The Black Canyon trail on the Golan Heights offers a fascinating and multifaceted journey that will exhilarate any adventure seeker. From the moment you set foot on this path, you're drawn into a geological marvel that unfolds like an epic saga written by nature itself.
Your journey starts with the first waterfall, a thrilling abseil down its 28 meters, where the impressive might of water carving through basalt is vividly evident. You navigate through sections where the river disappears, the water sneakily flowing beneath an array of large rocks, creating an illusion of a vanishing stream.
You encounter pools and seasonal puddles interspersed with steep climbs and descents, where iron ropes help ensure your safe passage. The fertile yet loose basalt soil underfoot is a constant reminder of the dynamic geology of this region.
Before approaching the third waterfall, you must traverse a body of water that stands like a gatekeeper to real joy: an exhilarating and beautiful descent down the waterfall. Yet the adventure does not end here. To reach the shore, you must swim through a lengthy pool at the waterfall's base, adding another stroke of excitement to your adventure.
Your exit from the canyon is a steep uphill climb that tests your endurance. It provides a beautiful respite under the shade of large trees and continues with a challenging ascend on high stone steps. As you emerge from the canyon, you encounter a crossroad of trails offering various choices for continuing your exploration.
As you rest, you get a breathtaking view of the distant Naftali Mountains, contrasting beautifully with the Golan Heights and marking the opposite bank of the majestic Syrian-African Rift. This scene is a fitting finale to an unforgettable journey through a route that's as much about the beauty of our earth as it is about the thrill of canyoning.
This trail, with its wild beauty and physical challenges, promises an adventure that is as enlightening as it is exhilarating. Every twist and turn, every ascent and descent, and every splash of water paints a vivid picture of nature's power and elegance. It's an exploration that touches not just your physical being but also strikes a deep chord with your spirit. This is what awaits you on the Black Canyon trail. Are you ready to take the plunge?
The Yehudiya Forest Nature Reserve, located in Golan Heights, is a popular destination known for its stunning waterfalls, natural pools, and diverse wildlife. This expansive reserve covers around 66 square kilometres and features various hiking and walking trails that range from easy to challenging.
Typically, in Israel, national parks and nature reserves open early in the morning and close in the evening. The exact times can vary, but a general rule of thumb is that they open around 8:00 AM and close around 5:00 PM. These hours can be extended in the summer months, possibly until 6:00 PM or later, and may be shortened in the winter months. However, these are general times, and the actual hours can vary for each park or reserve. Always check the specific times for the Yehudiya Forest Nature Reserve before planning a visit.
Trekking through the Black Canyon, the most picturesque part of the Yehudiya Forest Nature Reserve, is only possible with a guide, and abseiling (also known as rappelling) at the waterfalls is also conducted under supervision in small groups of up to ten people. These guides are provided by private companies, who coordinate in advance with the reserve and supply necessary equipment. Please note that there is no on-site equipment rental or communication between the guide company and the park, so these arrangements must be made in advance.
Experiencing the Yehudiya Forest Nature Reserve in the early morning is a captivating sight, with the serene beauty of nature awakening and the sun's first rays illuminating the landscape. Visitors are often pleasantly surprised by the park's rich and convenient infrastructure that supports their exploration. Moreover, the reserve boasts well-maintained facilities, including clean restrooms, further enhancing the comfort and enjoyment of guests.
Before embarking on your journey in the Yehudiya Forest Nature Reserve, you must relocate to an additional parking area. This spot serves as a gateway to learning about the history of the park and the surrounding area, particularly through the lens of the ruins of Sheikh Hussein (Khirbet Sheikh Hussein). These ruins belonged to a village located here before the Six-Day War in 1967. The Six-Day War was triggered by ongoing attacks on the territory of Israel by Syria following a ceasefire agreement in 1949. These attacks escalated and became continuous, leading to a preemptive strike by Israel in 1967. During the conflict, the Golan Heights were captured, ceasing the constant shelling of Jewish settlements in the Hula Valley by Syria. The village was abandoned by its inhabitants before the arrival of Israeli troops, and no new settlement was built in its place, leaving behind the remnants of houses made of basalt stones.
The Zavitan Stream hiking trail, named for its numerous bends and angles ("zavit" means "angle" in Hebrew), starts near the Ein Zivan settlement and flows into the Beit Tsaida Valley at the northeastern end of the Sea of Galilee (Lake Kinneret). The stream is divided into an upper course, leading to the Nahoshet (Copper) Waterfall, and a lower path, following the waterfall and the Black Canyon. The stream runs through a basaltic crevice, lending it a distinct beauty and charm. A walking trail follows the stream's course, offering visitors a scenic journey through the landscape.
Before the Six-Day War in 1967, the area now known as the Golan Heights was the site of multiple Syrian military bases. Positioned at a strategic high altitude, these bases posed a significant threat to Israel due to their commanding view and artillery range that reached deep into Israeli territory.
One key figure in Israeli history who gathered vital intelligence on these Syrian bases was Eli Cohen, an Israeli spy. He successfully infiltrated the Syrian government under the alias Kamel Amin Thaabet, rising through the ranks to become a trusted advisor to the Syrian Defense Minister. Throughout his years as a spy, Cohen transmitted crucial information about Syrian military installations back to Israel, significantly contributing to Israel's advantage in the Six-Day War. His acts of espionage have been lauded as one of the most successful in modern history, making him a celebrated national hero in Israel.
Before embarking on the Zavitan Stream trail, it's essential to prepare and equip yourself for the trek adequately. Appropriate gear includes a safety and support belt equipped with two carabiners and a figure-eight descender for abseiling, along with a helmet for protection. It's also vital to protect yourself from the sun and to stay hydrated. You should bring at least three litres of drinking water per person before setting out on the trail.
The Zavitan Stream, renowned for its large natural pools, provides an enthralling descent into its riverbed in the lower part following the pools. This is where the journey into the area known as the Black Canyon begins. Accessible only by abseiling, the canyon houses three stunning waterfalls that make a compelling endpoint for the adventure. These awe-inspiring natural wonders, surrounded by the tranquillity of the canyon, offer a unique and rewarding experience to intrepid visitors.
The entrance to this part of the canyon is marked by a passage through a dense thicket of reeds, setting a mysterious and captivating tone for the journey ahead.
As you embark on the journey through the Black Canyon of the Zavitan Stream, you are greeted by an enchanting landscape featuring lush groves of oleander and reeds around the pool at the trailhead. The dense foliage, thriving in the river's vicinity, adds a vibrant touch of green to the stark basaltic terrain. This verdant scenery not only enhances the aesthetic appeal of the route but also provides a pleasant shade, offering a respite from the sun to hikers.
The Zavitan Stream is a product of the volcanic activity that has shaped the Golan Heights landscape over millennia. As the region's lava cooled and solidified, it formed cracks that were gradually eroded by streams, creating narrow canyons. Over time, the stream's continuous flow, coupled with the natural erosion and collapsing of the canyon walls, led to the canyon's gradual expansion and deepening. This process has resulted in the stunning, rugged terrain of the Zavitan Stream we see today.
In this section of the trail, a controller from the Israel Nature and Parks Authority stands to watch to ensure hiker safety. One important check carried out is for proper footwear; it's mandatory to have closed heels due to the nature of the upcoming terrain. Following this point on the trail is a waterfall and a pool beneath it, which hikers must swim across. The waters are home to fish known to nip at heels, making the footwear check an essential safety measure for all visitors.
In the narrow confines of the Black Canyon, there's no regular network coverage, necessitating the installation of special SOS systems for emergency communication. This crucial feature ensures the safety of hikers navigating through the isolated canyon. Despite the seriousness of its purpose, experienced guides often jest that the system was put in place for safety and to keep the controller entertained and connected to the internet during the long hours of the vigil.
The first of the three waterfalls on the Black Canyon route is relatively low and has a gentle slope, ending in a small pool. It serves as a "training waterfall," offering an opportunity for hikers to comfortably grasp the techniques of rappelling. It's here that hikers can practice unclipping their safety carabiner and rope before plunging into the water, thus ensuring they are well prepared for the challenges that lie ahead on the trail.
The second waterfall on the Black Canyon route is a testament to the art and skill of canyoning. The key to a successful descent lies in the technique of abseiling. The main rope, which the abseiler descends on, is to be gradually released using the stronger hand. Crucially, this hand, while managing the rope, is braced against the small of the back. This provides a comfortable and effortless control over the descent, requiring minimal physical strain. The rope itself passes through a figure-eight carabiner. The other hand should maintain a grip on the rope behind the carabiner. The body braces against the cliff face with a broad stance for solid support. The waterfall is about fifteen meters high, with a small ledge situated halfway down. Beyond this ledge is a three-meter stretch where the rock face retreats, leaving the abseiler suspended in mid-air and solely reliant on the rope for the descent. In this critical phase, it's essential to unclip the safety rope in a timely manner, allowing for a safe and smooth plunge into the water below.
Zavitan Waterfall, the largest waterfall in Zavitan Stream's course, boasts an impressive height of 28 meters. Often referred to as the Copper Waterfall, its name likely derives from the resemblance of its cascading spray hitting basalt rocks to the sound of water splashing on the blades of a copper water mill. The waterfall marks the start of a deep basalt canyon, which distinguishes the upper and lower currents of Zavitan Stream. The waterfall, along with the Black Canyon, is a popular canyoning spot. Geologically, it's a result of volcanic activity on the Golan Heights, where rapidly cooling lava formed basalt layers. Over time, the stream eroded a path through these, creating a deep canyon and this dramatic waterfall.
Zavitan Stream, intriguingly, disappears at a certain point due to a massive rockfall which blocks its course. The spaces between these large boulders have not yet been filled with smaller stones, sand, or mud, allowing the water to flow underneath them. This unique geological occurrence gives the stream its alternative name - the 'Disappearing Stream'.
Immediately after the 'disappearing' stretch of the Zavitan stream, a new journey stage begins. This part is characterised by larger, but not deep, pools that often result in seasonal puddles, adding a fresh dynamic to the landscape.
The fertile soil that forms atop the basalt rock, despite its richness, is also prone to erosion, making it particularly crumbly. In this segment of the journey, a safety cable has been installed as a safeguard to prevent hikers from tumbling down the loosened soil. Following this careful navigation, involving both ascents and descents, trekkers will reach the third and final waterfall on the route.
The path through the Black Gorge on the Golan Heights is uniquely spectacular for several reasons. First, it encompasses a diverse range of terrain features, from large boulder-strewn pools to dramatic waterfalls, each offering its own special allure. The route also holds an air of mystery, such as the intriguing "disappearing stream" where the river water flows beneath large rocks. Secondly, the route through the gorge provides thrilling physical challenges, like abseiling down waterfalls and navigating the fertile but treacherous basalt slopes, that require certain techniques and equipment, adding an adventurous dimension to the trek. Lastly, the Golan Heights location means that the area is rich in geological history and biodiversity, with the basalt rock formations being remnants of ancient volcanic activity, and the vibrant oleander and reed vegetation fostering an array of wildlife.
Just before the third waterfall, the landscape shifts and a body of water appears. It is a serene pool, created by the constant flow of the Zavitan Stream, which gathers in this natural basin before cascading down the impending waterfall. Here, travelers often take a moment to admire the sight, soak in the tranquility of the water, and prepare themselves for the final descent of the journey. This spot, with its calm water and scenic view, offers a brief respite before the thrilling challenge that lies ahead.
To reach the third waterfall, one has to swim across a small body of water located right before it. The descent down this waterfall is the most scenic and gentle of all, offering a truly delightful experience.
The journey to the foot of the third waterfall requires swimming across an elongated pool, a picturesque stretch that adds a distinctive element to the trek. The aquatic passage, flanked by steep basalt cliffs, serves as a tranquil interval before the anticipated excitement of the waterfall. Upon reaching the other end of the pool, hikers are greeted by the solid ground, marking the end of their water-bound journey and the start of the next thrilling descent.
The trek through the Black Canyon culminates with the emergence from the narrow gorge, marking the end of this immersive journey. This transition isn't without its challenges, as it's punctuated by a steep ascent that demands physical strength and determination. As you clamber upwards, the change in perspective gives you a breathtaking panoramic view of the terrain you have traversed, a fitting end to a remarkable expedition.
At the beginning of the steep ascent out of the Black Canyon, several large trees provide a welcomed respite for hikers. Offering ample shade, these trees present the perfect opportunity to catch your breath and appreciate the surrounding beauty. Their presence underscores the resilience and adaptability of nature, growing despite the challenging and rocky environment of the canyon.
The final third of the ascent from the Black Canyon is particularly steep and challenging, marked by high stone steps. Each step up seems to draw heavily on your reserves as gravity and fatigue start to take their toll. However, the view of the landscape that unfolds with each upward step is equally breathtaking and rewarding. The difficulty of this section of the trail makes the accomplishment of reaching the top all the more satisfying, capping off a truly unique and adventurous trek through the Black Canyon.
At the nature reserve's trail intersection, there are several options for hikers to continue their journey. One path leads to the lower course of the Zavitan Stream, offering more of the beautiful, wild scenery that has marked the trip so far. Another option is to head towards the parking area, marking the end of this particular adventure. Alternatively, a different trail leads to the upper course of the stream where numerous swimming pools await, located before the entrance to the Black Canyon. Each route provides a distinct experience, allowing visitors to fully explore and appreciate the rich diversity of the area.
The Naftali Mountains, in view at the end of the Black Canyon trail, are a beautiful expanse named after one of Jacob's sons, Naphtali, from the Old Testament. Naphtali is associated with swiftness and eloquence, reflecting perhaps the striking and breathtaking views the mountains offer.
Two interesting facts about Naphtali are: firstly, in the biblical account, he is the son of Jacob and Bilhah, Rachel's maidservant. Secondly, the Tribe of Naphtali, his descendants, were known for their courage and prowess in war, as noted in the Bible.
The Syrian-African Rift, also known as the Great Rift Valley, is a continuous geographic trench running from Lebanon's Beqaa Valley in Asia to Mozambique in Southeastern Africa. Named for its span across the Syrian and African landmasses, it's one of the most distinct features on Earth's surface, visible even from space. Created by tectonic activity over millions of years, this rift is an impressive example of plate tectonics' power and influence on the landscape. Its various segments have formed numerous valleys, mountains, and bodies of water, contributing to the area's rich biodiversity.