Yatir Forest, Israel’s largest forest

Embark on a tree-filled excursion amid the landscapes of Israel’s largest forest, which extends over an area of some forty thousand dunam (approximately 10,000 acres).


Geographic location: Northern and western Negev
Difficulty: Easy
Target audience: All
Season: All
Track type: Walking path
Duration: 3-5 hours

Identity Card

The Krayot Scenic Lookout. Photo: Yaakov Shkolnik



Please note:
The Foresters’ Fortress is currently closed to the public as it is undergoing repairs.



Geographic location: Southern part of the northern Negev

Type of route: Walking path

• Features: Landscape, views, picnics, part of the Israel National Trail

Israel’s Yatir region lies in the transitional belt between the hills of Judea and the Negev, in an undulating area where peaks can reach up to 700 meters above sea level. As it is situated on the fringes of the desert, Yatir receives very little rainfall, averaging only about 250 mm per year. Most of the area is covered with chalk rock that is almost impermeable to water, rendering the land even drier.

But, nonetheless, in 1964, KKL-JNF foresters began to plant trees among the rocks of the Yatir region. Planting a forest in this arid area close to the ceasefire line with Jordan was a gamble against all the odds. The woodland, however, thrived and flourished until it became Israel’s largest forest, which today covers an area of some forty thousand dunam (approximately 10,000 acres), and it hasn’t stopped growing yet…

Yatir Forest is one of Israel’s most varied woodlands, as KKL-JNF has planted it with a wide variety of trees. Apart from different varieties of pine and cypress, it contains special types of eucalyptus that produce a wonderful red blossom. Other species represented include Mount Atlas mastic tree (Pistacia atlantica), athel tamarisk (Tamarix aphylla), Negev acacia (Vachellia gerrardii, also known as red thorn), common acacia (Acacia raddiana), Christ thorn jujube (Ziziphus spina-christi), carob (Ceratonia siliqua), pistachio (Pistacia vera) and bushes such as desert broom (Retama raetam), Abraham’s balm (Vitex agnus-castus, also known as chasteberry), granite honey myrtle (Melaleuca elliptica, also known as granite bottlebrush) and bladder senna (Colutea istria). In the valleys between the hillsides the local people have planted orchards, groves and vineyards.

The community of Shani (Livna), which was founded in 1982, is situated on the northern slopes of Yatir Forest. To the east of the woodland lies the communal village of Amsha, with Metzadot Yehuda (Beit Yatir) – whose boundaries include the old Latzefar Jordanian border police building – to its north. The community’s first settlers lived in the Foresters’ Fortress until their permanent homes were ready for them to move into.

Yatir Forest is the source of some welcome news. The monitoring station that the Weizmann Institute operates in the forest in conjunction with KKL-JNF has revealed that this desert woodland reduces greenhouse gases at the same rate as the average European forest.

Among the archeological remains in the forest is Hurvat Yatir (“The Yatir Ruins”), which is identified with the Biblical Levite city of Jattir, from which the forest takes its name. KKL-JNF has crisscrossed the forest with scenic routes and added recreation areas and footpaths that offer access to the various sites within it. The Israel National Trail also passes through the forest. KKL-JNF operates a field and forest center in the Foresters’ Fortress, and this serves as a starting point for guided tours and excursions into the forest and its surroundings.

 
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 Yatir Forest Trail

The Yatir Forest Trail, which is nine kilometers long, is surfaced for its entire length from the Foresters’ Fortress to the approach to Mount Amsha near the Mexico Recreation Area. The route is indicated by green trail markings and it forms part of Route no. 316, which links Houra to Sussia.

Access: From Route no. 31, some 2.3 kilometers to the east of the entrance to Houra, turn northwards on to Route no. 316; continue for 13.5 kilometers until you reach the Foresters’ Fortress.

The Foresters’ Fortress
This structure, which was inaugurated on April 19th, 1967, was designed to provide a headquarters for Yatir Forest’s professional staff and living quarters for the foresters and their families. As the ceasefire line between Israel and the Kingdom of Jordan passed close to the forest in those days, the structure was built fortress-style on high ground that dominated its surroundings (687 meters above sea level). Today the Foresters’ Fortress is still used by Yatir Forest staff, though they do not live there. The building also serves as a field and forest center for educational activities and excursions. Visitors are invited to go up on to the roof of the fortress and enjoy the magnificent view of the surrounding countryside.

Please note: The Foresters’ Fortress is currently closed to the public as it is undergoing repairs.

Mitzpor Yaldei Israel (“The Israeli Children’s Lookout”)
This scenic lookout offers a magnificent view of the eastern sections of Yatir Forest, and KKL-JNF has provided a recreation area nearby. On the slope parallel to Route no. 316 KKL-JNF has created terraces and planted them with broad-leaved trees for which the piled-up soil behind the terraces provides improved ground and water conditions.

Recreation areas: Beside Route no. 316, which takes us into the heart of Yatir Forest, KKL-JNF has established four recreation areas: Henion Yigal, Henion HaBustan, Henion Scandinavia and Henion Devorah. All of them have drinking-water facilities.

Hurvat Anim (“The Anim Ruins”)
These extensive ruins include dozens of caves which in ancient times served as cellars and storerooms. The entrances to some of the caves are decorated with relief carvings of rosettes, and the whole area is studded with water cisterns, stone fences and artifacts hewn into the rock.

Entering the caves is forbidden, but the ancient ruined synagogue, the main feature of the site, can be visited. The synagogue, which was in existence from the fourth until the 8th century CE, was built of large hewn stones that can still be seen today in the three-meter-high remains at the site. The façade has two entrances, in the style of other synagogues in the Mount Hebron area, such as Eshtemoa (Samua), Susya and Maon. An entrance portico was discovered along the eastern wall, and there are columns with capitals along its façade. During the Muslim period the building was used as a mosque. From the synagogue steps lead down to a cistern and caves used for concealment.

At the top of the Anim site are the remains of a square building whose walls are five meters thick, which was used as a fortress during the period of the Judean kings (7th-8th centuries BCE). Some of its stones were removed for use in the construction of the synagogue.

The Agricultural Artifacts Trail

Along this route we find cisterns, a grape-treading floor and a crushing mill used to compress and mash olives prior to extracting their oil. The trail ends in a shallow valley that passes below the Anim Ruins. The Agricultural Artifacts Trail departs from the Cistern Recreation Area, and it can also be accessed from a dirt road that climbs southwards from the Yatir Forest Trail about 150 meters from the Anim Ruins parking lot.

Yatir Forest was established with the help of donations from Friends of KKL-JNF throughout the world.

The Winter Daffodil Trail
The Winter Daffodil Trail starts from Route no. 316 and ends at the Western Scenic Route. It is around five kilometers long.

Access and markings: The access point to the Winter Daffodil Trail is located about 1.5 kilometers towards Houra (Route no. 316). It is indicated throughout with black trail markings.

The winter daffodil in flower: The flowering site is about 1.5 kilometers along from the start of the route, beside a small plot of pistachio trees adjacent to a terrace built from seven courses of large stones. Near the terrace, in late October and early November, a large concentration of winter daffodils (Sternbergia clusiana) comes into bloom. The winter daffodil grows from a bulb and produces large bright yellow flowers close to the ground. Each flower has six petals.

The Cave Trail and the cistern
This trail, which is around 600 meters in length, passes abandoned dwelling caves and an ancient cistern. It crosses a pine forest parallel to the Winter Daffodil Trail, and follows what was once the route of a trench that formerly collected rainwater that flowed down the slope and channeled it into the cistern.

The Reservoir Trail
Access: The Reservoir Trail starts around 400 meters to the east of the community of Shani (Livna)
This route, which is 6.3 kilometers in length, leads us to the Yatir Reservoir via the Cistern Recreation Area and the Agricultural Artifacts Trail. Before it fell into disuse this large reservoir, which has a capacity of 650 thousand cubic meters, supplied water to the groves and orchards of the Yatir region. Today it is surrounded by a fence and access to it is forbidden. From the reservoir our route leads onward to the Mexico Recreation Area (the junction of Routes 80 and 316), where it ends.

The route, which is marked in blue, can be negotiated by private cars.

The Eastern Scenic Route
Access: The route departs from the Yatir Forest Trail about 50 meters from the sign at the entrance to the Foresters’ Fortress.

This route is 13.5 kilometers long and it grants us magnificent views of the forest expanses and access to the Amsha Nature Reserve, which overlooks the wide open spaces of the Judean Desert. Along the way KKL-JNF has created terraces and planted them with broad-leaved trees. The Eastern Scenic Route also provides access to the footpath along the ancient Roman road that descends from Maaleh Dragot to the village of Dureijat. The Mexico Recreation Area adjacent to Route no. 80 that descends to Bikat Arad (“Arad Gully”) signals the end of our route.

The Eastern Scenic Route is indicated by red trail markings and it is can be negotiated in a private car.

Mount Amsha Nature Reserve
The nature reserve extends over the slope to the east of the scenic route, in an area where Mediterranean, prairie and desert vegetation all meet. Here we can find two rare species: Phlomis pungens, which bursts into pink flower in April, and the local variant of the Persian lily (Fritillaria persica), which in March and April grows a tall stem that bears bell-shaped flowers whose color ranges from chocolate brown to vanilla.

Mitzpor Krayot
This scenic lookout consists of a metal platform and pergola perched on a spur of Mount Amsha at 860 meters above sea level. As this is the highest point of the Yatir region, we have a magnificent view of the whole area: the Judean Desert and the Arad Gully are directly below us, while the Moab Mountains soar on the far side of the Syria-African Rift Valley. The lookout is named after Hurvat Krayot (“the Krayot Ruins”), which is located below it, beside the road to Arad.

Below the Krayot Lookout we can see the remains of the Roman road that led from here to the village of Dureijat via Mount Amsha and Maaleh Dragot. Additional traces of the road can be seen close by the fence around Kibbutz Har Amsha. Further on, in the Maaleh Dragot stretch, the road is wonderfully well preserved.

The Western Scenic Route

This route, which is 15.5 kilometers long, passes first through the KKL-JNF planted woodlands and orchards of the Meitar and Hiran forests. Beside the road we can see the Hurvat Yatir ruins of the Biblical town of Jattir and the remnants of Byzantine churches.

Access: From Route no. 60, around 2.3 kilometers from the entrance to the community of Meitar, when traveling northwards.
The Western Scenic Route, which is indicated by blue trail markings, is suitable for private cars.

Hurvat Yatir
The Yatir Ruins are identified with the ancient city of Jattir, which is mentioned in the Bible as a Levitical city of refuge within the portion of land allocated to the tribe of Judah: “Thus they gave to the children of Aharon the priest Hebron and her suburbs, to be a city of refuge for the slayer […] And Jattir with her suburbs…,” (Joshua 21:14). The town also appears on the Madaba Byzantine mosaic map of the geography of the Land of Israel as it was in the 6th century CE.

The Yatir Ruins are extensive and cover an area of about 1,000 dunam (approx 250 acres). Most of the items above ground are from the Byzantine and Arab periods and they include the remains of a church, a public building and dwellings, cisterns, caves, a collection pool, tombs and wine presses. The ruins should be explored with care, as it is easy to trip up and fall on the stones.

Near the scenic route we come upon B’er Yatir (“Yatir Well”), which is not actually a well at all, but a cistern. The two crosses incised in the mouth of the cistern have their origin in the Christian site discovered among the ruins. In the past, two sheikhs’ tombs stood at the top of the hill, one of which honored the memory of Sheikh Ghatir, a local saint whose name preserves the sound of the name Yatir. Slightly to the northeast of the tombs is a columbarium cave, i.e., a cave whose walls are perforated with niches where doves were raised. The high point of the ruins offers a beautiful view of southern Mount Hebron and the communities beyond the security fence, including the towns of Dura, Yatta and Samua.

On the eastern slope of the hill is an ancient collection pool with the remnants of two rows of columns and walls lying beside it on the ground. This is all that remains of the Byzantine church that once stood here. The inscriptions in the mosaic floor, which are not exposed to the open air, reveal that the church was in use in the 7th century CE.

The remains of another public building to the south of the route that passes through the Yatir Ruins may perhaps be those of a Byzantine-era synagogue. The building has a north-south longitudinal axis facing towards Jerusalem, the Jewish direction of prayer, and its doorways are decorated with engraved representations of rosettes and embossed squares similar to those found in the ancient Jewish settlement of Susita.

The old patrol road
The old patrol road, which is 5.1 kilometers long, was used by the IDF prior to the Six-Day War for patrols along the armistice line between Israel and Jordan. The road passes through woodland and ends beside the security fence close to the IDF roadblock.
Access: This road branches off the Western Scenic Route near Hurvat Yatir.
It is indicated by red trail markings and can be used by private cars.