The Judean Desert is pregnant with a number of enchanted itineraries. The Tze’elim Canyon is one of them: the striking landscapes of the desert, hidden headsprings and blossoming of the spring, all this and more of this await seasoned walkers who will choose the Tze’elim Canyon that starts at the Tzfira Pool and ends just next to the Dead Sea and Masada.
Tips about this Trip
This itinerary will take a whole day, and it isn’t a circular one, so leaving one vehicle at the end of the trail is recommended. It is suitable only for experienced walkers, its length is 12 km [7.5 miles] and bringing enough water with you is a must. During winter, in order to complete the route before darkness, enjoy the walk and end up with sufficient water, it is advisable not to start the trail after 08:30 AM. The itinerary will take you into water cisterns. It is mostly recommended to bring a footpath marking map with you.
If you plan to do the two-day circular itinerary – you can start the trail at Masada (where you can coordinate in advance of time to leave your car overnight), through climbing the Snake Path to Masada, descending through the Ramp Trail, and walking on one of the marked footpath trails to the night campsite at the Tzfira Pool. However you should stash enough water and wood ahead of time at the camp site. The second day is as described below. An alternative one-day tour is also available. See at the end of this itinerary.
The Tze’elim Canyon
The Tze’elim Canyon is one of largest and most magnificent canyons of the Judean Desert. The upper tributaries of the Ze’elim Canyon start at the southeast area of the Hebron Mountains, and apart from its many water cisterns, in some of which water is stored during the whole year, there are four headsprings emanating in the canyon. The canyon received its Hebrew name during the 1950s, it is named after the tree, Tze’el:
He lieth under the lotus-trees, in the covert of the reed, and fens. The lotus-trees cover him with their shadow; the willows of the brook compass him about. (Job 40: 21-22).
As a matter of fact the “lotus-tree”, English translation, is the Tze’el tree in Biblical Hebrew which means a tree that gives shadow. Some have attributed this name to acacia (red thorn). In Arabic this canyon is called wadi a-Si’al which means “canyon of the great flash floods”.
How to Get There
Go to Arad (via Route 31) and drive toward the hotels at the eastern zone of the town. Right before reaching there, turn north towards Masada and drive along this winding road until you reach Kfar HaNokdim . From this point on the road, there is a dirt road heading north (marked black on the footpath markings) which is suitable for normal private cars. Drive on this road for about 2.5 km [1.5 miles] until you reach a camp site .
Comment – due to car burglaries consider leaving the car in Arad and using a taxi service instead for the beginning and end of this trail.
From the camp site  start walking along the black-marked dirt road that will bring you here until you arrive at the bed of the canyon. From this point, which is sometime full with 4WD vehicles, there is a trail with green markings that descends toward the Tzfira Pool – actually a large and deep water cistern at the head of the big Tze’elim waterfall which is full with water all year long. To see the pool and even swim in it you should leave the black-marked trail and climb to the north bank of the canyon about 250 m [620 feet] until you reach a comfortable but somewhat steep trail (with green markings) that will take you down to the pool. It is warmly recommended to wade in the pool water but beware – sometimes the water is deep. After that, return to the point where the green, black, and blue trails intersect, and start taking the steep descent with the blue-marked trail to the canyon. From this point there is a breathtaking view of the canyon.
If you choose to hike during January – May there is a great chance that the desert will be covered with spectacular flowers. The lens of my camera has caught some of the marvelous flowers: bicolored cenaury, oriental vipers grass, desert stork’s bill, undulate fleabane, common fagonia, milk-vetch (astragalus intercedens), Blanche globe-thistle, bushy been-caper, oxeye fragrant, rocket (diplotaxis acris), corn poppy, turban buttercup, twisted acacia (acacia raddiana sari).
After 2 km [1.2 mile] in the canyon you’ll arrive at the Naama Pool  which is also a wide water cistern filled with the last flood water. From this point on the canyon becomes craggy, so the trail climbs up to the canyon ridge an additional 2.5 km [1.5 miles] until it adjoins a black-marked trail (in some of the maps it may not be marked) that descends toward Ein Namer [the leopard spring]). (There is another trail with green markings that descends to Ein Namer some few hundred meters to the east). The green trail is called Ma’ale Namer (the leopard ascent). This gradient follows the route of an ancient trail that led to the highland between Tze’elim Canyon and Harduf Stream. Whether you choose the black or green trails to descent there, when you reach the bed of the canyon turn upstream (right/ westward) and you will have a short walk on a red-marked trail (another new trail) toward Ein Namer . This headspring usually flows with fresh water all year round (it is drinkable); however after rainfall it is even fuller of water. The location of the stream is among huge bulks of rockfalls (boulders) that make it a shaded place which is comfortably fit for a lunch break and rest.
After you replenish your energy, go back to the green-marked trail, and in front of the Harduf Stream mouth, you’ll reach a beautiful canyon - Gay Bahak  [the glaring defile]. From this point there are two alternative trails: the first goes through the amazing deep gorges and includes entering the water cisterns; the second does not entail walking in the water. Note that to walk in Gay Bahak you have to bring ropes to drop down into the cisterns, some of which are at least 8 m high.
The first option: at this stage we shall leave the green-marked footpath and take the one with black markings. This trail enters the amazing deep gorge and leads into the bed of the canyon, and passes through more water cisterns. Upon completing this gorge the black-marked trail joins the green-marked one for another 200 – 300 m [650 – 980 feet] until both trails reach a footpath junction. Take the trail with the black markings if you want to go down into “Gay Sla’aim” [the rock ravine]. With its many boulders it will give you the pleasure of jumping from one stone to the other. At the end of this gorge join the blue-marked footpath and continue to the car park and the car that you’ve left there.
The second option: if you don’t wish to enter the water. Continue on the green-marked trail that bypasses the canyon from its southern side, climbs over the river bank and meets the red footpath  until Ein Anava, a small spring with a manger for storing rainwater and two-three palm trees. Similarly to Ein Samar and Einot Tzukim the Dutch rush thrives here too. From this point take the blue-marked path  back to the streambed of the Tze’elim canyon and to the end of the itinerary – the place that you left the car, in the Tze’elim parking lot .
A circular route in Tze’elim Canyon
If you wish to enjoy the lower Tze’elim Canyon and Ein Namer, it’s optional to take the more difficult circular route of 15 km [9 miles]. Leave the car at the Tze’elim Canyon camp site  (the access road is through a good dirt road that ramifies from the Dead Sea Route between the 230 to 231 kilometer stones.) Starting with quite a difficult ascent up the Tze’elim Ascent  (Blue-marked footpath), this trail adjoins a green-marked footpath after about 2 km [1.2 miles] . Continue on the green-marked footpath until reaching Ma’ale Namer  as described above. From this point and onward continue on a descent toward Ein Namer  and from Ein Namer the rest of the itinerary is the same as described above.
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