Drop Everything and Head for Northern Israel's Glorious Gushers

A springtime hike in the Upper Galilee, along Tzalmon Stream and the Parod waterfalls, is an unadulterated pleasure – but beware the blight of litter

Remains of a flour mill along the Tzalmon Stream, in the Upper Galilee, in northern Israel.
Yaron Kaminsky

This spring is without a doubt a special season. Daring to prophesy, we can already say that it will be remembered for many years to come. These days the Parod waterfalls in the Upper Galilee hills are still frothing and gushing with more water than ever before. Since we’re in unfamiliar territory, and I don’t know how long all this natural goodness will last, let’s get right to it: You should drop everything and head for the Parod falls. Do it before the Tzalmon Stream reverts to its usual form, a nice, dry streambed. There are plenty of those in Israel. At the moment there is still a gloriously rushing waterway of rare beauty here, hopping its way down the slope in glistening cascades. A truly great sight to see.

The Parod falls fill the upper part of the Tzalmon Stream, at the foot of the Meron Mountains in the northern part of the country. The waterfalls erupt unexpectedly and usually don’t flow for long, hence the urgent tone here. When you sit opposite them for a few minutes, your love of the land is truly aroused. Looking at them makes you sigh and say quietly: Wow, what a great country. Of course, the complaints come soon enough, but for a moment the sound of the falls – more than three meters high, perhaps as much as five – drowns out everything else.

In fact the Tzalmon Stream has two focal points: the upper one with its series of small waterfalls between Moshav Shefer and Route 866, and the lower one, with two lovely falls, near Kibbutz Parod. That’s the one we’re talking about here.

There is a large parking lot on the right just before the entrance to Kibbutz Parod. From there, walk for a few minutes downstream; you’ll see the remnants of an aqueduct on the western bank of Tzalmon. You will also come to two tombs with two fine, blue domes, on the east bank. These are neither ancient nor mysterious. They were built in 1983. The upper building marks the burial site of the ancient rabbinic sage Nechemiah Ha’amsoni; the lower one, the grave of Rabbi Ishmael, author of baraitot (rules set out in the Jewish oral laws).

The Parod waterfalls in Upper Galilee, northern Israel, April 2019.
Moshe Gilad

The lower structure was built over an ancient burial cave. The remains you see dispersed around you come from the Arab village of Farradiyya, which was conquered in Operation Hiram, in 1948, during the War of Independence. "Parod" is the name of a Jewish town mentioned in the Babylonian Talmud.

Continuing to walk along the stream, you’ll discover more and more waterfalls, big and small. You’ll pass a large rock and a prominent cave, before walking down some rough-hewn steps past two more wonderful falls. Huge carob trees and a few terebinths cast a giant shadow here, and there’s no nicer place to take a break.

From there you can head back to the parking lot, only about 15 minutes away. Alternatively, you can continue walking a few hundred meters more downstream to where the streambed widens. Climb the banks to see the ruins of the local flour mill.

To get to the upper part of the stream, follow the blue trail markings through Mediterranean woodland scenery, get past the two cattle fences and you’ll arrive in the outskirts of Moshav Shefer. From there you’ll have a fine view of Kfar Hananya, the Levanim Ridge, Mount Tabor, Givat Hamoreh in Afula, Mitzpe Elot and the reservoir near Kibbutz Parod.

After that, go through the blue metal gate and continue on the unpaved road above the moshav homes. At the next junction take a left, following the blue markings and you’re at Ein Ramiel, the source of the Parod falls. In recent years some lovely landscaped pools have been built there, marked as “Shefer Spring” (The address is Ha’egoz Street, Moshav Shefer).

One of the two sages' tombs that can be found along the trail on the east bank of the Tzalmon Stream, in the Upper Galilee, northern Israel, April 2019.
Moshe Gilad

Painful reality

So far so good. But it’s actually this happy visit to the Parod waterfalls that highlights one of the most difficult and painful problems that hikers in Israel face: Why is it so filthy? The beautiful stream here is a total mess now. The falls are part of a nature reserve, but it’s an open reserve, which means there’s no entry fee. I don’t know if any agency – whether the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, the Jewish National Fund or the regional council – cleans the area up. Maybe they do, on some infrequent basis, but that’s not the main point.

It seems that everything has already been said about how neglected the country's nature sites are. For about an hour, on a recent weekday, we sat by the waterfalls and looked at the water and the passersby. There were quite a few of the latter. At first two ultra-Orthodox fathers from Safed came by, their earlocks swaying; the four children with them were whooping it up in the water. Then came schoolchildren from the nearby town of Rama, and after them, youngsters from a kibbutz in the Hula Valley. Then came a few more hikers, in small groups. From time to time it got pretty crowded. But one can't complain about that: It’s a small country, people like to hike and this site really deserves a visit.

Everybody, but everybody without exception, left huge amounts of garbage behind. Popcorn, bags from Bamba and Bisli snacks, plastic bottles, wrappers, disposable cups and all manner of other litter, along the path. That’s the reality. Enough to make your blood boil.

But the solution is simple – very simple even. There’s no point waiting for some organization or another to come and clean up after us. There’s no point in complaining because it won’t help. This is the responsibility of each and every one of us. And as I’ve seen many times in the past, an interesting social phenomenon emerges in such situations.

Schoolchildren at the Parod falls, along the Tzalmon Stream in Upper Galilee, northern Israel, April 2019.
משה גלעד

Next to one of the falls, I took out a big plastic bag and then I started, while walking slowly along the trail back to the parking lot, to collect the trash I found on the way. Nobody asked me to do it, but the impact was immediate. When other hikers saw us picking up trash that wasn’t ours, they looked surprised for a moment, probably saying to themselves something like, "Look at that sucker picking up trash that’s not his." But then they looked down and began to pick up the plastic bags and other garbage that was blowing around.

In my opinion this is the only way to overcome this painful problem. There’s no point commenting, trying to educate, to preach. The impact of attempts like those is usually the opposite of what was intended, and ruins the hike for people with the best intentions. But picking up some trash yourself, even a little, makes you feel good.

My plastic bag filled up quickly. I tied it up and continued on my way. In the parking lot there was a big dumpster, almost completely full. I left it alone, put the tied-up bag in the trunk of my car and drove home. I felt good because I knew that for a fleeting moment, at least, there was a little less garbage on the trail along the Tzalmon Stream.

How to get there: Coming from most directions, the best way to get to this area is to go past the Hananya Junction, via the intersection of Route 85 from Carmiel to Amiad Junction and Route 866, from Hananya Junction toward Meron Junction. From Hananya Junction, drive uphill and go past the turnoff to the Agriculture Ministry’s experimental station and the turnoff to the village of Ein al-Assad. About 2.5 kilometers after that, turn right toward Kibbutz Parod. Immediately after that turn, turn right again to the lower parking lot (from there you can walk to the “high” falls), or go left to the service road leading to the parking lot at the bottom of the falls, which passes under Route 866. From that parking lot you can exit to the main road going south only. To exit north, retrace your route to the Kibbutz Parod turnoff.