Mount Tsfia (Look-out Mountain)
As we’ve written before, Israel’s northern district has lots to offer visitors and hikers in the way of beautiful sites, abundant greenery, and exciting trails. If you’re willing to make the worthwhile trip up to Metula–Israel’s northernmost city–you’ll get a chance to orient yourself with the northern district’s surroundings, as well as hike on one of Israel’s most scenic trails.
We recommend that you start your day by driving up to Mount Tsfia, which that overlooks Metula and much of the surrounding area. From the top, under the canopy, you’ll be able spot several relevant sites. All the way to your right, you’ll be able to spot a tower on top of Keren Naftali, a mountain that stands 510 meters above sea level. In front of you and to the right, you’ll see the Iyon Valley. This is where your hike down Nahal Iyon will be.
On your left, you’ll find the Lebanese border approximately six kilometers south of the Lebanese border. While the border fence itself is a bit tough to find, the best way to distinguish between the two sides is by the difference in color. You’ll find that the Israeli side is a lot greener than the Lebanese side, as the Galilee Panhandle, the small northern part of the Galilee that towns like Metula and Kiryat Shmona are located in, are big agricultural sites. The Lebanese side of the border is brown in color, as most of the area is industrial. On the Lebanese side of the border, look for Beaufort Castle, a fortress built by the Crusaders in the 12th Century that has remained a focus during conflict in modern times. The many mountains that you’ll see across the border carry a great deal of significance for Lebanon, as the country’s name is based on the word לבן (Lavan), to symbolize the white snow that often covers the mountains’ peaks.
Off in the distance in front of you and a bit to the left is Mount Hermon. This cluster of mountains is extends into parts of Lebanon, Syria, and Israel, and is the highest point in both Israel and Syria. At its peak, a U.N.-manned buffer zone separates Israel and Syria. This is the highest U.N station in the world has been nicknamed “Hermon Hotel.” The southern slopes of the mountains house Israel’s lone ski resort, which is only open between the months of January and March.
Nahal Iyon Route
The two-kilometer-long trail is not circular, so you’ll need to decide if you’d rather start your hike at the northern or southern end and plan your car/ride situation accordingly.We recommend starting at the northern end and walking past all four waterfalls until you reach the southern end of the trail. Give yourself anywhere between two and four hours for this hike. If you’re pressed for time, it may be wise to start your hike at the southern end of the trail, walk towards the Tanur Waterfall and then back the way you came.
The northern starting point is located near Metula, just off of Route 90. Follow the signposts directing you to the Safari Monument or the Nahal Iyon parking lot. Picnic benches shaded by tall eucalyptus trees mark the parking lot by the beginning of the trail. This is a nice place to eat a picnic breakfast before you start your hike.
Check out the Safari Monument that was built to commemorate twelve soldiers from the Shimshon Regional Ordinance Supply Unit who were killed by a roadside bomb while on their way back from Lebanon in March of 1985.
Once you’re ready to start the trail, pay the entrance fee (see details at the bottom of this post) and enter the park. Your path will be along the Iyon Stream, which includes four eye-captivating waterfalls. The stream’s water source comes from the Marj-Ayun (The Ayun Valley) in Lebanon. You’ll find that the stream flows with more water in the winter and spring months because of the abundant rainfall. The water flows much more abundantly both after very rainy days and after warmer days that melt snow in the Lebanese mountains.
For many years, Lebanese farmers pumped the stream water in order to irrigate their fields in the hot summer months. This caused the Israeli side of the river to dry out more quickly and frequently. Finally, in 2009, the Israel Nature and National Parks Authority found a way to keep the stream flowing a healthy amount throughout the course of the year. Using a giant water pipe, they connected the Iyon Stream to the nearby Dan Stream. This allowed the Iyon to flow on a year-round basis, thereby preserving the location’s attraction as a top tourist destination, as well as helping to secure the survival of plants and animals in the area.
The first waterfall you’ll come across will be Mapal Iyon (Iyon Waterfall). Make sure to stay out of the water until the final waterfall you’ll see today, as the ecosystems in the pools and stream have been specially designated and their growth is vital to the park’s sustained growth. Mapal Iyon is 9.2 meters high, and was once used by the British as a source from which they could pump water to all their camps.
Continue along the blue trail until you reach Mapal HaTachanah (Flourmill Waterfall). You’ll descend upon this large (21 meters high) and beautiful waterfall on a windy staircase, giving you a bunch of good photo angles. To the left of the pool under where the waterfall lands, walk through the bushes to find the remnants of the old flour-mill that gave the waterfall its name. This particular flourmill, which was actively used until 1920, is unique in a number of ways. Despite the fact that flour-mills were used by people all over the surrounding area, this one was the first and only one to be activated by the power of water. Additionally, it was the only one that was run under Jewish ownership throughout its existence. Find the tower that carried the water down the wall in order to power the turning of the wheel that grounded the flour. Under the tower, you’ll see two large holes where most of the ensuing work was done. The flourmill was purchased by Baron Rothschild in 1896 when he bought all of the lands of Metula. However, the mill ceased functioning during World War I. While it was restored and used following the war’s conclusion, it was abandoned during the Tel Hai Palestinian Riots in 1920. At the bottom of the waterfall, you can still spot the beginning of the Ein Sukrah spring that supplied Metula’s residents with water until 1957.
Once you’re done admiring Mapal HaTachanah, continue on your way. Along the path, you’ll pass all sorts of plants and trees that are native to the Galilee region. In addition to the many willows that surround the path and the area, you’ll also come across cyclamens, Italian honeysuckles, Syrian bear’s breeches, asphodels, Narbonne star of Bethlehem, and more! Eventually, you’ll reach Mapalei HaEshed (Eshed Waterfalls), which consist of upper and bottom regions. The upper waterfall is 9.5 meters high, while the lower one if 5 meters high.
Walk up the strange, yet creatively-designed stairs that will lead you from the observation point near the falls to the continuation of the trail. As you walk, keep your eye out for the plum orchard out in front of you across the valley. If you happen to hike here in March, you’ll be lucky enough to see the trees’ pink flowers blossom. The trail will take you past Metula’s graveyard on your right; this is where many of the town’s first inhabitants chose to be buried. As you look out from the observation point, try to find the parking lot filled with eucalyptus trees. The lot is where your hike will end. If you look up and to your right, you may be able to spot the canopy that we wrote about earlier in this write-up. Enjoy the view from the observation deck before continuing on the path down below.
Walk down the windy path and turn left to get to the final waterfall. Mapal HaTanur (Tanur Waterfall), which is 30 meters high, is named after חציית התנורה (chatza’eet hatanura), a long skirt traditionally worn by Lebanese Arab women. The water flow has eroded the limestone to the point where the waterfall has begun to fall in a chimney-like shape, looking an awful like a חציית התנורה.
When you’re done at the Mapal HaTanur, continue on to the parking lot, where you’ll once again see several picnic benches surrounded by eucalyptus trees. This is a great place to have lunch and finish the day.
A few things to keep in mind about the Nahal Iyon trail:
- The Iyon Nature Reserve has an entrance fee. The prices are as follows: Adults: 27, Students: 25, Children: 14; Group Rates (over 30 people): Adults: 22, Children: 13; Senior citizens get a 50% discount.
- The Nature Reserve’s hours: April–September: 8 A.M.–5 P.M. October–March: 8 A.M.–4 P.M. Fridays and holiday eves: 8 A.M.–3 P.M. Last entry to site one hour before the above closing time.
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Adam Schrag 2015