The 850km Israel Bike Trail runs from north to south from Mount Hermon to Almog Beach, Eilat. It is generally based on the Israel National Trail. The trail winds its way through the countryside, passing areas of great natural beauty and sites sacred to the great religions. The INT serves as the backbone for many of other marked trails, an integrated nation-wide network, designed to foster nature conservation and to preserve the special character of each geographical region.
The third section of the IBT runs through Ramot Naftali/Har Meron/Amirim over 30 km. As this is one of the most strenuous sections of the whole Israel Bike Trail it should only be attempted by those with better than average fitness, good technical cycling ability, and a love of water sports ! The route may, in fact, be split by staying overnight at Har Meron Field School, so leaving the final category A climb for the next day, with the challenging descent to Amirim. The ride could then be continued into Section #4 to Migdal and the Kinneret, if so desired.
The route initially weaves its way through the apple groves of the Kadesh Valley before the first good descent to Nahal Dishon from Moshav Dishon. This canyon-like valley is one of the major systems that drains into the Kinneret . In the winter and spring, it is bursting with water and blooming with vegetation. Later in the year the valley is dry and stony. It is said that there are more species of flowers here than at any other location in Israel. From here on the Israel Bike Trail is climbing into the mountains of Upper Galillee.
Nahal Dishon, when in full flow, is one of the most popular mountain biking experiences in Israel, but is also very attractive to the 4x4 vehicle fraternity. So in winter or spring be prepared for lines of vehicles queing up at the water crossings. Our route follows Dishon upstream and is an enjoyable technical challenge for most cyclists as the track is repeatedly broken by the raging torrent. There is no choice but take the plunge, sometimes at the deep end !
After crossing the road, the upper reaches of Dishon runs through forest less used by the vehicles. The valley narrows and the route enters the Baram Nature Reserve where Nahal Gush Halav joins Nahal Dishon. We splash our way up the valley of Nahal Gush Halav, on a narrower track, passing the remains of a 3rd century synagogue, to the Christian Maronite village of Gush Halav (Jish); an excellent spot for a break and meal.
Now begins the ascent of Har Meron, which is the highest peak in the Galilee. The first part is easy-riding, through the fields and olive groves of Gush Halav. As the track enters the Meditarrenean Oak Forest that cover the slopes of the mountain it becomes steep and eroded, and there is no alternative to carrying your bike to the road near the Har Meron Field School.
Refreshment, information and a bed for the night , if needed, is available at the Field School. The rest of the climb of Har Meron is on the road, but no less demanding for that, and it finishes at well over 1000 meters, near the summit. Here you will be rewarded with water at the picnic site and usually the admiration of motorised tourists who passed you during your slog up the hill. Take time to visit the observation point opposite for a magnificent view of Northern Israel, from Sfat to the Kinneret.
From the picnic site near the summit, the Israel Bike Trail descends a little to an undulating plateau with wide fast tracks of the Har Meron Nature Reserve. It really is excellent riding, passing the water potholes (Hutot), the ruins of a Druze/Jewish village abandoned in the 19th century, and a memorial to a fallen Druze Soldier. Eventually, the trail leads to a tricky technical climb which reaches the ridge marking the south-eastern edge of the mountain range.
Its now time for the descent from Har Meron, so hold on tight ! The track is wide, curving, and on the lower parts badly cut up by 4x4 over-use. Vehicles are now banned from this trail. The gradient also becomes extreme, so exercise great caution and you will have one of the best rides this side of Eden, but please take a moment to admire the fantastic vistas all around you.
The final part of this memorable section is through the pine-forest above the settlements of Shefer and Amirim. The next days section down to the Kineret is set out in the distance, and the temptation to continue is overpowering!