Escape the Heatwave to This Godlike Israeli River

The Banias is not only cool, quiet and spotlessly clean, it is also named after the god Pan

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The Banias. Its name stems from the distant pagan past.
The Banias. Its name stems from the distant pagan past.Credit: Gil Eliahu
Moshe Gilad
Moshe Gilad
Moshe Gilad
Moshe Gilad

There are joyous moments in life that are important to carry with you. Usually, they’re quite simple and basic, but not so easy to achieve. Sometimes, you have to hike numerous kilometers in order to experience them. Other times, they require a major investment – of money, time, effort (or all three). But the two hours we spent on the banks of the Banias (Nahal Hermon, or Hermon Stream) in northern Israel last week gave us everything we could wish for – easily, and for free.

Since it’s mid-July, we wanted some cool waters to provide moments of pleasure and relief from the sweltering heat. Before we arrived, we worried that there wouldn’t be any good spots left – and that whatever we did find would be too crowded, too noisy and unclean. Not one of those fears came to pass, though. The place was cool, quiet, empty, spotlessly clean and a sheer delight.

The name 'Banias' is a derivation of the name 'Paneas' – which appears in several extra-biblical ancient sources – stemming from the god Pan, who was adored in northern Israel too.

A man dipping in the Banias river, northern Israel.Credit: Gil Eliahu

Before we dive into the waters, a brief history lesson. The name “Banias” stems from the distant pagan past. It’s a derivation of the name “Paneas” – which appears in several extra-biblical ancient sources – stemming from the god Pan, who was adored in northern Israel too. In 2020, archaeologists reported finding an altar to an amalgamated Pan-Zeus deity. The altar had been reused in a Byzantine church.

Some years earlier, a Pan mask made of gold was found at what had been the Roman city of Hippos, on a hilltop by the Sea of Galilee.

The Banias (Hermon Stream) Nature Reserve, which has an admission fee, is where you find the waterfall and hanging bridge.Credit: Gil Eliahu

A rather more prosaic metal gate is the starting point for your modern-day Banias excursion. The gate, at the eastern end of Moshav Sha’ar Yeshuv, prevents vehicular access, but is open to those wishing to follow the path on foot. This, it turns out, is a major advantage. It’s 600 meters (nearly 1,970 feet) from the gate to the riverbank. This distance seemingly excludes those who are either schlepping heavy gear or aren’t interested in a short walk. This pedestrian gate remains open until late in the evening.

After passing through the gate, you head down a narrow road to the stream and reach a metal bridge that crosses the Banias. The water churns underneath. Trees shade the streambed. The current is strong and fast.

The Banias supplies about a quarter of the waters to the Jordan River. The Hatzbani (Snir) Stream supplies another quarter and the Dan Stream about half. The waters meet some 5 kilometers to the southwest, next to Sde Nehemia.

Some advice: don’t take the metal bridge over the Banias. Instead, you can choose to turn to the right or left at the bridge and take another path.Credit: Gil Eliahu

Some advice: don’t take the metal bridge over the Banias. Instead, you can choose to turn to the right or left at the bridge and take another path – i.e., walk north or south along the western bank of the Banias. From this point on, everything is perfection. You can choose whichever spot most appeals to you.

We arrived at 5 P.M. and found ourselves alone. The area was impeccably clean, without so much as a single scrap of paper to be seen. We could hardly believe our eyes.

We dipped our feet and heads in the cold waters. Brown leaves that had dropped from the big trees floated down river. The sound of rippling waters filled the heart with joy. What more does a person need?

The Banias (Hermon Stream) Nature Reserve, which has an admission fee, is where you find the waterfall and hanging bridge. This lies 4 kilometers to the northeast of Sha’ar Yeshuv. You can walk from there to the Banias camping site. It is not possible to enter the nature reserve from the opposite direction.

Credit: Gil Eliahu

Directions: Put in Waze “Banias Camping (Sha’ar Yeshuv).” Park in the large parking lot to the right of the road and enter through the gate. The walk is 600 meters each way, with a gentle descent on the way and a climb on the way back. No reservation or entrance fee is required. The entire length of the riverbank is a nature reserve, so certain restrictions apply and lighting any kind of fire is forbidden. Bus number 35 goes from Kiryat Shmona to Sha’ar Yeshuv.

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