform of the topmost cable-car station and continues for a distance of 450 meters down the cliff, descending to the Amir Kara Scenic Lookout before climbing back up again. The site is named after Staff Sergeant Amir Kara of the Intelligence Corps, a keen nature-lover who fell in defense of the Galilee Panhandle communities in 1995. The site includes a memorial and a magnificent view of the Hula Valley and the hills of the Golan.

Nezer Observation Point
On the Scenic Route near Hirbet Nezer KKL-JNF has established a lookout point and a wayside recreation area where hikers along the Israel Trail can stop and take a break. The lookout point provides a view of the Hula Valley and the hills of the Golan.

Sites in the Southern Section

The Lifa Gal Scenic Lookout
This site is reached from a dirt road that branches off eastward 700 meters to the north of Henion HaElot Junction (Route no. 886 – “Mastic Tree Recreation Area”), and which, after two bumpy kilometers, leads to the scenic lookout that provides a magnificent view of the Hula Valley. This observation point is named after a KKL-JNF worker who was killed in a road accident and it is dedicated to the memory of his wife and daughter, who drowned in the Hula Valley swamps.

Nahal Kadesh

Bridge over Kadesh River. Photo: KKL-JNF Archive

Nahal Kadesh (“Kadesh River”) is situated in the eastern part of Upper Galilee, and it is seven kilometers long. It rises to the south of the Lebanese village of Blida and descends eastwards, crossing the Kadesh Valley, which, together with the nearby site of Tel Kadesh, gives it its name. Slightly to the east of the point at which it is crossed by Route no. 886 the river encounters hard chalk rocks, producing an impressive canyon over a kilometer in length that contains three waterfalls.

The slopes of the Kadesh River Canyon, which forms part of the Kadesh River Nature Reserve, are covered in thick Mediterranean vegetation, and the tall cliffs that surround it are home to hyraxes and birds of prey. Approximately 700 meters south of Koah Junction the river flows into the Hula Valley where, after continuing along level ground for several hundred meters, it joins up with the drainage channels of the western Hula Valley. The Palmach Footpath, which is marked in red, descends from Yesha Fortress (Metzudat Yesha, also known as Metzudat Koah) to the Kadesh River Canyon.

Mastic Tree Recreation Area (Henion HaElot)
In the middle of this site, which is located some 500 meters to the west of Yesha Fortress, stands an ancient Mount Atlas mastic tree – a rare masterwork of nature sculpted, rumor has it, over the past 450 years. Large tree stumps serve as picnic tables, adding a special charm of their own to the site. The enormous centerpiece is surrounded by other trees of the same variety that have also attained impressive, though slightly less majestic proportions.

Photo: Yaakov Shkolnik

In 1993, KKL-JNF extended the recreation area to include these trees and added access for vehicles, seating areas and hump-backed bridges over the nearby irrigation channel. Near the recreation area is an apple orchard that remains surpassingly beautiful throughout the year, from spring flowering through summer harvest to autumnal fall of leaf and the bare branches of winter.

Tel Kadesh
This archeological site, which includes the largest tel in Upper Galilee and is now designated a national park, is located on the western border of Kadesh Valley, some two kilometers west of Yesha Junction. Kadesh is mentioned in the list of conquests of Pharaoh Thutmose III, who captured the city in around 1300 BCE. As the city formed part of the portion of land allocated to the tribe of Naftali, it was also known as Kadesh Naftali.

In Biblical times, Kadesh was a city of refuge: “And out of the tribe of Naphtali, Kedesh in Galilee with her suburbs, to be a city of refuge for the slayer…” (Joshua 21:32). Later, during the Roman period, it increased greatly in size. The tel is divided into two by the road that runs from Malkiya to Yesha Fortress; on the north side of the road the impressive façade of a Roman temple can still be seen, together with two large stone sarcophagi. At the foot of the tel, to the south of the road, Ein Kadesh spring flows all year round. KKL-JNF has established a picnic site adjacent to the tel.
Yesha Fortress

Photo: KKL-JNF Archive

The site takes its name from that of the nearby Muslim shrine of Nabi Yusha (“the Prophet Joshua”), i.e., Yehoshua Bin Nun.

On April 15th 1948, the British transferred control of the fortress to the Arabs. Because of its strategic location, the Jewish forces decided to take immediate action to gain control of it themselves, and the task was assigned to the 11th Golani Battalion and a unit from the 3rd Palmach Battalion. The assault failed, and four soldiers were killed in the ensuing battle. On April 20th of the same year, Palmach fighters commanded by Dudu Cherkesky set out to attempt another assault on the fortress, but this too was unsuccessful and 22 soldiers were killed.

Less than a month later, on the night between May 15th and 16th, the Palmach launched Operation Yiftah in a further attempt to capture the fortress. The enemy fire was silenced by two 20 mm. cannons and the battalion broke through into the village of Nabi Yusha and from there to the fortress itself.

On the night of May 17th, an Israeli Auster “Primus” plane attempted to drop several incendiary bombs on the fortress, which, although they missed their target, had a profound psychological effect: when the troops broke in the following morning they found the fortress abandoned. Twenty-eight combat soldiers fell in the battle for control of the site, which is now also known as Koach Fortress in memory of the fallen (the Hebrew letters kaf and het together have the numerical value 28). Among those killed in the battle was Dudu Cherkesky, who was commemorated in the famous Hebrew song Dudu.

The Mauer Family Lake Hula Scenic Lookout
This enchanted spot lies on the Israel Trail opposite the Ramot Naftali Moshav. It is named after the donors – the Mauer Family of Baltimore, USA – and provides a magnificent view of the fields of the Hula Valley, its reservoirs and Lake Hula itself.

The Eitan Balahsan Scenic Lookout at Moshav Ramot Naftali

Photo: KKL-JNF Archive

The site has a scenic lookout and a memorial to Paratroop Commander Major Eitan Balahsan, who was killed in Lebanon in 1999. The memorial has an olive branch at its center and the lookout point, which is located opposite the major’s parents’ home, overlooks the Golan Heights, the Hula Valley and, when visibility is especially good, the spot where he fell in battle.

Keren Naftali
Keren Naftali is a beautiful scenic lookout along the Israel Trail route, situated at a height of 510 meters on a prominent peak in the southern Naftali Mountains, known in Arabic as Jabal al-Harawa (“Cudgel Hill”). Part of Mount Naftali is covered in woodland notable for its large Mount Atlas mastic trees.

On the top of the hill there are burial caves hewn into the rock and ruins that include the remains of a mosaic floor and a Hellenistic temple where a Greek inscription was found, indicating the name of a donor who provided funds for the construction of a temple to the goddess Athena. In the battle for Ramot Naftali during Israel’s War of Independence this was the site of a fortified outpost.

The Pillbox Recreation Area
Situated between Koach Junction and Yesha Fortress, this recreation area was established near the small concrete British guard post referred to as a “pillbox” because of its shape. The Palmach Trail that begins at Yesha Fortress passes through the site.

The Riddle Trail

Hermon view. Photo: KKL-JNF Archive

The Ran Kochba Observation Point is a 300-meter footpath dedicated to the memory of Major Ran Kochba, a pilot who was killed when his helicopter crashed in the forest during the Second Lebanon War. The path leads to the observation point, which is also the spot where the helicopter crashed. A memorial marks the site.

The footpath is bounded by rocks bearing seven questions relating to the history and geography of the area; the answers can be found on a rock farther along the route. The observation point provides views of the Golan hills, the Hula Valley and Lake Hula, Mount Avital, Mount Bental, Mount Hermon and the communities of the Galilee Panhandle.

The Lower Kadesh River Recreation Area
This site is located opposite the regional council at the approach to Mount Hermon. KKL-JNF has designed the site to accommodate visitors on their way down the steep and impressive Kadesh River gully and on their way up the Palmach Fighters Trail to Yesha Fortress.

KKL-JNF has provided the site with parking lots, footpaths, seating areas, children’s play areas, etc. In winter and spring, the waterfalls are in full spate, there is a wealth of varied vegetation and the footbridge over the river provides an excellent view of the water.