American Independence Park - Friendship through Nature

USA Independence Park. Photo: Guy Assayag

The American Independence Park is an open area of nature and woods, spreading over about 7,500 acres in the south-western park of the Jerusalem Mountains. KKL-JNF started developing the park in 1976, in celebration of the United States' 200th Independence Day.

  • How to get there

    1. From Jerusalem: From the Ein Kerem neighborhood in West Jerusalem take Route no. 386 from the Kerem Junction and continue along the Sorek River (Nahal Soreq) until you meet up with the Jerusalem railroad at Refaim River (Nahal Refa’im). From here the road leads up to Moshav Bar Giora, which is situated at the approach to the park.
    2. From Beit Shemesh: Take Route no. 3866, which climbs up the hill close to Moshav Mahseya until it reaches Mount Yaaleh.
    3. From the southwest: Take the Ela Valley Road (Route no. 375) that ascends to the park via Kibbutz Netiv HaLamed-Hey, Tzur Hadassah and Moshav Bar Giora.
  • Geographic location-

    Jerusalem - Judean highlands and surroundings
  • Area-

  • Special Sites in the Park-

    A memorial to the victims of the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster, a memorial to Ilan Ramon (who died in the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster), the Forester’s House (Beit HaYa‘aran), Sorek Cave, Forester’s Hill (Har Ya‘aran), Mount Yaaleh, ruins of a Byzantine church.
  • Facilities-

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

    The Ein Kerem neighborhood, the Sorek River, the Refaim River, Moshav Bar Giora, Kibbutz Netiv HaLamed-Hey, Tzur Hadassah.
  • Type of parking-

    Accessible parks,Overnight parks,Picnic parks
  • Interest-

    Hiking and Walking Tracks,Lookouts,Archeology

About the Park

The park is located in a forest section planted near Bar Giora during the British Mandate, and especially on the forests planted in the 1950s by Jewish immigrants, who came to live in the surrounding towns and nearby city of Beit Shemesh. KKL-JNF installed picnic recreations areas, active recreation facilities and birdwatching stations that overlook the landscapes of the Jerusalem Mountains and Plains landscapes. In the center of the park, the "Bar BaHar" café contains a KKL-JNF information center with restrooms and drinking water, active all throughout the year. KKL-JNF operates the park with help from its friends in the United States.

Photo: KKL-JNF Archive


The American Independence Park is a mountain area, spreading through the south-western part of the Jerusalem Mountains. The area is made of mountain sections, some of them peak at 750 meters above the sea levels. Deep streams pass between the mountain sections, creating wild, natural landscapes. The mountain sections extend westwards, to the valley between the Judea Mountains and the plain.

Two major streams drain the water in the park area – Sorek in the north and Ela in the south. Road 386, which links Bar Giora, Nes Harim and Ye'ela Mountain, uses the watershed line between the two streams. From there, the water go down westwards – the Cave, Dolev and Zanuach streams, whose channels are used as hiking tracks. Note the strange way of the Zanuach Stream, which goes down west and appears to head to the Ela Stream, but instead, led north to the Sorek Stream.

The sections between the streams also contain marked travel tracks of KKL-JNF and the Israeli Trails Committee, including the Israel National Trail.
KKL-JNF has opened a paved driving route in the park (Road 3866). The road provides access to the park from Beit Shemesh. Additional roads in the park link Bar Giora with Tzur Haddasah (Road 386) and Tzur Haddasah with Emek Ha'Ela (Road 375).

A view of the Sorek Stream

Travel by Car

Humphrey Road Recreation Areas
Access: Road 3866
Track Length: about 6 kilometers

Road 3866 is called Humphrey Road, and is named after the 38th Vice President of the United States Hubert Humphrey, who was a great friend of Israel. About 1.5 kilometers from the beginning of the road is the western entrance gate to the park. The place includes an overlook and a recreation area. About a kilometer further is another recreation area with a pergola and a guard shack-like structure.

About 1.8 kilometers up the road, a dirt path marked in black leads to the travel track in the Dolev Stream. Another kilometer further there is a short dirt road marked in green, leading to the Forester's House – a stone structure destroyed during the British Mandate. KKL-JNF rebuilt the structure and built a recreation area named after Rabbi Gershon Hadas and his wife Hannah, with playing facilities and pergolas, next to it.

The road reaches the "Challenger Junction", where travelers can turn east (right) to the Nes Harim recreation area, to the Nes Harim information center, and the rest of the park's site. The road left leads down to the parking lot of the Avshalom Reserve – Israel's impressive stalactite cave (admission fee is charged from visitors).

Ye'ela Mountain – from the Challenger Junction, a short dirt road (marked in green) leads up to Ye'ela Mountain (645 meters). Its geographic location, at the top of the escarpment going down west of the plain, provides a nice-looking view westwards of the Judea Plain and southern Coastal Plain, as well as the Hebron Mountains at the east. KKL-JNF has built a tower in this spot, used by firewatchers during the summer (climbing the tower is forbidden) and also installed several picnic tables in the site.

Scattered over the peak are the remains of the Arab Village Dayr al-Hawa ("The Place of the Wind") and the remains of an ancient village from the Byzantine period. During Israel's War of Independence, the mountain was under the control of the Egyptian army, whose forces reached Ramat Rachel. The area was taken during the Mountain Operation, from October 19 to October 22, 1948, which provided Israel with control of the Jerusalem Corridor. After the war, a transit camp for Jewish immigrants from Kurdistan was built in the site. The immigrants soon moved to the town of Nes Harim.

A View of Outer Space from the Challenger Junction

Somewhat west of the Challenger Junction, there is a memorial for Israeli astronaut who perished in the Columbia shuttle disaster in 2003. The memorial is located in a lovely overlook. Near it is a rock with the imprint of the map of Israel. Near the junction is another impressive memorial for the astronauts perished in the Challenger shuttle disaster in 1986. The steel statue of elliptic shape, made by sculptor Eli Ran, symbolizes the Earth.

The Watchtower

From Ye'ela Mountain to the Nes Harim Information Center

Starting Point: Ye'ela Mountain, north of the Challenger junction (where road 3866 meets the road that leads down to the stalactite cave. A short dirt road, marked in green, leads to the mountain.

End of the track: Nes Harim Inofrmation Center
Length: about 6 kilometers, a 4-5 hours walk
Difficulty: for experienced walkers
Note: a vehicle is required to return at the end of the trip

From the top of the mountain, a path marked in green goes down and meets a path marked in black. The black path goes through the southern shoulder of the Sorek Stream, providing a view of the deep channels and the mysterious ways of the stream. During the walk, travelers can climb to the top of the ruined fortress in the Tora ruins, possibly a structure from the Hasmonean dynasty period used to guard the road to Jerusalem.

The Sorek Stream crosses the western part of the Judea Mountains, goes down to the Judea plain toward Beit Shemesh and Tzora and runs into the sea near Palmahim. The stream plains on this section contain an impressive, evergreen grove.

The path continues near a structure with a white dome, built in the memory of Sheikh Sultan Badar, which remains from the ruins of the village of Dayr al-Sheikh. From this structure, the track extends east on a path marked in green, which meets a path marked in red where travelers can reach the Nes Harim Information Center.

Travelers can also go down from Dayr al-Sheikh on a steep path (marked in green) to the Bar Giora train station where the Ktalav Stream spills into the Sorek Stream. In the past, the station was used by passengers of the train from Jaffa to Jerusalem on a rail built in the 1890s.

Sultan Badar Tomb
An Islamic tradition places the tomb of Sultan Badar in Dayr al-Sheikh. The title "Sultan" emphasizes the religious importance of the figure, who probably came to Jerusalem during the Mamluk period. After the death of his daughter, he resided in a cave in the Sorek Stream, where he was also buried. In the burial location are the remains of structures from the Crusades, possibly the remains of a monastery. The great hall was probably used by the Sheikh for the purpose of praying and teaching.

Nes Harim Information Center
The Information Center presents a permanent showcase of suggestions for travel in the area. The center is open every day from 9:00 to 17:00 and it includes the Bar Ba'Har Café, as well as accessible restrooms.

Information Center

Ktalav Stream Landscape Road

Starting point and end of the track: Bar Giora Inofrmation Center
Length: about 2 kilometers, a 90-minute walk
Difficulty level: for families

From the Information Center, after a 200-meter walk on the paved and accessible promenade among the Sorek Stream landscapes, a right turn according to the signs and red marking leads to a rich grove, dominated by common oak trees. Arbutus andrachne trees are also common here, notable for the red trunks. During spring, travelers can see a beautiful blooming of cyclamens and other wild flowers.

Another 150-meter walk will bring travelers to a wide dirt road. A left turn on the road, followed by a right turn after 30 meters brings travelers into the grove. The trail reveals the landscapes of the Ktalav Stream, which separates travelers from the Giora Mountains. Every now and then, travelers can rest on the benches along the road built by KKL-JNF.

The dolomite rocks along the path create sculpted, rocky landscape and even an impressive cliff that can be seen on the right. About 200 meters further, a black-marked trail goes down to the Ktalav Stream. Travelers are encouraged to go down about 200 meters and visit Ein Giora before coming back to the parking lot of the track, near the Bar Giora Information Center.

From Nes Harim Recreation Area to Beit Atab Ruins

Starting point and end of the track: Nes Harim Recreation Area, about a kilometer east of the entrance to the town of Nes Harim.
Length: about 3 kilometers, a two-hour walk
Difficulty level: for families
For overnight stay and camping in the recreation area, call 02-9969213

The Nes Harim Recreation Area is the largest in the American Independence Park. In it, KKL-JNF has added accessible picnic tables, playing facilities for children, and overnight camping area for families and small groups. A red-marked trail foes west from the recreation area. In the first junction, travelers should walk in the black-marked trail, which passes near a long rocky cliff, enters Ein Hud and the terraces that surround it and goes to the top of the Beit Atab ruins. The view from the top of the ruins is gorgeous. The place contains the remains of a square structure from the crusades, used as a basis for a variety of later structures. At the end of the visit, a red-marked trail leads back to the recreation area.

It is also possible to continue from Beit Atab down with the Cave Stream. This 8-kilometer trail, marked in red, is for experienced walker, who should arrange for a vehicle to pick them up at the end (access from Road 3855).

Emperor's Road

Starting point: Hanut Ruins Recreation Area, Road 375, near the 11th kilometer mark
End of the track: the parking lot, Road 375, about 100 meters west of the 8th kilometer mark
Length: about 3.5 kilometers, a two-hour walk
Difficulty level: for families
Note: travelers should arrange for a vehicle to bring them back

The track starts at the Hanut Ruins (Hirbet al-Han), a road inn on the side of the ancient road that goes upwards from Beit Guvrin to Jerusalem. On the road, paved during the Roman period, Emperor Hadrian (from the second century) has probably walked, giving it the name "Emperor's Road". KKL-JNF has initiated the first digging in the site during the 1980s.

Between 2014 and 2015, the digging started again, revealing the remains of a byzantine church with a colorful floor mosaic, a winepress, a large water pool and the remains of an inn from the Mamluk period (13th century).

Near the ruins, KKL-JNF built a recreation area with accessible tables and water taps. Near the recreation area, which fits an overnight stay, is a large mound, which according to legend is the tomb of Goliath.

From here the path goes down to a forest in the nice-looking natural grove. Sharp-eyed travelers will notice steps carved in to the rock during the Roman period. Before crossing the 375 road, a pretty water pit carved into a rock, can be seen with its ceiling leaning on a rock pillar.

After crossing Road 375, which should be done carefully, the trail passes near a group of Roman rocks. From there, it goes down to an impressive steps section, followed by the remains of an olive press near the parking lot at the end of the track.

Ein Mata and Ein Tanur

Starting point and end of the track: Hanut Ruins Recreation Area, Road 375, near the 11th kilometer mark
End of the track: the parking lot, Road 375, about 100 meters west of the 8th kilometer mark
Length: about 3.5 kilometers, a two-hour walk
Difficulty level: for families, although the track does include a steep climb on the way back.

From the recreation area, a dirt road marked in blue leads east. The road passes near the Big Winepress House. After about 50 meters, the road turns left and reaches a lot with two marked path: a dirt road marked in red, fit for 4X4 vehicles and a pedestrian trail marked in black. Both go down to Ein Mata.
We recommend taking the "red" road down and the "black" trail back. The general direction is the small eucalyptus grove in the stream's channel. The road goes down in a forest with many different trees, crosses the channel of an abandoned stream and meets a dirt road in which the Israel National Trail passes. A few more steps to the right will bring travelers to the eucalyptus grove. It is a nice place, where the water flow from a terrace which enjoys the shading of a fig tree.

To get to Ein Tanur, travelers should walk west on the dirt road through which the Israel National trail passes. The road passes near a stone house with arched entrance, built from large stones. The structure may have been used as a farmhouse during the crusades. About half a kilometer from Ein Mata a "transparent" marking (two white lines with colorless line between) leads left to a small jungle of fig trees. Between the trees is an aqueduct with a tall, arched ceiling. The water of Ein Tanur run at the bottom of the aqueduct.
Legends tell that in this spot stood the heater ("Tanur") of the biblical Noah. When the great flood came, it became the stream which provides water to this day.

Travelers can now return on the Israel National Trail up to the point where it meets the trail marked in red. Crossing the stream channel again, now southwards, the black-marked trail will bring them up to the Hanut Ruins. Fast travelers can climb to the top of the ruins in ten minutes, while slower travelers will need additional ten or fifteen minutes, during which they can enjoy the pretty landscape of the Jerusalem Mountains.

Bicycle Trails

The KKL-JNF Information Center and the Bar BaHar café became favorite spots for cyclists, who find the park's large open spaces ideal for cycling, despite the fact that it has no special cycling tracks.

One track that fits cycling of mid-difficulty level runs from the Bar Giora Information Center westwards on a marked in black to Ye'ela Mountain. The distance is about 9 kilometers. The track is also used by foot travelers and 4X4 vehicles.

Did You Know? Alar Forest

The town of Bar Giora is built on the remains of the Alar military camp, a recreation spot of British officers during the British Mandate period. It is assumed that due to existence of the site, the soldiers planted one of the first Jerusalem pine forests in Israel. The forest was partially damaged in the snow storms of the 1990s. KKL-JNF allows the old trees to grow again, and rehabilitates the natural grove which includes a wide variety of trees including common oaks, arbutus andrachnes, and terebinths.

KKL-JNF for the Community

KKL-JNF strengthens the link between Jewish youth in Israel and abroad and the Jewish homeland with the help of an educational system, which supports social acceptance of Jewish children from abroad that stay in its field centers. The KKL-JNF field centers are used as a device that brings people closer to nature, and provides environmental education.

Nes Harim Forest and Field Center

The Nes Harim forest and field center spreads across almost 36 acres. Its purpose is to provide its guests with tours, educational programs and activities that emphasize the values of the nation, nature, environment and heritage in an entertaining manner. Huts, a large dining room with air conditioning and kosher food, well-equipped lecture rooms, wireless internet connection and camping compound are available for visitors.

The compound also includes open "Forest Classes" that provide shaded space for meetings in the forest, as well as workshop and conference center for groups. And of course, the center is an excellent starting point for trips in the area.

For more information, call 02-5330350

Photographs in this page courtesy of Yaakov Shkolnik, Moran Har-Yehezkeli and the KKL-JNF Photo Archive

Nes Harim Field Center