Desert Hiking & Fun
Mitzpe Ramon perfectly situated, especially for hiking lovers. It takes only 3 minutes to get to the beginning of one of the best hiking trails - From the Green Backpackers Hostel. The main trail leads you straight into Makhtesh Ramon crater. The main green trail leads down the crater wall and levels out before heading north. It ends at Highway 40, but not before passing the Carpentry - a hill made up of prism shaped volcanic rocks.
Right near it is also a small desert pond that forms as a result of floods – from heavy rainfall.
Going this route requires two - three hours of hiking, and it is very easy to hitch hike back to Mitzpe Ramon from Highway 40. When I hiked, I got a ride with a friendly Israeli couple who had driven down to the crater for a pleasant lunch in the sun. The other popular option is to start on the green trail and after about an hour – switch to the red trail, which crosses the crater all the way to its south rim and climbs up a plutonic hill called Ramon's Tooth – made out of Granit. (The only Granit rock, which you can spot in Israel other than in the mountains of Eilat). The lookout on top offers excellent views from within the crater. This route requires about 5-6 hours of hiking. It too ends at the main Highway (No. 40). I went on a bright, breezy morning in November.
Prior to the hike, I had taken a jeep tour to the same area with 4xDesert. Yoash was my guide for the day. He shared his extensive knowledge about the crater throughout the tour, beginning with the geological history. The craters (makhteshim - plural for makhtesh in Hebrew) are a rare formation; unlike craters, neither meteorite impacts nor volcanoes create them. Over a period of hundreds of millions of years, shifting seas and tectonic plate movement formed layers of sandstone with hard limestone sediment on top. Water erosion later washed away sections of limestone, and when the rivers receded, rain and wind eroded the exposed sandstone beneath. Of seven currently known to exist, five Makhteshim are in the south of Israel, while the other two are in the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt. Makhtesh Ramon is by far the largest. The crater spans over an area of 49x12km and can only be viewed entirety from the air.
During Yoash's tour, I also learned about the crater's fauna and flora. Acacia trees grow in the lower wadis and are the same variety found in Africa in the Serengeti. They are the ones in nature documentaries that lions like to lay beneath on hot days. Anyhow, the trees share a symbiotic relationship with Gazelles living in the crater. The Gazelles eat the seedpods growing on the lower branches and only after the acid in their stomach dissolves the outer shell, the seeds will germinate. This prevents saplings from growing beneath the mother tree. In other words, the gazelles carry the acacia seeds to a different area and then poop them out in places where new tress can grow without competing for the same water and sunlight. I found this all very fascinating and hoped to spot a gazelle. While I was in the area of Mitzpe Ramon it never happened though. What I did see were ibexes. They would roam the streets of Mitzpe Ramon in search of food. The large animals were not that afraid of humans. I could get within 20m of them before they moved away, and even than they did not seem scared.
We also had them hanging out across the road from the Green Backpacker's Hostel on the slop of camel hill.
Camel hill lookout is a giant rock formation that had the shape of--you guessed it--a camel. This vantage point is the best spot in Mitzpe Ramon to view the sunset because it faces south over a bend in the crater.
Another trail continues in the same direction along the west rim of the crater and ends at the Hemet Cistern - Route 17. The Hemet Cistern is an ancient cistern from around 4,000 years ago used to obtain rainwater.
About 30 minutes north of Mitzpe Ramon are two other trekking options. The first is in Ein Avdat National Park. It is possible to travel from the nearest bus stop to the entrance via a rugged wadi, and from there access a larger canyon and then the spring which gives the park its name. The canyon walls are very impressive, even more when seeing them mirrored in the shallow pools of water.
That alone is worth the trip. I went with another backpacker from the hostel and we had the lower part of this amazing desert trail to ourselves. The canyon drops in stages like an elongated staircase, and the trail follows it upward, then zigzags along the western wall until reaching the rim.
The views from the top looking back in are spectacular, and from beginning to end the hike is only about 3 hours with minimal elevation gain. This was without a doubt one of the best hikes I did in Israel.
Near the same park entrance is another trail that leads further to the east and into the Ein Akev canyon. I had again entered from the lower end, so it was another climb to reach the upper part, and then the rim. Ein Akev is also located in the Zin Vally – not far from Ein Avdat National Park and the best thing is – that there is no entrance fee.
Visitors are also welcome to swim in the natural spring, but late as it was in the year, the water was frigid when I went. I managed to stay in for about three minutes. Above the spring, the terrain becomes greener with bushes and reeds growing thick in the canyon's wadi.
In the end, it took me 6 hours to get back to the main road. From there buses headed back in the direction of Mitzpe Ramon. I decided to hitchhike back to Mitzpe Ramon instead of taking the bus and used the savings to buy me a cold beer. In my opinion that is the best way to celebrate a successful hike--with a victory beer!