Yatir Forest - Israel's Largest Desert Forest

Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive
Israel’s Largest Planted Forest: The Yatir Forest in the north-western Negev is named after the Levite city whose ruins are found within it. Yatir Forest proves that we can combat desertification, and heal the wounded earth.
  • How to get there

    To Yatir Forest – From the central region – Shoket Junction towards Arad (Route 31). Approximately two kilometers after the entrance to Hura, turn left (northward) onto the road leading to the forest. On the way to Arad, near Tel Arad, is another road that climbs toward the forest’s eastern section.

    The scenic route – This dirt road, which is suitable for all types of vehicles, turns right (eastward) from the road that connects Metar to the other communities of the southern Hebron hills (Route 6002), approximately six kilometers from Metar. ATVs may drive on the dirt roads that turn off from the Arad–Shoket Junction road (Route 31) and from Mount Hiran.
  • Geographic location-

    Northern and western Negev
  • Area-

  • Special Sites in the Park-

    The Foresters’ House, The ruins of a Roman road, The ruins of ancient Yatir, The cistern and cave trails, The Yatir reservoir.
  • Facilities-

    Archeological or Historic site, Marked path.
  • Other sites in the area-

    Lahav Forest, The Joe Alon Bedouin Museum, The Negev Memorial, Tel Ira, The ruins of ancient Sussia, Tel Krayot, Tel Arad, The ruins of ancient Uza.

Tourism notification

Travelers to Yatir Forest on Route 316 from South to north should note – the entrance to the Yigal Campsite and the Devorah Campsite has a continuous separation line.

Projects and Partners Worldwide

Yatir Forest was planted and developed thanks to contributions from friends of KKL-KKL-JNF worldwide,including Belgium, France, Switzerland, Germany, Italy and Latin America.

About the Forest

The Yatir Forest, which covers 30,000 dunams, is named after the Levite city whose ruins are found within it. Scripture states: “To the descendants of Aaron the priest they gave Hebron and the open land around it, the city of refuge for those guilty of manslaughter, and Livnah and the open land around it, and Yatir with the open land about it, and Eshtemoa with the open land about it” (Joshua 21:13–14).

The forest’s beginnings go back to the building of roads in the Negev as part of the national project to develop the region. In 1964, KKL-JNF foresters planted the first trees against all odds – and eventually, the forest became one of the largest in Israel.

The forest contains more than four million trees, including conifers (Jerusalem pine and cypress), broadleaf trees (Atlantic terebinth, tamarisk, Christ’s-thorn jujube, carob and pistachio), orchard trees (olive, fig), eucalyptus and acacia, vineyards for winemaking and various shrubs such as desert broom and vitex.
Photo: Nira Zadok.

Geography and Climate

The forest is located at the edge of the desert, on the lower slopes of the Hebron hills northeast of Beer Sheba. This is where the Mediterranean region’s orchards and scrublands meet the desert vegetation typical of the Negev and the Judean Desert.

Because of its varying height – between 400 and 800 meters above sea level – and the fact that it faces southwest, the area receives more than its share of rainfall (between 250 and 275 milliliters per year on average). The air is dry and the climate relatively comfortable, and during the sultry summer afternoons, the forest is cool and pleasant. It is cold in winter.
Snow in Yatir Forest. Photo: KKL-JNF Archive.
The forest is located at the juncture of three distinct landscapes: the lower slopes of the southern portion of the Hebron Hills, which are made of hard chalk rock; the Yatir crater, of soft chalk; and the southern and western slopes of the forest, which descend to the Beer Sheba Valley and are covered with light brown loess soil.

The forest’s water channels, which drain the southern Hebron hills, widen as they descend into the valley. The eastern slopes, however, descend steeply straight into the Arad valley, revealing the spectacular landscapes of the Judean Desert with the mountains of Moab on the horizon. KKL-JNF has planted new vegetation in the forest’s southern portion by harvesting runoff rainwater, in which rainwater is collected in stone terraces built in stair-like fashion along the slopes. These terraces once served as farmland.

The rainwater that collects along the slopes is held back from flowing downward by the terraces, allowing more water to soak into the soil. Thus the ground in these areas receives much more water than it would from the residue of the annual rainfall only.

In these parts of the forest, KKL-JNF plants trees at a low density of approximately fifteen trees per dunam. The trees prevent soil erosion and increase the variety of plants and animals in the region and soil fertility. Between the trees there is vegetation that serves as fodder for flocks, which helps with pushing back the desert. In the valleys between the slopes, KKL-JNF has prepared land for local residential communities in which fruit orchards and vineyards are maintained.

Yatir Forest is also the site of a number of studies on combating desertification, soil conservation, carbon sequestration, plant-water-soil relations and other ecological topics. This research is conducted in cooperation with the major academic and research institutes in Israel.

Hiking Trails and Scenic Routes

Yatir Forest has five hiking trails:

  •  The main forest trail (marked in green, with KKL-JNF trail markers)
  • The Autumn Crocus path (marked in black, with KKL-JNF and Israel Trail markers)
  • The western hiking trail (marked in blue; no KKL-JNF trail markers)
  • The eastern hiking trail from the Foresters’ House to Mount Amasa
  • The reservoir trail (marked in blue, with KKL-JNF and Israel Trail markers)

1. The Main Forest Trail

This asphalt trail crosses the forest from the Arad–Shoket Junction road (Route 31), passes near Shani and ends at the edge of the forest near the community of Har Amasa. The trail forks near Har Amasa. One branch continues northward to Beit Yatir, while the other descends eastward toward Tel Arad and Arad. Along the trail are sites to visit and picnic areas.

The Foresters’ House

Foresters' House. Photo: KKL-JNF Archive.
Foresters' House. Photo: KKL-JNF Archive.
This building, which now serves as the base for KKL-JNF foresters, is located at the top of the mountain, 687 meters above sea level. Constructed in 1967, it served as a base for forestry personnel and as a fire watchtower. Today, hikers can climb to the lookout to see the view.

The Ruins of Ancient Anim

These ruins contain the remnants of a synagogue that was established in the fourth century and existed until the eighth century CE. At the top of the ruin are the remnants of a square structure whose walls are approximately five meters thick. The structure served as a fortress during the period of the kings of Judah. Around the structure are the ruins of cave dwellings, a system of secret tunnels and fences.

The Krayot Scenic Lookout

Farther along the road is a scenic lookout with a spectacular view that looks out over the Arad valley and the southern Judean Desert, with the mountains of Moab on the horizon. The scenic lookout is located near the beginning of the road that leads down to Arad, above the Krayot ruins.

The Eastern Scenic Route

A level dirt road, which is passable for all sorts of vehicles, begins near the Foresters’ House. The road follows the forest’s eastern edge and continues as far as Kibbutz Har Amasa.

The Har Amasa Nature Reserve

The Har Amasa Nature Reserve is located where Mediterranean vegetation meets desert growth. Among the wild plants in the reserve are hybrid phlox, fritillary, tulips and herbs. At the top of the mountain is a lookout point that provides a view of the Arad valley, the southern portion of the Judean Desert and the mountains of Moab on the horizon.

Photo: Tania Susskind.

The Ancient Roman Road (Maale Madregot)

The road, which can be seen from the Krayot lookout point, continues along the fence of Kibbutz Har Amasa and beyond, heading eastward toward the mountain’s downward slope toward the Bedouin community of Derajat (Dargot). Maale Dargot is a section of the trail that in Roman times led from Jerusalem to Hebron and the Arad valley, and from there to the Nabatean city of Memphis (Mamshit) and Maale Akrabim.

The Western Scenic Route

A level dirt road leads from the Metar–Hebron hills highway and meets the Yatir Forest road fairly close to the Foresters’ House. The road crosses Nahal Eshtamoa, which drains the southern Hebron hills and connects with Nahal Yatir slightly east of Metar. Water flows here in winter.

The Yatir Ruins

The hike begins from the cistern near the trail. Climb upward to the remnants of the tomb of Sheikh Athri and Sheikh Zaabi, which are located at the top of the ruin and provide a lovely view of the area. From here, descend westward toward the ruins of the ancient reservoir, whose walls are partially plastered. A little farther on from here, ruins of the wall columns of a Byzantine church may be seen.
In the church, mosaic floors from the seventh century CE were discovered almost intact. The mosaics depict palm trees, beetles and symbols from magic and mysticism. The mosaic has been covered with earth until it can be safely exhibited to the public. An inscription found at the site, which dates the mosaic and identifies the artist who created it, reads: “In March of the sixth fiscal year, in the 526th year since the city’s founding. All of this was done to honor the abbot of our monastery, Thomas, servant of God. This was all done by me, Zakaria son of Yishai, the builder, servant of God.”

2. The Reservoir Trail

This level road, which begins near the ruins of ancient Anim, ascends toward the Water Cistern Recreation Area and the path to the agricultural installations, reaches the reservoir and ends near the village of Amasa. The agricultural installations trail, which is approximately 600 meters long, descends from the parking lot near the cistern through the pine forest. Along the path are cisterns, a winepress and a crushing-stone used to crush olives as part of the olive-oil production process.
There is a theory that this area was once a production center for crushing-stones, which accounts for the large number of them here.

Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive

The Yatir Reservoir

KKL-JNF constructed the reservoir at the beginning of the 2000s in order to assist in the irrigation of the orchards and vineyards of the Yatir district during the summer. The reservoir’s capacity is 650,000 cubic meters of water that is harvested mostly during the winter. Although the reservoir, which is dangerous for swimming, is closed to hikers, a large pool of water at the edge of the desert is a lovely sight.

3. The Autumn Crocus Trail

The trail branches out from the Shoket Junction–Arad highway. A level dirt road, passable for all sorts of vehicles, that ends at the western scenic route near the ruins of ancient Yatir. 1.6 kilometers from the Hura road there is a small parking lot from which a path leads to a dense grove of pistachio trees. Nearby is a seven-layered terrace built with large rocks. The autumn crocus blossoms may be seen near the terrace. This trail is recommended for the months of October and November.

4. The Cistern and Cave Trail

Drive approximately 100 meters to the junction. Turn left and continue for approximately 1100 meters. Park the car at the side of the road and proceed to the trail on foot. Stairs carved into the slope lead to a bell-shaped cistern hewn into the rock and a cave that once served as a temporary dwelling for shepherds. Walking time: approximately 20 minutes round trip.

5. The Caves and Cistern Trail

Drive along the Autumn Crocus Trail for approximately one more kilometer and park the car where the path among the pine trees begins, parallel to the Autumn Crocus Trail. The path, which ascends along stairs carved between abandoned cave dwellings, reaches the cistern. The path route once served as a canal that collected rainwater. From the cistern, descend to the Autumn Crocus Trail and your car. Walking time: 30 minutes round trip.

Photo: Tania Susskind.