Ayala Spur (Shluhat Ayala) Trail on Mount Carmel

Carmel Coast Forest, also known as Ofer Forest, is a beautiful part of the country that includes archeological remains, fruit trees, marvelous vistas and KKL-JNF recreation areas and footpaths.


Geographic location: Mt. Carmel, Krayot and surroundings
Difficulty: Easy
Target audience: All
Season: All
Track type: Walking path
Duration: 1-2 hours

Identity Card

A view along the way. Photo: Yaakov Skolnik



Geographic location: Northern Mount Carmel

• Features: Water and springs, Flowers, Picnic spots, History and art

How to get there: From the old Tel Aviv to Haifa Highway (Route no. 4), turn eastwards towards Moshav Ofer and Moshav Maharal (Route no. 7021). Three hundred meters after passing the gas station turn southwards (right) towards Moshav Ofer. After another 300 meters or so you will come to the Olive (HaZeitim) Recreation Area on the left-hand side of the road. Another 250 meters further along the road, a sign points to the right towards a dirt track that leads to Kastner Forest and the Edna Rogers Scenic Lookout. Here you can leave the vehicle that will pick you up at the end of the route. Continue up the road for another half kilometer and turn right on to a narrow paved track. Near the turn, to the left of the track, is the Carmelim Recreation Area.

Carmel Coast Forest, also known as Ofer Forest, is a beautiful part of the country that includes archeological remains, fruit trees, marvelous vistas and KKL-JNF recreation areas and footpaths. Our route, the Ayala Spur (Shluhat Ayala) Trail, leads us to a small spring, through well-developed woodland and past the remains of an ancient site, revealing views of the coast of Mount Carmel all along the way. If possible, we recommend bringing two vehicles so to avoid having to walk back along the side of the road at the end, but this is not absolutely necessary.

For those who leave a vehicle at the end of the trail, the route is 2.5 kilometers long. Those who bring only one vehicle will make their way back to the right along the edge of the road (cautiously) for around 700 meters until they reach the Carmelim Recreation Area.

 
Before setting out we recommend that you call KKL-JNF’s Forest Hotline (Kav LaYaar) at 1-800-350-550 for any updates, such as closures due to extreme weather and any information that may be relevant to your route.
 

The Carmelim Recreation Area

The Carmelim Recreation Area, which is the starting point for our walk, is a small site comprising five picnic tables in the shade of some pine trees. Adjacent to one of the tables is a paved plaza that is accessible to people with disabilities. Our route begins almost directly opposite the recreation area at a special hikers’ access gate in a cattle fence, from which we follow the green trail markings and the indications on the KKL-JNF posts.

The Doe Spring (Ein Ayala)
The trail leads us among woodlands and fruit trees, mainly mulberry, fig and olive. If we keep our eyes peeled we may notice the lote trees (Celtis australis, also known as Mediterranean hackberry or European nettle tree), which are easily recognizable by their asymmetric serrated leaves and their round ball-like fruit. In Israel the lote, which requires a humid environment, is grown as an ornamental tree, and these specimens would appear to have been planted by residents of the village of Ein Ghazal (“Gazelle Spring” in Arabic), which occupied this site until Israel’s War of Independence. In Arab folklore the lote tree is renowned for its ability to scare off demons and evil spirits: those who wish to avoid them would do well to carry a piece of lote wood in their pocket.

Just a hundred meters further on we come to the Ein Ayala pool. Until the autumn of 2004, when KKL-JNF, working in conjunction with the Israel Antiquities Authority and Moshav Ofer, took charge of the site, this was no more than a muddy puddle. With help of young volunteers from the Bnei HaMoshavim movement a small stone pool was built to collect the spring water and create a charming shady spot. A little bench beneath the carob trees completes the pastoral scene.

The pool was used to irrigate the fruit trees that grew here in the past. In mid-July 2015 the spring was still flowing abundantly, even causing the pool to overflow every now and again.

The remains of the village of Ein Ghazal
The path continues for another 200 meters or so, passes by a large mulberry tree and makes its way uphill among hedges of prickly pear cacti and the ruins of the village of Ein Ghazal. During Israel’s War of Independence this village was part of the “Little Triangle,” together with Jaba' and Ijzim. A militant group within the village was in the habit of harassing wayfarers on the road, and on July 18th, 1948, it killed two Jewish travelers. The residents of the villages were told to surrender or evacuate, but refused to do either. The IDF attacked twice without success, and on July 24th, during the second lull in the fighting, Mivtza Shoter (“Operation Policeman”) was launched and the villages were occupied by troops from the Alexandroni Brigade with the help of units from the Golani and Carmeli brigades, artillery and air force.

At the top of the brief ascent there is a sort of natural window that allows us a view of the surrounding landscape. On the spur to the north of us, in the heart of the Carmel Coast Forest, we can see the Ofer Scenic Lookout. From here, too, we can observe the Haifa University tower and the houses of the Druze village of Isfiya. In the plain at the foot of Mount Carmel lie Moshav Geva Carmel (which preserves the name of the vanished village of Jaba'), Moshav Tzrufa and Moshav Ayala. At the top of the slope to the south of us the sharp-eyed will be able to discern the white building of the Sheikh Shehada shrine.

To the Shimri Ruins (Hurvat Shimri)

Our route winds its way among stone terraces, woodland trees and the remnants of orchards mingled with forest trees planted by KKL-JNF in the 1960s. Here, too, we can stop at one of the natural windows overlooking the landscape to enjoy the checkerboard of the farmers’ fields below. The brown nets spread out across them protect the extensive local banana plantations.

The path descends beside tall hedges of prickly pear and leads us to the remains of an old stone building that dates back just a few generations. Its domed ceiling is supported by arches. These are the Shimri Ruins, which archeologists believe to be the site of the community mentioned in Crusader documents as Assumer .  Pottery from the Byzantine, early Islamic and Ottoman periods was found at the site, which would appear to be that of the village of Al-Sumeyr, which is mentioned in Ottoman tax listings from the end of the 16th century. The little Arab village of Al-Sumeyr, which was built on top of the ruins of earlier settlement, remained in existence until the War of Independence.

Journey’s end
So far we have walked for 1.3 kilometers. From the Shimri Ruins we continue downhill along the path for another 200 meters or so to meet up with a broad dirt track indicated by blue trail markings. Here we turn right and walk for another kilometer alongside banana plantations until we come to the road that ascends to Ofer, where we have left our pick-up vehicle – if we have one. If we haven’t, we must gird our loins and stride out for another 700 meters up the road until we find ourselves back at the Carmelim Recreation Area.

The Edna Rogers Scenic Lookout
If we wish to prolong our excursion, instead of returning along the dirt road below the Shimri Ruins we can turn left there, walk on for another 100 meters and then turn southwards (right) following the signs to the Kastner Forest and the Edna Rogers Scenic Lookout. This woodland was planted in memory of Israel Kastner, a member of the Budapest Aid and Rescue Committee who organized Jewish rescue operations, including the Kastner Train, during the Second World War. This woodland was planted in his memory on the initiative of the survivors and their families.

After walking along the dirt road for about half a kilometer we reach the Edna Rogers Scenic Lookout, a viewing platform where, in the shade of a carob tree, two benches offer a tranquil spot to sit and look out over the Carmel Coastal Plain.

We conclude our excursion by returning to the point where we walked down from the Shimri Ruins, then continue as described in the “Journey’s end” section above.