Most of the world’s craters were either formed by a meteor’s impact or by a nearby volcanic eruption. However, a visit to Israel’s Negev region or Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula will introduce you to makhteshim (plural for makhtesh), the most unique types of craters found on planet Earth . The distinct characteristic that sets makhteshim apart from typical craters is that instead of being formed by the phenomenons outlined above, makhteshim were once filled with giant oceans. As these oceans slowly dried up and receded, rivers began making their way through the empty canyons, carving out what we now consider to be makhteshim. Today, a makhtesh is a deep valley surrounded by high, steep walls of rock. Few plants can survive in makhteshim, and you’ll hardly ever find good soil in these vast desert valleys. The world’s largest makhtesh is Makhtesh Ramon, which is located right under the town of Mitzpe Ramon. This makhtesh has tons to offer visitors in the way of hiking, sightseeing, biking, and camping. The arid crater, which is one of Israel’s most fascinating geological sites, is a terrific place to hike and bike on unique and challenging trails.
We recommend spending a couple of days at Makhtesh Ramon. This can easily be done thanks to Be’erot Campground, a conveniently located campground that employs rangers and a full-time staff who can help you plan and navigate your visit to the Makhtesh.
Har Ardon (Mount Ardon)
As the highest mountain in Makhtesh Ramon, Har Ardon offers hikers who get to its peak spectacular views of the entire makhtesh. The hike to the top is pretty steep and can be extra challenging if you find yourself climbing in the middle of the day with the sun beaming down on you. In order to fully enjoy the hike and make it up to the top as fast as possible, make sure to start early in the morning so that you’ve finish the hardest part of the climb by the time you’ve reach the top. The views along the way are extremely special; the higher up you’ll make it, the more you’ll realize just how extraordinary/otherworldly Makhtesh Ramon’s landscape really is.
If you plan to start your hike from Be’erot, head north on the black trail. You’ll turn right onto the red trail within a few minutes. Then, take a left on the black foot walking trail. When you reach a big gravel road that’s marked blue, turn right. This will eventually become the blue trail, and you will be on it throughout the course of your climb. The walk from Be’erot should take you approximately thirty minutes. If you have access to a car and wish to drive to Har Ardon and park at the lot just under the start of the trail, this will also work.
Though you should definitely begin your hike at this starting point, there are several different routes you can take once you’re already on the mountain. We’ll detail the one that we found to be most exciting and rewarding.
The blue trail will take you up the mountain, along its edge and to its highest point. You’ll notice that much of the area surrounding the peak is rather flat. The reason for this is that Har Ardon used to actually be a valley. It sat in between two mountains that were much taller than it is today. However, over time, both of those mountains eroded away and left Har Ardon as the highest peak in the surrounding area. Follow the blue trail and make sure to look out over the cliffs at the area below. The views are incredibly surreal (you’ll have a great 360 degree viewpoint) and are a terrific place to take photos. Despite the breeze that you’ll probably feel at the top, it’ll be pretty sunny and hot by the time you reach the highest point, so make it a point to start working your way down when you’re about wrapped up. The descent, which is also on the blue trail, is incredibly steep. Walk slowly and carefully so as to not slip or fall. This will also give you the chance to fully enjoy the surrounding views of the makhtesh and observe the crows as they fly above and around you.
Upon reaching the bottom, follow the blue trail, which will take you on a Mars-esque route to Givat Harut (Harut Hill), which is a black cone-shaped mountain. Givat Harut was once a volcanic mountain whose magma burst through the sandstone that made it up and gave the hill its current color and makeup. You’ll be able to easily spot it from the bottom of Har Ardon, as it sticks out rather prominently in an otherwise flat area. The walk to Givat Harut will start out on a sandy path, which will lead you to a rockier plain. This walk, which will take you anywhere from forty minutes to over an hour, is through one of the most unearthly areas you’re likely to ever come across, and will make you feel as though you’re on the set of a space movie.
Once you reach Givat Harut, you can decide whether or not you’d like to hike up and catch the views from the top or if you’d rather head back to the campground/to your car. If it’s past two in the afternoon (winter season), the best idea would be to head back. However, if it’s earlier, feel free to head up the mild ascent. After approximately 500 meters, at the junction, head up the mountain on the black trail. This is a steep but short and rather easy climb. The views from the top will make your climb extremely worth it.
If you intend to get back to your car, follow the trail back from the bottom of the hill back to the parking lot. If you’re heading to Be’erot, get on the black trail when you get down from the hill and follow it until it reaches the red trail. Follow the red trail until you reach a junction with the black trail. Turn left to get onto the black trail. You’ll arrive at Be’erot within a few minutes.
Biking in the Makhtesh
Makhtesh Ramon is one of the premier places for mountain biking enthusiasts to check out. Its many bike trails take visitors all throughout the entire makhtesh, and are a great way to get around and discover what this incredible place has to offer.
Several stores rent out bicycles in Mitzpe Ramon’s Spice Route Quarter area, so if you don’t have a bike or other biking supplies, make sure to get in touch with them.
A good place to start on your bike ride would be from the Be’erot area in the Makhtesh, as several of the bike trails leading cyclists headed in all directions start near the campground. Coordinate and plan your route with the staff and the ranger on duty before you leave, as they’ll be able to tell you how long each ride will take and will alert you if there are any safety/difficulty concerns.
If you’re looking for more of a straight-forward ride, head south on the black trail by the campsite. Turn right onto the red trail, and then right again onto the blue trail when you reach it. This is a relatively new road that was built alongside a number of quarries that were once in heavy use. Drilling and digging has been stopped in all these areas, but many of the areas remain open and interesting to look at.
A few quarries even give you the chance to ride right up to them, stop, and check them out from up close. The rock formations and colors here are truly worth the ride. This is a basic trail to ride, as you can take the blue all the way until you reach Route 40 and then either turn around or turn on the street, reach the red trail, and take that all the way back to the campsite. Make sure to take a map with you if you plan on exploring!
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