The Israel National Trail is a hiking route stretching along the length of Israel from the Dan River in the north to Eilat in the south.
Avraham Tamir (z"I), a journalist and nature lover came up with the idea for the Israel National Trail after hiking the Appalachian Trail in the United States. Upon his return to Israel, Tamir approached Ori Devir, Director of the Israel Trails Committee about officially marking an Israel National Trail.
The Israel National Trail is approximately 1,000 km (620 miles) long, traversing a wide range of different landscapes including the green mountains of the Galilee, the sandy dunes along the Mediterranean coast, the Judean foothills and the dramatic panoramas of the Negev Desert. The route includes local points of interest such as observation points, nature sites and historic sites. Along the way, the Trail passes through Muslim, Christian and Druze villages as well as various different types of Jewish communities.
The Trail is mainly geared toward hikers, although some parts are accessible by off-road vehicles. Hikers are free to choose the distance they wish to go and the manner in which they do so. Many hikers divide their route into sections which they complete over of time while others "devour" their entire route all at once.
In recent years, thousands of people have hiked the entire trail with tens of thousands more completing smaller sections of the route. The number of hikers is steadily increasing and different types of hikers take on the challenge. Teenagers see the journey as a rite of passage into adulthood. Young adults hike the Trail as a "pre-trek" before they travel overseas after completing their army service. Others utilize the Trail for family bonding, while some see it as a "mission" to mark a Bar/Bat Mitzvah or anniversary. Some celebrate their retirement by traversing this great distance and even young-at-heart octogenarians have been spotted along the route.
Over time, a culture has developed surrounding the Trail with numerous websites cropping up, allowing hikers to share their personal experiences, write tales about the journey or post photos. Others offer helpful tips to new Trail hikers and online forums help hikers keep abreast of changes and recommendations.
"Trail Angels" have also begun to appear. These are a growing number of good Samaritans who live along the Trail and provide help to hikers - from hosting them for coffee, allowing them to pitch tents in their yards or to reserve pre-arranged showers, meals and accommodations or even to bring them water in the desert.
Israeli hikers on the Israel National Trail take part in a unique experience. Beyond the challenge of traversing an entire country, they see what it is like to be a "tourist" in their own country. Hikers describe it as an amazing experience and recommend it to all. The journey has been described by some as "the most amazing therapy in the world" while others have said that it has allowed them to really "feel" this country intimately. Even those who only complete a small section of the Trail are able to feel they are part of something larger.
Moti Ben Shitrit
Director, Israel Trail Committee