The gurgle of running water is rare in this part of the planet. And in a country where outdoorsy Israelis will hike for miles over desert trails to reach a tiny spring or an ancient waterhole, nature reserves with turbulent year-round rapids and huge splashes of greenery are seen as, well, miraculous.
This is the mesmerizing charm of the Jordan River sources, at the northern tip of the Galilee panhandle; Banias (which the Nature and Parks Authority officially calls the Hermon Stream) is one of them. It eases languidly from the roots of Mount Hermon, frolics among the poplars and plane trees as the valley tilts south, and finally surges manically through a narrow gorge. That’s the section we’ve come to see.
Many visitors know the Banias as a spring, with a ruined Hellenistic/Roman shrine of Pan above it, excavations of the 1st-century CE city of Caesarea Philippi and, of course, the barbeque pits and picnic tables. The more adventurous stroll the fine trail (45 minutes to an hour) to the Banias Waterfall, the country’s largest. If that’s not for you, you can re-use your ticket to enter the (more westerly) waterfall end of the reserve.
Just inside the entrance, you have a choice of trails. The first turns sharply to the left and down a series of steps that bring you within a few minutes to some beautiful river scenery, and a shortly beyond that to the observation deck facing the big waterfall itself.
The second option is the don’t-miss Suspended Trail. The sign directs you straight ahead, and down an easy switchback trail toward the gorge. Shaded benches are strategically placed along the way, the better to enjoy the greenery, and the springtime wildflowers in February, March and April. At the bottom, your trail turns left, upstream.
The name of this new trail is perhaps a bit misleading. For some, it may arouse images – and fears – of a rickety suspension bridge, swaying terrifyingly over a bottomless ravine in some Asian or South American mountain range. Not so. It’s more like a boardwalk, rock-solid, anchored securely in the cliff-face above the gorge.
For those who love the beauty of wild mountain streams, this is the best Israel has to offer. The few hundred meters of the gorge were entirely inaccessible to visitors until the Suspended Trail was opened in March 2010. It has given nature-lovers a new dimension to an already much-loved reserve. Take it slowly, if you have the time. Let chattering groups pass you by so as to enjoy the roar of the rapids for a few moments of invigorating solitude.
The trail reconnects with the waterfall trail at the level of the stream. The entire loop, back to the parking lot above, takes a leisurely 45 minutes. You can, of course reach the Suspended Trail and the waterfall by hiking from the spring, or you can take that same hike in the opposite direction. Either way, if you don’t have a designated driver to bring your vehicle around, it’s about a 1.5-km (or one-mile) walk along the highway back to where you began.
Route 99. The turnoff to the waterfall and Suspended Trail is approx. 12.5 kms east of Kiryat Shmona; the spring is about 1.5 kms beyond that.
Open (through October) Saturday–Thursday, 8 A.M. –5 P.M.; Friday and the eve of Jewish religious holidays, 8 A.M.–4 P.M.; last entrance one hour before closing time. Entrance fee applies.