The Golan Heights is a mountain range in the northeastern corner of Israel, near the border with Syria.
On the west, it rises very steeply from the Jordan valley rift before flattening into a vast plateau.
The steep western slopes are characterized by deep canyons that penetrate it, some of them providing excellent hiking, and one of them even suitable for canyoning.
The most accessible place to experience them is in the Yehudia natural reserve.
The plateau area is characterized by rolling hills, disturbed from time to time with cone-shaped extinct volcanos.
The elevations rise gradually from 400 m ALS in the south to 1200 m ALS in the north.
The area is full of natural, cultural, and historical attractions.
The best way to experience is by hiking the 130 kilometers long Golan Trail.
The trail crosses the Golan Heights from north to south, mostly in the eastern section.
Most of the path is easy, traversing between the rolling hills of the Golan plateau.
Depending on fitness and character, it takes between 5 to 10 days to complete the trail.
Tip: The Golan Trail doesn't pass through any of the canyons. If you have time, you should allocate a day or two for a detour.
When to backpack the Golan Trail
The trail can be walked anytime between October and May. The period between June and September is dry and very hot.
October and November are almost free from rainfall, but the landscape is still arid, and the vegetation is yellow and withered from the long summer.
December, January, and February are the rainier periods (accounting for about 40 percent of rainy days with a total of 130 mm per month).
Temperatures are excellent for hiking, and the air is fresh. If you are not afraid of the rain, it's a great season.
The best period is March-April. The chance for rain is much lower, and the landscape is green and dotted with carpets of colorful wildflowers.
If you love flowers come in March. If you want to reduce the chance of rain further, but still enjoy the green landscape, come in April.
Who will you meet on the trail?
The Golan is a rural area. The only town is Katzrin (population 7,000 people).
Besides Katzrin, the Golan is dotted with small villages. Many of them are settlement forms that are unique to Israel.
Kibbutz is a unique cooperative settlement for Zionism and Israel.
The first Kibbutz was formed in 1909 based on Zionism's desire to renew Jewish presence in the land of Israel and on socialist values – equality between people and total economic co-operation.
The kibbutz is usually a small community of hundreds of people, earning a living from agriculture and industry.
In the historical Kibbutz, all income and property belonged to the community, and people had no private property at all.
In recent decades, the level of economic cooperation had been decreasing gradually to adapt to modern life in Israel.
Visiting a Kibbutz is still an interesting experience, and the Golan trail passes through several of them (Merom Golan, El Rom, Ein Zivan, and Mevo Hama).
Moshav is another rural settlement form that is unique to the State of Israel, which brings together a group of residents (mostly farmers) in a cooperative economic framework.
People living in the Moshav are referred to as “members.”
Unlike the traditional kibbutz, the family is an independent economic unit that operates within a framework of mutual aid rules.
Each member gets an area of land, which in most cases, is used for agriculture.
The Golan Trail passes though some Moshavs.
Some of them are Religious Moshav that combines orthodox religious lifestyle with the other Moshav values (Alonei Habashan, Keshet, and Yonatan).
The Druze are a Middle Eastern Arabic-speaking ethnic group, maintaining a unique religion that split from Shiite Islam in the 11th century.
Israel is the southernmost country with Druze citizens. The Druze tend to live in small agricultural settlements. Few of them are located in the Golan Heights.
The trail passes through two of them. Magdal Shams and Masada.
An experience not be missed, is to have a tasty traditional Druze meal or stop by for authentic street food.
See also: Walking Nepal's Great Himalaya Trail
Points of interest on the Golan Trail
There too many sights to cover all of them, but let's review some of the main highlights:
- Lake Ram: A small lake in an extinct volcano crater
- Mount Bental summit: One of the most beautiful lookouts in Israel. The views encompass Israel, Lebanon, and Syria.
- Odem forest: Ancient Oak forest.
- Bashanit ridge: Another oak forest area with fine views on the Golan plains.
- Rugum El Hiri: An ancient mysterious megalithic monument consisting of concentric circles of stone with a tumulus at the center. It is also nicknamed the “Israeli Stonehenge.”
- Gamla: Impressive remains on the edge of a cliff of an ancient fortified Jewish city that flourished in the 1st century BCE.
- Ein Keshatot: An ancient synagogue from the Mishnah and Talmud period (2nd century CE). It is one of the most impressive of this period found in the Land of Israel.
- Mevo Hamma Cliffs: Amazing panorama of the Sea of Galilee from above.
Why is it a perfect backpacking hiking trail?
Trail: The trail is very well waymarked. It has its unique markings of Green/White/Blue blazes painted on poles, rocks and sings along the way.
The trail is divided into 15 segments. At the beginning of each section, there is an information board with a map, elevation chart, and other practical information.
Logistics: Because the trail passes nearby many of the villages mentioned above, the logistics are easy. There are enough settlements along the path where you can get supplies.
Lodging: Wild camping with your equipment anywhere along the trail is allowed.
Another option is to camp in organized campgrounds that are located near the trail. In some of them, it is possible to rent a tent and/or mattress.
- Masade (Druze village near lake Ram): Bambook Village
- Moshav Odem: Deer Forest.
- Keshet Yonatan: Keshet Yonatan Camping
- Givat Yoav: Genghis Khan Mongolian tents village
Also, there are two locations near the trail with friendly hostels that provide budget accommodation in dormitories.
Trail Angels: The trail angels are residents that volunteer to help travelers along the Golan trail.
This help varies and can include a mix of consultation, permission to set up a tent in their yard, shower, dinner, and more.
Each “Angel” describes what he is capable of assisting. The service is always free of charge and with a big smile.
Here is an updated list. The list is only in Hebrew, but you can manage it with Google Translate.
Check out “Israel by Foot” Golan Trail Guide for more details.