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Views and challenges at Arbel National Park and Nature Reserve

Arbel National Park is at the northeastern edge of the Arbel Plateau and its cliffs tower over the Ginossar Valley and Lake Kinneret below. A popular family hike is on the top of the cliffs, and this offers wonderful views over the northern part of Lake Kinneret and eastern Galilee. A challenging hike on the cliff uses ladders and footholds to visit caves used as hideouts by supporters of the Hasmonean Antigonus against Herod the Great and by Jews during the Great Revolt against Rome. It was made into a cliffside fortress during the Ottoman period. A short walk to the ruins of the ancient synagogue of Arbel is also of considerable interest. There are additional trails for experienced hikers.

Overlooking Mt Nitai.jpeg

Overlooking Mt Nitai.

The caves on the cliffs in the park have been inhabited since prehistoric times. In 38 BCE, the villagers of Arbel supported the Hasmonean Antigonus against Herod the Great, who had been recently appointed by Rome to rule over the Jewish kingdom, and they barricaded themselves inside the caves. To overcome and kill them, Herod lowered his Roman soldiers from the top of the cliffs in cages suspended by ropes. There is a model of such a cage by the service area of the park. As commander of the Galilee during the Great Revolt against Rome between 66 to 67 CE, Josephus built walls around the caves. A protective wall was also built on nearby Mount Nitai, and this can be seen from the top of the cliffs. The caves were re-fortified as a castle by the son of the Druze ruler Fahr ad-Din in the 17th century. A popular but challenging hike walks down the side of the cliff and through the different levels of the fortress ruins.

Family hike to the observation points on top of the cliff:


Time: 1 hour.

Distance: 2.1 Km.

Type of hike: Circular.

Difficulty: This is an easy hike on gravel paths. The final section, on the green-marked trail, is just slightly more difficult and some parts of the trail are on bare rock.

Directions: Enter “Arbel National Park” into Waze.

Admission: Arbel National Park is a site of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. It is open Sunday to Thursday and Saturday 8.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. and Friday and holiday eves 8.00 a.m. to 4.00 p.m. It closes 1 hour earlier in the winter. The last entry to the park and observation areas is one hour before closing time. Close to the parking lot is a shaded picnic area, a store selling hot and cold drinks and snacks, and restrooms. There is an admission charge. Their telephone number is 04 673-2904. Click here for their website.

Public transport: There is no public transport close to the park. Enter "Arbel National Park" into Moovit. From the closest bus stop it is a 39 minute/3.2 Km walk. 

Herod and arabel.jpeg

Model of the cages used by Herod the Great to defeat the supporters of Antigonus. They contained Roman soldiers and were lowered from the cliff.

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  • From the main parking lot, walk through the picnic area and past the store towards the cliff on the black-marked trail to the Carob Lookout. This lookout point has rail guards and a sign identifying the places you are viewing below you.

  • Continue on the black-marked trail to the Kinneret Lookout. Close to this lookout the path changes to a blue-marked trail. (The black-marked trail continues down the cliff to the fortress and refuge caves). From the Kinneret Lookout you can be see all of Lake Kinneret and the communities around the lake.


  • To return to your car, retrace your steps past the Carob Lookout until you come to a fork. Take the right fork on the green-marked trail to the Mount Nitai Lookout. It is called this because of the view it provides of Mount Nitai. Return to the parking lot via the red-marked trail. (Note that this trail is closer to the edge of the cliff than the other trails and is not suitable for young children who like wandering. If you wish to skip the green trail, return to the parking lot via the black trail on which you came).



This challenging circular trail has a steep descent and ascent, takes up to 3 hours, uses hand and footholds in the rock, and is most suitable for hikers with no fear of heights. 


  • From the main parking lot head towards the Carob Lookout on the black-marked path. Just beyond the Carob Lookout is a fork. The blue trail continues to the Kinneret Lookout while you will continue on the left fork, initially black-marked, that descends to the fortress and refuge caves. This part of the trail becomes red-marked. The direction to the fortress and caves is indicated by signs. The red trail eventually ascends and leads to the parking lot.



The synagogue of the ancient village of Arbel is worthy of a visit. It is outside the park, and adjacent to Moshav Arbel. A short drive from the park takes you to its parking lot on the left-hand side of the road. From here there is a paved walkway to the synagogue.


The ruins of Arbel are around the synagogue, although they are not evident because of the vegetation around. The synagogue was built in stages from the 4th to 6th centuries CE and was in continuous use until the Muslim period in the 8th century.

Doorway Arbel synagogue.jpeg

Doorframe of the Arbel synagogue made from a single block of limestone.

Look at the blue plaque by the synagogue. Sgt Max Steinberg was a chayal boded (a lone soldier without parents in Israel) who was killed during the 2014 Protective Edge war in Gaza. The immediate decision of the parents was to take his body back to Los Angeles to be buried. But on pondering the matter, they realized it was more appropriate for him to be buried in the country for which he had given his life, at the military cemetery at Mount Herzl. Informed about his funeral by social media, about 30,000 people attended. 

It was while Max was on a Taglit-Israel or Birthright Israel program to Israel and at Arbel that he decided to immigrate to Israel.  In his memory, Taglit-Birthright Israel donated the paved path from the main road to the synagogue. As an article about him stated: “Birthright introduced Max to Israel. Max fell in love with Israel. And he understood, subsequently, that he could not make Israel his home without protecting her." 

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The plaque about Sgt Max Steiberg at the synagogue.

Preparations for messianic times at the ancient Arbel synagogue 

There are some unusual features in this synagogue at Arbel compared to other Galilean synagogues. You will immediately notice an impressive door frame at its eastern aspect carved from a single piece of limestone. It has floral motives and medallions. Many other Galilean synagogues have their main entrance on their southern side facing Jerusalem, although there are exceptions to this. There is also no other synagogue with a door frame quite like this made from a single piece of limestone.


The reason for these features relates to messianic ideas. Midrashic references describe the Plain of Arbel as being the site of a final apocalyptical battle before the arrival of the Messiah (as in Ezekiel’s battle of Gog of Magog). Also, that the Messiah will arrive through an eastern entrance to the Temple and through a single door made of precious material. Many Jews believed that redemptive times were approaching, and since the main focus of Jewish life in Israel was in the Galilee, they believed that it was from here and not from Jerusalem that the Messiah would come. Hence, the impressive eastern door of the synagogue.


The synagogue had a rectangular hall with 3 rows of columns creating a nave and aisles. There were carved stone benches along three of the walls. At its southern aspect is a semicircular niche, which was probably the location of the ark for the Torah. The building was two-storied.

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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