Excursion in Private Vehicles: Beit Keshet Forest Scenic Route

Difficulty: Basic| Distance: 19 kilometers| Length of time required: 3-5 hours| Area: North; Lower Galilee | Recommended Season: All year round | Type of route: Accessible, picnic, scenery and lookout points, circular route, forms part of the Israel Trail
Photograph: Yakov Shkolnik
Photograph: Yakov Shkolnik
Beit Keshet Forest covers the eastern slopes of the Nazareth Hills, which tumble down to the basalt heights of eastern Lower Galilee. Mount Precipice (397 meters), Mount Kesullot (443 meters) and Mount Devora (437 meters) mark the southwestern boundary of the forest. From here to the northeast, the forested hills of Beit Keshet roll gently down to the Tur‘an Valley (190 meters), which delineates the northern edge of the woodland. To the south of the forest towers Mount Tabor (562 meters), one of Galilee’s major landmarks. Almost the entire area of the forest lies within the catchment basin of the Tabor Stream, which flows into the River Jordan. Exceptions to this are the stream’s most northerly slopes, which drain into the Tzippori Stream catchment basin. 

The scenic route KKL-JNF has created in the forest makes its way through a marvelous natural woodland of Tabor oaks (Quercus ithaburensis) and an extensive planted forest. The views of Mount Tabor and its environs are truly magnificent. Along the way KKL-JNF has provided recreation areas, scenic lookouts and hiking trails. The Annunciation Trail (Shvil HaBesora) (This is apparently not the Jesus Trail, but a different one that covers some of the same ground, see here), which is indicated by four stones (one of which is marked with an anchor) placed one on top of the other, threads its way through the forest en route from Mount Precipice to Capernaum, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.

Significant sections of the route are paved, rendering it negotiable by private cars, though not by buses. The recreation areas throughout the forest are equipped with accessible tables for use by visitors whose mobility is limited. The scenic route serves both tourists and local farmers, and has a speed limit of 30 kilometers per hour. 

An excursion along the scenic route
The Juliana Recreation Area and Tur‘an Observation Point
We depart from the scenic route’s northern gate, close to Golani Junction. Our route leads us between a cultivated field on the right and natural woodland on the left. In February these slopes flower in all the colors of the rainbow, with red anemones and pink cyclamen predominating. Later, ranunculus (a type of buttercup) and a range of orchid varieties make their appearance.

About 1.5 kilometers from the entrance, after the road’s first bend to the left, we come to a small parking lot. Here, in the shade of the pine trees, is a recreation area in memory of Queen Juliana of the Netherlands (1909-2004), who reigned from 1948 until 1980. The path climbs for 1.5 kilometers before reaching a small parking lot to the right. This is the site of the Tur‘an Scenic Lookout (327 meters), which overlooks the Tur‘an Valley, and Tur‘an Ridge, which looms over it. At the top of the ridge KKL-JNF has placed a lookout tower from which watchers can spot incipient forest fires.

Tur‘an is mentioned in the Jewish sources as a place of beautiful women: “You are beautiful, my beloved, like Tirza – these are the girls of Tur’an...” (Shir Hashirim Rabba). During the Roman period, the main highway from Acco (Acre) to Tzippori and Tiberias made its way across here. Some identify this vale with the Beit Rimon Valley, which is likewise mentioned in Jewish sources.

Close by the Tur‘an Observation Point, slightly further along the trail, are two picnic tables.

The Forester’s House (Beit HaYaaran) and the Forester’s House Observation Point
The scenic trail continues all the way to the fence of Camp Shimshon, beside which flourishes a plot of Canary Island Pines (Pinus canariensis), a tree recognizable by the regular whorl-like arrangement of its branches along its tall trunk. Our route detours round the camp to the right, and, once the detour is complete, a new branch splits off our trail to create a red-marked 4x4 track that descends towards Kibbutz Beit Keshet.

About 3.5 kilometers from the Tur‘an Scenic Lookout lies the Forester’s House Recreation Area, the forest’s largest and most central recreation area, which is equipped with disabled-accessible tables. From here a short trail suitable for vehicles descends to the Forester’s House, a stone building constructed by KKL-JNF in the 1940s to accommodate planters and other forestry workers.

If we park beside the Forester’s House we can follow a paved circular route for 700 meters to the eponymous observation point, which overlooks the basalt heights of eastern Lower Galilee.

The Beit Keshet Oaks (Alonei Beit Keshet) Observation Point
This splendid vantage point, which overlooks the Beit Keshet Oak Forest, lies next to the scenic route, around 900 meters to the south of the junction adjacent to the Forester’s House. Here, hard by the lookout, we can acquaint ourselves with some specimens of the Tabor oak (Quercus ithaburensis), a deciduous tree that is better suited to dry conditions than the Israeli common oak (Quercus calliprinos), and which adapts well to a variety of soil types, such as basalt, the light soils of the Coastal Plain, different kinds of ruddy terra rossa or the pale rendzina of Beit Keshet forest.

Tabor oaks create “park forests” – roomy open woodlands in which trees are widely spaced, allowing development of a profusion of flowering annuals that bloom colorfully in springtime.

Nahal HaShiv‘a (“The Stream of the Seven”)
The sharp bend in the trail about 900 meters to the south of the Beit Keshet Oaks Observation Point crosses the bed of the Nahal HaShiv‘a stream, which descends towards Kibbutz Beit Keshet. Near the bend, KKL-JNF has planted a ceder. The stream is named after seven members of Kibbutz Beit Keshet who fell on March 16th, 1948 in an ambush laid by men of the local Al-Zanih Bedouin tribe during Israel’s War of Independence. The section commander was Eli Ben-Tzvi, a son of Itzhak Ben-Tzvi, later the second president of the State of Israel. Only one member of the eight-man section survived.

The Great Oak, Tel Govel and the rocky path
Around 900 meters south of the Nahal HaShiv‘a bend, a large Tabor oak tree encircled by a stone bench grows beside the trail. This is the great oak (HaAlon Hagadol), an important landmark on the scenic route. Nearby, KKL-JNF has created a recreation area that includes some disabled-accessible tables.

The rocky path: a short footpath departs from the ancient oak tree and ascends westward, climbing to a conspicuously rocky area about 50 meters up the slope. These are dolomite rocks formed from the calcite in the sea that flooded the Galilee region about a hundred million years ago (I’ve made a change here to accord with what I’ve read on line about how dolomite is formed [dolomitization] - CS). Dolomite rock, which is grayish in color, has a chemical composition similar to that of chalk or calcite, but with the addition of magnesium. Dolomite crystals, unlike those of calcite, glitter in the sunshine. This type of rock is named after the French geologist Déodat de Dolomieu, who first identified the mineral calcium magnesium carbonate – CaMg(CO3)2 in the Alps.

The large rocks at this site were formed by chemical erosion caused by rainwater’s soaking into the ground and absorbing carbon dioxide (CO2) to create carbonic acid. The acid dissolves the rock, creating the topography we see here, which is known as karst.

Tel Govel
Tel Govel lies to the east of the scenic route, almost opposite the ancient oak tree. A gap in the fence allows us to climb to the top of the mound and enjoy the view. This tell has been identified with the Biblical Aznoth-Tabor, which marked the boundary between the tribes of Naftali and Issachar: “And the border turned westward to Aznoth-Tabor and from there to Hukkok…” (Joshua 19:34).

Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea in the 4th century CE, mentioned in his Onomasticon a Jezreel Valley community named Aznoth. An archeological survey of the tell, which extends over an area of 10 dunam (approx. 2.5 acres), revealed pottery from both the Israelite (10th to 8th centuries BCE) and the Roman periods.

The tell’s Hebrew name retains the sound of its Arab name, Umm Jubail. On the southern slope of the tell are caves once used by the Bedouin herders of Arab al-Zabih. The remains of tribesmen’s graves can be seen at the top of the tell.

On a visit to the area (1875), the French explorer Victor Guérin described an ancient oak tree that was identified with the Biblical city of Aznoth-Tabor. Who knows, perhaps his description is connected to the giant Tabor oak that grows today beside the scenic route?

Close by Tel Govel, the trail from Beit Keshet links up with the scenic route.

The Tabor oak forest and the Tabor Observation Point
About two kilometers from Tel Govel, the scenic route crosses a large and attractive plot of Tabor oaks, at the end of which a black-marked trail leading to Beit Keshet branches off to the left. The next sharp bend signals the crossing of the Nahal Devora stream, and 700 meters or so after that we reach the Tabor Observation Point, which provides a magnificent view of the astonishingly sheer slope of the towering mountain. At its foot lie the Arab communities of Daburiyya and Shibli. Daburiyya has been identified as Dovrat, one of the Levite cities within the area allocated to the tribe of Issachar. In Christian tradition, the three (not nine, according to what I see on line) disciples waited there for Jesus while he ascended Mount Tabor and underwent the Transfiguration, in which Moses and Elijah the prophet also participated. The New Testament relates that during the event Jesus’ garments glowed like snow. (Note: From what I see on line, the site of the transfiguration is in dispute among Christians, with Mount Tabor being only one of the possibilities)

Pines and ceders
The scenic route continues southwards to a junction where we can turn left to Daburiyya. About a kilometer further on from there we come to some elderly pine trees – remnants of a British Mandatory forest from the 1920s, when Jerusalem pines and stone pines were planted at the site. Most of these trees are long gone, and those that remain are among the oldest pines in Israel.

We should also pause about 150 meters further along the trail from there, where a short path turns off to the left and, after 100 meters or so, brings us to an attractive plot of ceders planted by KKL-JNF.

Mount Devora
About a kilometer beyond the ceders a good trail branches off to the left and climbs to the top of Mount Devora, which juts out from the rock face of the Nazareth Hills. This route provides magnificent views of Mount Tabor and the Jezreel Valley. In the 1930s the British Mandate’s forestry department began to afforest the northern slopes of Mount Devora, and KKL-JNF woodsmen continued the task on the slopes of Mount Tabor and in Beit Keshet Forest from 1945 onwards.

The mountain’s name, together with that of the stream that drains it (Nahal Barak), commemorates the Biblical prophet Devora (in English “Deborah”) and Barak Ben Avinoam, who, in the Tabor area, joined forces against Sisera, commander of the army of Yavin, king of Hatzor (Judges, chapter 4).

We can make our way back down the mountain on foot via the Israel Trail.

Journey’s end in Churchill Forest
After Mount Devora, the scenic route continues westwards across the top of the Nazareth Hills, revealing splendid views of Kesullot Valley, the Jezreel Valley, Giv‘at HaMoreh and Mount Gilboa. A wall with a rounded top jutting out at the bend in the trail commemorates Winston Churchill (1874-1965), whose term of office as prime minister of Britain during the Second World War brought him lasting international renown. The forest was planted with the help of donations from British Jews wishing to perpetuate his memory here. Opposite the commemorative wall, KKL-JNF has provided a carpark. From Churchill Forest the scenic route continues until it joins the Galilee Trail in Nof HaGalil (formerly Upper Nazareth), where our excursion comes to an end. 
Before you leave on your trip, we recommend checking reports and updated information on the site or route you have selected.