Arbel nature reserve - Gil Eliyahu -  7/4/12
A family enjoying the good weather near the Arbel nature reserve. Photo by Gil Eliyahu
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More than 300,000 people enjoyed the warm weather at national parks and forests for Passover's first full day Saturday, though they'll have to contend with hot, dry sharav conditions on Sunday.

On Monday, it will cool off and the middle of the week may bring rain to the north.

The Israel Nature and Parks Authority reported 45,000 visitors to national parks and another 100,000 visitors to open spaces under the authority's supervision. Ashkelon National Park on the southern coastal plain and Ein Afek Nature Reserve in the Acre Valley were the two most visited INPA sites, each drawing about 30,000 people.

According to Uzi Barzilai, the head of the authority's community liaison department, people tend to stay closer to home and avoid long hikes on the holiday's first day. He said that on Sunday people will venture further afield; the authority expects visitor numbers to rise at more distant sites.

Meir Levy, head of a tourism organization in the north, agreed. "Most people will start arriving on Sunday because they'll spend today at barbecues and family meals," he said on Satur.

Still, about 1,500 came to Ein Gedi Nature Reserve on the Dead Sea, and another 1,500 people visited Gan Hashlosha (Sakhne ) National Park in the eastern Jezreel Valley. A thousand visitors came to Tel Dan and about 2,000 to Banias Nature Reserve, both in the far north.

More than 170,000 visitors spent time yesterday at Jewish National Fund forests, including many cyclists. More and better cycling trails are being blazed through some forests, especially in the Judean lowlands.

The most popular forest destinations were Ein Zeitim Forest near Safed, Goren Park in the Western Galilee mountains, British Park and Ben Shemen Forest in the center, and Lahav Forest in the south. The most popular JNF site remained Lake Agmon in the Hula Valley, where 3,000 visitors went to see migrating birds. Shefi Mor, tourism director for Kibbutz Merom Golan, noted the spectacular white blossoms of the Golan's cherry trees.

People had to leave one of the most beautiful trails in the country, along the Yehi'am Stream in Western Galilee, as raw sewage flowed due to a long-malfunctioning treatment plant.

The JNF and the nature and parks authority will be holding a number of outdoor events over Passover week. Caesarea National Park will host its traditional horse race in the ancient hippodrome, while Mamshit National Park in the Negev will be the backdrop for the 12th annual Nabatean market. Eshkol Park, in the northwestern Negev, will offer a selection of extreme sports.

Meanwhile, on Passover eve, hundreds of Israir passengers to and from Berlin were delayed due to a problem with one of the company's planes on the ground in Rome.

Zohar Blumenkrantz contributed to this report.