This website is designed to help you plan and enjoy your vacation in the north of Israel. Activities are listed under 3 categories - family activities, hiking and historic. Each of the 5 areas covered in the north is proceeded by a general introduction. This section introduces the Golan Heights.
THE GOLAN HEIGHTS
The Golan Heights is a popular vacation area. Hiking is a deservedly popular activity, and there are some beautiful hikes. It is helpful to know something about the geography and history of the Golan Heights.
The Golan Heights is a large plateau measuring about 40 miles in a north-south direction and on average about 12 miles in an east-west direction. It is bounded to the south by the Yarmouk River, which also separates Israel from the northern part of Jordan, to the west by the Sea of Galilee and Hula Valley, both of which are part of the Jordan Rift Valley, to the north by the Anti-Lebanon and Mount Hermon, and by Wadi Raqqadin in the east. The western two-thirds of the Golan Heights was captured by Israel from Syria during the 1967 Six Day War while its eastern one-third belongs to Syria.
The highest part of the plateau is 1,100 meters above sea level in the north and its lowest point is 330 meters above sea level in the south above the Yarmouk River. The Golan Heights supplies about 30% of Israel’s water from rain draining into its ravines, and especially from the northern Golan which is often covered with snow.
The predominant rock of the Golan Heights is basalt, which is a dark volcanic rock formed about 4 million years ago from the cooling of hot lava. There are many dormant volcanos in the Golan plain on the eastern border of Israel’s part of the Golan, and they are part of a volcanic field that extends as far as Damascus. Because of their height they form a useful defensive shield (see for example the essay on Rel Saki and the Yom Kippur War). There is no risk that they will become active again in the foreseeable future. The basalt layer covering the Golan is up to hundreds of meters deep in the north, although only a few dozen meters in the south. The basalt overlies limestone and it became exposed in the north and by the Yarmouk River in the south.
The Golan has been traditionally divided into three areas:
The central Golan. Katzrin is in the central Golan. This area has a gradual 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 in the central section is average. The soil is rocky, although it has been possible to move the rocks and grow crops here. It is rich land for grazing, although economically the beef industry has a hard time competing with Argentina. Typically, its woodland is covered by dense herbaceous vegetation creating a savannah-like landscape with only a sparse growth of trees.
The northern Golan is north of the Jilaban Valley. It is a high, cold and rainy area. At its eastern border is a chain of steep volcanic hills.
The southern Golan is south of the Daliyan Valley. It is a warmer and more arid area. Its deeper soil makes it very suitable for agriculture.
Some history. In the Bronze Age in the 3rd millennium, the Golan Heights was occupied by the Amorites. As related in the Bible, Og, king of the Bashan, came out to attack the Israelites and was defeated. Bashan is a term for the entire northern part of Transjordan. His territory was given over at the time of Joshua to half the tribe of Manasseh (Joshua 21:27). During the Iron Age it became part of the kingdom of Geshur, but was conquered by the Arameans in the 9th century BCE. After the split of the monarchy, the area was contested by the Northern Israelite and Aramean kingdoms.
Following the Bar Kochba Revolt from 132-135 CE and the destruction of Judea and Jerusalem by Rome, Judea became off-bounds to Jews, and many who survived moved to the Galilee. In the 4th century, in the Byzantine period, many Jews moved to the northern Galilee and Golan, and settled in about 3 dozen Jewish communities in the Golan Heights.
The Syrians kept much of the Golan as a military-closed area. Thus, when the area was captured from the Syrians during the Six Day War there was little endogenous population here and the area was open for Jewish settlement. An exception was in the foothills of the Hermon where Druze tribes lived. They had a history of being very loyal to the Syrian regime.
Vacationing in the Golan
The southern and central Golan:
Hiking is a popular activity in the southern and central Golan. Many of the popular hikes are rocky and can be a bit challenging, but are usually still suitable for families. All the hikes described in this website are popular and recommended, including the Upper Zavitan Canyon and Meshushim Stream in the Yehudia Nature Reserve, and Nahal El Al with its Black and White Waterfalls. A particularly interesting hike is to the ruins of Gamla. This site provides perspective on the early part of the Great Revolt of the Jews against Rome. This revolt ended with the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. To fill in gaps you might have about the capture of Gamla, a visit either before or after the hike to the Golan Archeological Museum in Katzrin can be useful. An easy and very pleasant trail, also in the Gamla Nature Reserve, is the Dolmen Trail to the Gamla Falls. Non-exertional family activities are the popular Aniam Artist Village and the city of Katzrin. Nice walks that involve little effort but beautiful scenery and views are at Ein Pik and the nearby lookout at Mitzpe Afik in Kibbutz Afik, the Peace Vista, and Eden Spring Park. The rebuilt synagogue at Ein Keshatot is a popular site. A short movie is shown in their comfortable theatre.
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 is not unduly difficult.