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This website is designed to help you plan your vacation in the north of Israel. Sites are listed under 3 categories - family activities, hiking and historic.  Five areas are covered, and each is proceeded by a general introduction. This section introduces the Golan Heights, which is a popular vacation area.




The geography of the Golan Heights

The Israeli part of the Golan Heights is a large rocky plateau measuring about 40 miles in a north-south direction and about 12 miles on average in an east-west direction. It is bounded to the south by the Yarmouk River valley which separates Israel from the northern border of Jordan, to the west by the Sea of Galilee and Hula Valley which are part of the Jordan Rift Valley, to the east by Wadi Ruqqad which is just west of the border with Syria, and to the north by Mount Hermon part of which is in Israel and part in Syria and Lebanon. The highest part of this plateau is 1,100 meters above sea level in the north and its lowest point is 330 meters above sea level north of the Yarmouk River valley in the southern part of the plateau.

The Golan Heights has had considerable strategic significance in the modern period due to its elevation and providing a vantage point for military observation and firing. Israel captured the western two-thirds of the Golan Heights from Syria during the 1967 Six-Day War and annexed it in 1981. The eastern one-third of the Golan Heights plateau still belongs to Syria.

​The predominant rock of the Golan Heights is basalt, a dark volcanic rock formed about 4 million years ago from the cooling of hot volcanic lava. There are many dormant volcanos on the eastern border of Israel’s part of the Golan Heights and they are part of a volcanic field that extends as far as Damascus. With good eyesight and visibility, this line of volcanic hills can be seen from the western side of the Jordan Rift Valley. These hills form a useful defense shield for Israel on its border with Syria (see for example the essay on Tel Saki and the Yom Kippur War. There is no risk that these volcanos will become active again in the foreseeable future. The basalt layer covering the Golan is up to hundreds of meters deep in the north, but its depth is only a few dozen meters in the south. The Hermon mountains in the north are different geologically from the rest of the Golan, being formed of sedimentary limestone.


​The Golan Heights supplies about 30% of Israel’s drinking water from rainwater draining into its ravines, and this is especially from the northern Golan which is often snow-covered.

The three geographic areas of the Golan Heights:


It is helpful to divide the Golan Heights into three areas - southern, central and northern Golan.


The southern Golan Heights:

The southern Golan is the area south of the Daliyot Valley, which traverses the Gamla Nature Reserve. This area is warmer and more arid than the rest of the Golan. However, its deeper soil makes it very suitable for agriculture.


The central Golan Heights:

The central Golan extends from the Daliyot Valley north to the Jilabun Valley. It has a gradual downward slope southward and westward and a steep drop to the Bethsaida Valley and Sea of Galilee. Deep canyons traverse the plain and many of these are wonderful for hiking. The rainfall is average. The soil is rocky, but it is possible to move the rocks and grow crops. The land is particularly good land for grazing cattle, although it has been difficult for Israel’s beef industry to compete economically with that of Argentina. Typically, its woodland is covered by dense herbaceous vegetation creating a savannah-like landscape, with only a sparse growth of trees. Katzrin is in the central Golan and is the main city of the Golan Heights.

The northern Golan Heights:

The northern Golan Heights is considered that part of the Golan which is north of the Jilaban Valley. This area is mountainous, cold and rainy. At its eastern border is a chain of steep volcanic hills. At its northern border is the majestic Mount Hermon.


Only a small amount of Mount Hermon belongs to Israel and most of it is in Syria and Lebanon. The Israeli section of Mount Hermon has been designated as a nature reserve because of its unique fauna and flora as a consequence of its high altitude. Many of its flowers are not seen elsewhere in Israel. Spring also comes late to the Hermon and many flowers only start blooming in early summer.


It is possible to drive up to the ski resort on Mount Hermon, and from there to take the lift to the top. There are no defined hikes on the top since you are so close to the border, but there are paths on which to walk.


The history of the Golan Heights

The Golan Heights constitutes the small western part of what was known in Biblical and Roman times as the Bashan, most of which was located in present-day Syria and also part of Jordan. This means that the early history of Israel’s Golan Heights cannot be separated from that of the Bashan. During the Second Temple period, the Bashan was called the Golan, after the city of Golan, which was a Jewish city of refuge (Deuteronomy 4:43). The location of this city is not known. 

The Bashan, including the Golan Heights, was settled during the Chalcolithic period. This was between the Stone Age and Bronze Age, from about 4,300 BCE to 3,300 BCE. It was a time of transition between simple farming communities and more complex sociopolitical societies. Chalcolithic means copper, and a feature of this period was the widespread use of copper. An example of a home from the Chalcolithic period is displayed in the Golan Archeological Museum in Katzrin.

In the Bronze Age, between about 3,300 BCE to 1,200 BCE, the Bashan was occupied by the Amorites, who were Canaanites. The Book of Deuteronomy (3:1-14) relates that at the time of Moses, their king Og initiated an attack on the Israelites while they were on their way to the land of Canaan, and Moses distributed his territory to half the tribe of Manasseh.

In the Iron Age, at the time of King David, the Golan Heights was part of the kingdom of Geshur. King David married Maacah, from the family of the king of Geshur, and from this marriage Absalom was born. (see the webpage “Family time in the Jordan Park” and the discussion on Bethsaida). David’s large kingdom also contained territory in the Bashan.

The Bashan was conquered by the Arameans in the 9th century BCE. Because of its fertility, this area was contested for the next 300 years by the Northern Israelite kingdom and Aramean kingdom. The area was finally conquered by the mighty Assyrian Empire in the 8th century BCE. Some of the returning Jewish exiles from Babylon settled in the Golan in the 6th and 5th centuries BCE, although its Jewish population was never that great.


The Golan Heights was conquered by Alexander the Great, and during the Hellenistic period (333 to 63 BCE) the Greek cities of Sussita and Banias were established. Both these places can be visited. The Hasmonean king Alexander Jannai (reigned 103 to 76 BCE) subsequently added the Golan Heights to his independent Jewish kingdom. During the Roman period the Golan became part of the Roman province of Syria.


​Following the Bar Kochba Revolt (132 to 135 CE), the country of Judea was decimated by Rome. Jews were forbidden to live there and it became a Roman and subsequently a Christian Byzantine country. As a result of this, many Jews who survived the revolt moved to the Lower Galilee. In the 4th century, in the Byzantine period, there was further Jewish migration from the Lower Galilee to the Upper Galilee and also the Golan Heights, where about three-dozen thriving Jewish communities were established. These villages were destroyed in a severe earthquake in 749 CE and were abandoned. It is possible that their economic situation during the Islamic period contributed to the villagers’ decision not to rebuild.

The British conquered the Golan Heights during World War 1 from the Ottomans, but transferred it to the French after the war, together with what would become Lebanon and Syria. When Syria became independent, the Golan Heights became part of Syria.

​Israel conquered the Golan Heights during the 1967 Six-Day War after enduring persistent shelling on its settlements around the Sea of Galilee. Its Syrian population fled during the Six-Day War, other than Druze living in the foothills of Mount Hermon.



Vacationing in the Golan Heights

The southern and central Golan:

Hiking is a very popular activity in the southern and central Golan. Many of the popular hikes are rocky and not particularly easy, but they are usually still suitable for families. All the hikes described in this website are worthwhile and recommended. A particularly interesting hike is to the ancient (destroyed) city of Gamla, which provides a perspective on the Great Revolt of the Jews against Rome. To fill in gaps, a visit either before or after the hike to the archeological museum in Katzrin is helpful.


An easy and very pleasant trail is the Dolmen Trail to the Gamla Falls in the Gamla Nature Reserve. 

Nice walks involving little exertion are to Ein Pik and the lookout at Mitzpe Afik in Kibbutz Afik, the Peace Vista, and Eden Spring Park. Another popular and less active family activity is a visit to the Aniam Artist Village. 


The rebuilt synagogue at Ein Keshatot is a popular tourist site. A short movie is shown in their comfortable theatre. There is also plenty to see at the Talmudic village in Katzrin.

The northern Golan

The Banias should not be missed. It has two areas and both are worth visiting. Mount Bental is certainly worth a visit. The hike in the Jilabun Nature Reserve is very popular and not unduly difficult. A visit to Nimrod Castle is also worthwhile.

     Do you find my website interesting and helpful?

Then you are sure to love my two new books "In and Around Jerusalem for Everyone - The Best Walks, Hikes and Outdoor Pools" and "The Struggle for Utopia - A History of Jewish, Christian and Islamic Messianism". Both books are available on Amazon and in Jerusalem bookstores. Click on each of the titles for information, reviews and purchase information.

Links to the HOME PAGE and best family activities, hikes and historic sites in the GOLAN, EASTERN GALILEE, UPPER GALILEE, LOWER GALILEE, JORDAN VALLEY & LAKE KINNERET, the SHEFELAH, TEL AVIV-YAFFO and surroundings, NORTH of TEL AVIV, and SOUTH of TEL AVIV.

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