Summer Travel Guide: Searching for Watery Wonders in Israel

Israel may be dry but these natural springs will help you cope with the broiling-hot days ahead

Men bath in Beit Hakeshatot.
Visitors at Beit Hakeshatot.Credit: Ilan Assayag
Eitan Leshem
Eitan Leshem

They say that Israeli kids will soon be allowed to enter local swimming pools, even without presenting a “negative” test (COVID-19 – remember?). The swimming season at the beach is getting into full swing, with a few moments of grace before the arrival of the swarms of jellyfish – and they will show up. You can also hear water trickling, for the first time this season, in the pampering outdoor showers of well-to-do folks who also have a bit of a lawn on which to perch a kiddy pool.

Ein Kedem.Credit: yosefus / Shutterstock

Those are good options for cooling off during the intense heat that’s on its way to us, but there are also springs and similar kinds of water holes that await withering Israelis. They can be found along the length and breadth of the country, and often offer a naturally refreshing experience on the backdrop of great landscapes.

As opposed to rainwater-fed cisterns, winter streams or other seasonal water sources that usually disappoint as summer approaches – springs typically provide cold fresh water from the depths of the earth and thus promise coolness on even the hottest days, as well as circulation that in effect erases any memory of the swimmers who immersed in them only yesterday.

Some of the springs listed here are less than an hour from the center of the country, so if you take into account the search for parking, the time it takes to wash off the sand, the argument about ice pops yes-or-no and if yes then what kind – you get refreshing experience that takes about the same amount of time as a trip to the beach. And often a pastoral ambience that will make the word “humid” a little more tolerable.

The Ein Kedem cave-spring.Credit: Tomer Oku

The Ein Kedem cave-spring

At the edge of Tirat Carmel in the Haifa district there’s a mountain. It’s a somewhat strange experience to drive inside the city (including navigating an illogical number of traffic circles), and then to encounter genuine nature, in all its glory. At the entrance to a trail that leads to Ein Kedem (don’t get confused with the stream and springs of the same name, located in the Dead Sea area), there’s a gate that marks the end of the urban locale – and the beginning of amazing scenery. This beginning is in effect the end of the Kedem Stream trail which begins somewhere in Haifa, continues for about two-and-a-half hours and features in its center a cave-spring tucked inside the rocky mountainside.

Ein Nili.Credit: Tomer Oku

Ein Aviel and Ein Nili

Right next to Moshav Aviel, near Zichron Yaakov, is the Ein Aviel site, which is actually a concentration of a number of springs alongside the stream. You can reach the spot via the northern entrance to the moshav, where there’s a kind of parking lot, from which you can easily descend to the stream. Now you can choose several options – sitting alongside the stream and the reeds, on the wide and convenient patches of ground there; walking in the stream itself – a very refreshing and recommended activity for children; or just hanging out in the cool waters of the stream and the neighboring springs.

We of course chose the third option. The shallow pool we found with an adjacent stone picnic table were ideal for a rest stop with the kids. With your feet in the water and shade above your head, your body cools off slowly as you enjoy the burbling sounds. If you don’t have an SUV, you can park your car a few hundred meters away and take a walk that ends with a refreshing dip. Along the trails are also shaded wooden benches to sit on, from which you can appreciate the beauty of summer and be impressed once again by the variety and charm of the Israeli landscape.

Visitors at Ein Shokek.Credit: Hagai Aharon / Gini

Park Hamayanot and Nahal Avuka

On the foot of Mount Gilboa in the northern part of the country, there’s an especially large number of springs, but while some of them – located in the Gan Hashlosha (aka Sahne), Ganei Huga and Ma’ayan Harod parks – have become clogged with tourists, others have been neglected. At present, in the context of a face-lift in the Beit She’an Valley area, they are all part of Emek Hamayanot: the Spring Valley Park.

Ein Shokek.Credit: Tomer Oku

Within the park there are three main sources of water: Ein Shokek, Ein Moda and Nahal Hakibbutzim. Nahal Avuka flows northwest to Kfar Ruppin and at a certain point morphs into a real pool. It is wide, quite deep and surrounded by reeds on all sides, which makes it isolated and protected almost all day long. From here the way is short way to enjoying a whole day lounging and splashing in and around the water. An inner tube (if you remember to bring one!) will play a central role in contributing to the fun.

Mary’s Spring in Jerusalem.Credit: Emil Salman

Ein Karem, Ein Uzi and Mary’s Spring in Jerusalem

Ein Karem is one of the most wonderful neighborhoods in Jerusalem, but also one of its most controversial parts. The lovely hilly neighborhood in the city’s southwest, which was abandoned/evacuated after the 1948 War of Independence, is full of terraces that attest to a long agricultural history, lovely stone houses and picturesque churches. All these create a unique and breathtaking Jerusalem Hills landscape; you may want to pinch yourself to believe we’re still in Israel.

Mary’s Spring in Jerusalem.Credit: Emil Salman

We began our outing to the area’s lovely spring-fed water sources at Ein Ashkaf (which is also called Ein Aran), which is not far away and situated at the entrance of Moshav Even Sapir. There is a small pool here, right below a walking trail. People who like to refresh themselves there made an effort and placed a shade awning over it. That spoils the beauty of the spring somewhat – although on the other hand it also makes it easier to find it. As opposed to the crystal-clear northern springs, here the water is somewhat murky. In spite of that, it is fresh, flowing and when your spot the fish living in it, your soul becomes calm and your body feels like it can let go.

Visitors at Mary’s Spring in Jerusalem.Credit: George Martell/TheGoodCatholicLi

Ein Uzi, abutting Even Sapir, is part of the Israel Trail that spans the length of the country, and is therefore quite popular with serious hikers. There we met a group of religious high-school girls who jumped into the water, some young people listening to trance music that was super-popular in the mid-1990s, and of course a couple who seemed very much in love.But, as is the nature of springs, people take a dip and leave, and we soon found ourselves alone.

Near Mary’s Spring (of the Fountain of the Virgin) where, according to legend, the mother of Jesus once took a drink, a church was built and, more recently – as at many sites in this conflicted country – a mosque as well. While Christian pilgrims and other visitors are familiar with the built-up part of the spring, which is neat and well-kept on Ein Karem Street, the natural origins of the spring itself are concealed on the slope of the adjacent hill, near the mosque. Entry is via an opening in the ground, like that of a well; the descent can be made by means of a ladder with missing rungs, which is quite scary. But when you reach the bottom you hear the burbling of the spring and mainly sense the sublime quiet that is reserved for a dark, rocky cave tucked into a steep hilly slope.

The secret waterfall behind the Sharonim Mall

It’s two meters from the car to the spot. That’s it. And after that – a gateway to another world. There’s nothing here that reveals the fact that we’re near Hod Hasharon in the center of the country, except for the buildings that appear from time to time through the bushes. The high reeds border the stream here, which flows along a route that’s reminiscent of more northerly streams. At the end there is a little pool, at a simply perfect height (even children can walk in it by themselves). As though to add yet another cherry on top, the bottom of the pool is not composed of sludge and plant remains as in the north, but is pleasantly sandy.

Beit Hakeshatot, or the House of Arches, is a stone structure from about the third century C.E. in the Ayalon Valley.Credit: Tomer Oku

The Springs at the House of Arches

Beit Hakeshatot, or the House of Arches, a stone structure from about the third century C.E. in the Ayalon Valley, near Latrun, features a pool with water that flows in from an adjacent channel and in the winter fills up completely, its overflow gracing an external pool. When we arrived at this lovely Roman-era site two things stood out – the mountains of garbage that spilled out of the trash can there, and many religious boys who were wading in the cold water with noisy enjoyment. Despite its murkiness, the water is definitely pleasant for bathing and spending time under the arches is nothing less than meditative. After several of the arches collapsed a few years ago, the Nature and Parks Authority renovated the site and now its stands complete and impressive.

Ein Akev and its ferns

True, driving from the center of the country to Ein Akev, not far from Sde Boker in the south, takes a bit more than an hour but it’s well worth the trip. An oasis in the desert is an especially great delight and Ein Akev provides it in full. The hike there is quit difficult (seasoned walkers should combine it with a climb up Hod Akev), but the satisfaction of arriving there is great. A waterfall cascades from a height of 15 meters (close to 50 feet) into a round pool with a circumference of approximately 10 meters (33 feet), which is about 9 meters (30 feet) deep. A large cluster of maidenhair fern adorns the waterfall. Lounging on the smooth boulders by the pool is particularly pleasant. The Arabic name of the site, Ein Umm Ka’ab (the Stone Spring), is the source of the Hebrew name but the prominent stoney cliff is actually 2 kilometers (a mile and a quarter) to the south of Ein Akev.

Ein Yorke’am.Credit: Moshe Gilad

Ein Yorke’am

The last watering hole on this list is not a spring but a rough-hewn cistern, called Ein Yorke’am, which fills up every winter with rainwater that flows though Nahal Hatira, in the Negev. Usually there’s refreshing, relatively clear water there all year round, albeit less in the summertime; the site is indeed worth visiting in any season. The cistern, about 15 meters long and partly shaded, is quite close to the highway and thus easily accessible. The surrounding rocks have been eroded due to the rush of winter floodwaters; they are white, smooth and pleasant to the touch. Ein Yorke’am is on the route of the Israel Trail and thus attracts many hikers, who rest or camp alongside it.

Ein Yorke’am. Not a spring but a rough-hewn cistern.Credit: Amy Levinson Dukas