The Upper Jordan Valley and Lake Kinneret form a natural vacation area, in that there are wonderful places to visit in the Beit Shean and Harod Valleys and around the Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee). (Sites around the northern shore of Lake Kinneret can be found in the section on the Eastern Upper Galilee).
First some geography. The Jordan Valley is part of the Syrian African Rift (or Great Rift Valley), which runs between Lebanon in the north to Mozambique in Africa, a distance of about 3,700 miles. It results from the moving apart of two tectonic plates – the African Plate and Arabian Plate – leading to a thinning of the earth’s crust. These plates are still, in fact, moving apart. The Arabian plate on the east side of the Jordan River is shifting north, while the African plate is moving to the west. The movement is only several mm a year but over 15 million years it adds up. The rivers, gullies, and even copper mines on both sides of the Jordan River and Arava no longer align, with a difference of 65-miles between each side.
About 3.7 million years ago, oceanic water from the Mediterranean poured into the Jordan Rift Valley through the Jezreel Valley. Subsequently, the intervening mountains, rose up, leading to the isolation of a large lake called Lake Lissan. Lake Kinneret in the north and the Dead Sea are all that remain of this giant lake. The Jordan River meanders through the length of the Jordan Valley and connects these two lakes. The distance covered as the crow flies is only 65 miles, but the twists and turns of the river more than double this.
The Beit Shean Valley is a wider part of the Jordan Valley in northern Israel. Its center is the modern-day town of Beit Shean, while the ancient Beit Shean adjoins it in the Beit Shean National Park. The Beit Shean Valley is bordered at its southwest aspect by the Gilboa Mountain Range and it opens westward into the Harod Valley. The Harrod Valley is like the narrow shaft of an arrow leading to the wide Jezreel Valley. (The Jezreel Valley is considered part of the Lower Galilee and sites such as Megiddo are covered in that section). The Beit Shean Valley is endowed with many springs and flowing rivers, and some of these are popular swimming and picnic areas such as Gan HaShlosha (Sachne) and Park HaMa’ayanot. In the Harod Valley is the nearby Harod Spring (Ein Harod) in the Harod National Park.
Like the rest of the Jordan Valley and the area around Lake Kinneret, this area is below sea level and is very hot and humid during the summer. Nevertheless, its attractive swimming areas and other sites more than make up for this.
Vacationing in the Beit Shean Valley and around the Lake Kinneret
There is a lot to see and do in the Beit Shean Valley. Many people head straight to the fabulously beautiful Gan HaShlosha (Sachne). But don’t forget the adjacent Park Hama’ayanot which contains the three most abundant water sources of the valley. Entry is free. For kids swimming, the Harod National Park is worth visiting. Kids and even adults will enjoy Gan Garoo Zoo, which is next to Gan HaShlosha. To appreciate the splendid architecture of an ancient Roman city, ancient Beit Shean is the place to go. Consider also visiting Naharayim at Gesher to capture some inspiring pre-state history. This is best seen with a tour and this will need to be pre-arranged. Crusader castles sound as if they are one to the dozen in Israel, but the castle and views at Kochav Hayarden are very impressive. Two interesting easy walks just below Lake Kinneret by the beginning of the lower River Jordan are described on this website. There is also a nice not-difficult hike described on the Gilboa Mountain Range. Many people drive through Tiberias without giving it much thought. But there are a number of places there worth visiting.