Eshtaol Forest

From the Eshtaol Recreation Area to Neveh Shalom.


Geographic location: Jerusalem, Judean highlands and surroundings
Difficulty: Easy
Target audience: All
Season: All
Track length: 8 km
Duration: 3-5 hours
Track type: Walking path

Identity Card

A peaceful spot at the Shiri Scenic Lookout. Photo: Yaakov Shkolnik


 



Geographic location: Central Israel, Judean foothills

Type of route: Landscapes and scenic lookouts, picnic spots, history, art, part of the Israel Trail.

How to get there: The entrance to the Eshtaol Recreation Area lies on the highway between the Nahshon and Shimshon junctions (Route no. 44), between kilometer markers 1 and 2.

Note: Because of the 2015 fire, visitors must not stray from the designated routes.

Eshtaol Forest extends over an area of around twelve thousand dunam (approx 3,000 acres) to the south of the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem Highway (Route no. 1). The forest is planted on low chalk hills up to 350 meters above sea level. The highway from Shaar HaGai to Shimshon Junction (Route no. 38) borders it to the east.

KKL-JNF has nurtured Eshtaol Forest, signposting its major sites and providing it with marked-out scenic routes for private cars. The forest’s internal roads are bordered by numerous recreational and picnic areas. Both the Israel National Trail and the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem Cycle Trail pass through the forest.

The following is a description of the trail that crosses the forest from south to north, from the Eshtaol Recreation Area to the community of Neveh Shalom. The route, which is marked with black KKL-JNF trail-markings all along the way, begins at the Eshtaol Recreation Area adjacent to Route no. 44, heads north, and then crosses the Burma Road to Neveh Shalom. The trail is 8.5 km long, and is suitable for private cars. Some parts are stony, but they can be coped with relatively easily.

In July 2015 a great fire raged through Eshtaol Forest and Tzora Forest and destroyed some 2,000 dunam (approx 500 acres) of woodland – around ten per cent of their total area. The trail described below, however, was not damaged in the fire.

 
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.
 

From the Eshtaol Recreation Area to the O’Higgins Recreation Area

The Eshtaol Recreation Area, which lies close to Highway 44, is a convenient departure point for our outing. It also offers access to the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem Cycle Trail developed by KKL-JNF from the Tel Aviv Port all the way to Jerusalem. The recreation area’s situation adjacent to Route no. 44 and its picnic tables in the shade of the carob trees have made the spot popular with tourists, hikers, cyclists and passers-by.

We leave the recreation area by driving along the paved road that passes the Eshtaol Nursery, where KKL-JNF prepares saplings for the greater glory of Israel’s forests, and continues past KKL-JNF’s central Israel regional offices.

Immediately after the turnoff to the KKL-JNF offices, the paved road ends and is replaced by a dirt road indicated by black trail markings. The next stretch of the route is named the Mordechai Trail in memory of former KKL-JNF Co-Chairman the late Mordechai Dayan. Because Dayan enlisted Latin American Jewish communities to contribute to afforestation projects in Israel, many recreation areas in Eshtaol Forest are named after communities in South America.

On the right hand side of the road we come to the Olive Recreation Area, where picnic tables nestle in the shade of the olive trees. KKL-JNF maintains 160 dunam (approx 40 acres) of groves and orchards in Eshtaol Forest, primarily olive and carob. If we look to the left as we drive along we can see areas of the woodland that were burned in the fire of July 2015.

The O’Higgins Recreation Area
About a kilometer after the Olive Recreation Area we arrive at the O’Higgins Recreation Area, one of the main recreation areas in the forest. Bernardo O’Higgins (1778-1842) was an important statesman and military leader in the struggle for the independence of Chile and other South American countries. Friends of KKL-JNF in South America (and in Israel) have contributed to the development of many of Eshtaol Forest’s recreation areas, and they requested that this one be named after O’Higgins. The image of the general is engraved / stamped on a giant plaque at the memorial on the edge of the recreation area, which also boasts playground equipment for children, provided by KKL-JNF.

The O’Higgins Recreation Area is situated close to a crossroads that has a turnoff to Mesillat Zion (see separate section below). About half a kilometer from this recreation area, to the left of the trail, is another recreation area marked with yellow and blue posts, which is the site of a small monument to the friendship between Israel and Uruguay.

The Shiri Scenic Lookout and the Panoramic Lookout

Our route continues north, passing a fork where a turnoff leads to a blue-marked path suitable for all-terrain vehicles, and brings us to the Shiri Scenic Lookout to the left of the road. From here we have marvelous view: wooden steps descend to an observation deck equipped with benches and a table shaded by a pine tree. This scenic lookout in memory of Shiri Levinger is surrounded by trees that have grown up to conceal a considerable part of the view of the Sorek Gully, Mount Karmila and the Tzora Ridge, but it is a beautiful spot all the same.  There is also a panoramic lookout nearby with playground equipment for children and a disabled-accessible recreation area.

The road marked in black proceeds north, with several recreation areas developed by KKL-JNF along the way. Approximately 300 meters from the panoramic lookout we can see the edge of the woodland damaged in the 2015 fire, traces of which are still visible. Approximately 1.8 km from the panoramic lookout we can leave the forest along a path indicated by green trail markings that turns left to Moshav Taoz. This route makes its way through the heart of the burned woodland. About half a kilometer farther on, our route crosses the Burma Road at the top of the famous Serpentine Trail. Here we can park our vehicle and descend on foot for a short distance to get an impression of its sharp, steep bends. During the War of Independence these bends were negotiated with the help of sand ladders – pierced metal plates that helped the vehicles gain traction on the trail.

From here we continue to follow the black markings, which at this point are congruent with the Israel Trail. About 1.2 kilometers after we cross the Burma Road we come to a recreation area on the right. At the edge of this area, beside a white Mekorot water company installation, are the remains of a lime kiln. It’s worth spending some time in this recreation area, which is dedicated to the memory of  Avraham “Buma” Goldstein. Right at the edge of the trail, among the trees, the remnants of the mosaic that covered the floor of a Byzantine church are still visible. The floor is decorated with red and white crosses and a circle about a meter in diameter with a large cross in the middle. The mosaic may have belonged to the church of a monastery that overlooked the Ayalon Valley and Latrun, the spot where, according to Christian tradition, Jesus revealed himself for the first time after his death. The monastery-church complex at the top of the hill dates back to Byzantine times and overlooks the Ayalon Valley and the main highway to Jerusalem.

Hill 314

We continue on our way. At the crossroads before Neveh Shalom is the Abie Nathan Recreation Area. The Israel Trail turns off to the right, but we continue straight on for another 300 meters. Right next to Neveh Shalom, to the left of our route, is Hill 314.

This hill played an important role in the battle of Latrun during Israel’s War of Independence. On the night of May 24-25, 1948, in Operation Bin Nun A, the newly formed 7th Brigade and the 32nd Battalion tried to break through into the Latrun sector, which was controlled by the Jordanian Legion. The forces came under heavy fire and Commander Ram Ron of the 1st Company of the 32nd Battalion took Hill 314, withstood counterattacks and covered the retreat of the battalion’s 2nd Company. The attacking force sustained over 70 casualties in Operation Bin Nun A.

Hill 314 separated Jordanian Latrun from the Burma Road. After the War of Independence, the IDF established a forward position at the site to secure the ceasefire line between Israel and Jordan. The nearby community of Neveh Shalom was founded in 1969 to promote coexistence between Jews and Arabs, and today its population comprises Jews and both Muslim and Christian Arabs.

Our route ends here at Neveh Shalom. From here we can coast down to Route no. 3, to the stretch between Latrun and Nahshon Junction.

From the O’Higgins Recreation Area to Mesillat Zion
Those curious to discover additional corners of Eshtaol Forest can turn off from the O’Higgins Recreation Area, which lies in the middle of our route, and make their way towards Moshav Mesillat Zion, encountering additional recreation areas along the way. This route, which is around 3.5 kilometers long, is marked in orange, and it can be negotiated by a private car.

Our route leads us eastwards from the O’Higgins Recreation Area past a forest of stone pines on the left. The seeds of this tree are the tasty piñones (pine nuts) that are so good to eat. After about half a kilometer we come to Derekh HaReut (“The Friendship Trail”), which branches northwards off the main road, then rejoins it after about 300 meters. KKL-JNF has created a number of recreation areas along this route, together with a memorial to the great military leader Simón Bolívar (1783-1830), who played a major role in the establishment of six South American countries, including Bolivia, which is named after him.

About 900 meters farther on, where the road veers north, is Henion HaArba‘a (“the Recreation Area of the Four”) one of the most beautiful sites in Eshtaol Forest. Accessed by a flight of wooden steps, it contains parts of an ancient olive press and offers a beautiful view of the Nahal Sorek basin.

Farther on down the road is a recreation area that commemorates the Argentinian military leader and statesman José de San Martín (1778 -1850), another prominent figure in the movement to liberate South America from Spain. Near the point where the trail meets up with the Mesillat Zion access road is the Yonatan Recreation Area, from which a short trail leads to a children’s playground. From here it’s just a hop, skip and a jump to the way out of the forest.