The tiny country of Israel is filled with stunning natural and archaeological landscapes. There are currently 81 national parks and 400 nature reserves, which cover about 20 percent of the country. From lush waterfalls to desert canyons to dense marshland, the national parks of Israel represent a variety of ecosystems. Read on for 10 of the country’s best national parks and nature reserves to visit.
Set on an isolated cliff-top overlooking the Dead Sea and the vast Negev desert, Masada is one of the most iconic places to visit in Israel. Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the plateau was the site of a rebel entrenchment that was besieged by the Romans during the Great Revolt in 73 and 74 CE. Today, it’s customary to climb to the top of Masada via the Snake Path or the shorter but steeper Roman Ramp Path before sunrise, before it gets too hot, and to watch the sunrise from the top, a stunning setting. There is also a cable car to and from the top. Keep your eyes peeled for ibex, a type of mountain goat with large curved horns, and enjoy the sweeping desert views in all directions.
Home to the largest and most powerful waterfall in Israel, the Banias is in the northeastern corner of Israel, near the borders with Lebanon and Syria and just a little bit south of Mt. Hermon. The majestic waterfall is 32 feet high and rushes down into a clear blue pool below. There’s a wooden boardwalk and hanging trail that brings you close the waterfall and the entire area is surrounded by forest. Near the spring is the Cave of Pan, which are the remains of a shrine to the Greek god Pan by King Herod. There are also several ruins of flour mills along the stream, as well as one that still functions.
This archeological park in the Jordan Valley, 18 miles south of the Sea of Galilee, has incredible ruins of the ancient Roman and Byzantine city of Beit She'an and a mound where the Biblical city one stood. Visitors can see the remains of a second-century CE Roman theater, two bathhouses from the Byzantine period, a Roman temple, and more. The Bet She'an Tel affords a panoramic view of the ancient city, the Harod stream, an ancient truncated bridge, and the Jordan River beyond.
Located in the stunning Tsin Valley in the Negev desert, this colorful canyon encloses three springs, waterfalls emptying into deep pools, and ancient caves inhabited by Nabatean and Catholic monks. It is full of scenic hiking paths, and visitors might spot ibex, vultures, sand rats, and other bird species.
This impressive ancient city on the Mediterranean Sea, about halfway between Tel Aviv and Haifa, is incredibly well preserved. Originally an ancient Herodian port city, the site has been restored to create one of Israel’s most fascinating archaeological sites, complete with an amphitheater, hippodrome, reef palace, port, and more. The park hosts outdoor concerts in the amphitheater and has various multimedia displays showing the city throughout various time periods. Aqueduct Beach, with an ancient aqueduct by the sea, is just outside and is one of the country’s best beaches.
Israel’s largest oasis, this desert reserve is one of the country’s most popular parks. Located in the desert, not far from the Dead Sea, the area is a stunning oasis of greenery and water, making visitors forget they’re actually in the desert. Cool and beautiful springs, streams, pools, and waterfalls make ideal places to hike to and along, and swimming in the clear waters is a tourist rite of passage.
About 4 miles west of Beit Shean is this park with warm spring-fed pools. Also known as Sachne, there are lush lawns surrounding multiple pools for swimming in that are 82 degrees F (28 degrees C) year-round. While swimming and picnicking on the lawns are the main activities here, there is also an ancient flour mill, an orchard containing Biblical fruit trees like fig and pomegranate, and a reconstruction of Tel Amal, a pioneer settlement from 1936.
The largest national park in the country at 24,711 acres, Mount Carmel rises above the Mediterranean coast south of Haifa, giving way to pine and cypress forests and miles of hiking trails, streams, and campgrounds. Also within the park is the Carmel Hay-Bar nature reserve for breeding animals in danger of extinction and returning them into the wild.
There are multiple craters throughout the Negev desert but the Makhtesh Ramon is the largest at 25 miles long. Visitors can stand at the rim and take in the massive and scenic crater, as well we hike into it and observe fossils, colorful sands, volcanic rocks, and more. There are multiple campgrounds, hiking paths, and off-road vehicles trails, as well as an animal park showcasing the dozens of animal species found in the makhtesh.
These wetlands about 20 miles north of the Sea of Galilee are an important spot for migratory birds (various species of egrets, heron, pelicans, ibis, cranes, and more) and one of the few wet habitats in the Middle East. Visitors can walk around the Hula Lake and its surrounding marsh and climb the observation tower to observe the majestic migrating birds. Other wildlife include a water buffalo herd (the largest herd in Israel), Persian fallow deer, swamp lynx, otters, and nutria (an invasive species).