Winter Camping in Israel Just Got Easier

A new government website makes it easy to plan camping trips all over Israel and to find out which sites are prepped for chilly weather.

Liza from Ramat Aviv decided to take her family camping at Moshav Sha’al in the northern Golan Heights about a month ago. The wintry early January weather did not particularly faze them.

“We’ve been camping in the winter a few times and our 11-year-old daughter hasn’t stopped talking about it. She had a great time,” Liza says.

Liza says the family camps a lot and winter camping is definitely different. “But we don’t need to bring the tents with us because there are tents at the campgrounds. They have heating so it’s nice and warm. When you go out, the experience of the cold is bracing,” she says.

In 2008, the cabinet approved a national plan to change the way Israelis tour their country and encourage recreation in nature. The inter-ministerial committee established to further the plan launched the website Orhan Laila (campingil.org.il) with information on more than 80 campgrounds that provide permanent tents, adjacent toilets, hot showers, field kitchens, mattresses and blankets.

The campgrounds also have lights, electrical outlets and barbecues, and some have special places for campfires. Many of the locations offer special attractions, like horseback riding, activities for kids and various workshops. There are a variety of tends to choose from: Bedouin or Mongolian or teepees, bungalows or khans. Some of the campgrounds are well-prepared for winter’s climatic caprices, providing heating and protection from rain and wind.

Prices range from NIS 70 to NIS 130 per person per night, usually including all the services. Bringing a tent from home can lower the cost, but with prices already so low it may not be worth the effort.

Campground: Desert Olive Farm

Location: the foot of Khirbet Ritma in the Negev highlands.

Nearby attractions: Makhtesh Ramon and Ein Avdat

Desert Olive Farm has 10 tents of various sizes, including a group tent for 10 to 15 people, a giant teepee that is 8 meters in diameter and 9 meters high and a tent for a couple. Every tent has a private structure for shade that includes a hammock, mattresses, a low table, a place for a private bonfire and a cooking pot. Each of the khans has a centrally situated refrigerator, a pool, a petting zoo, chickens running free, rabbits and ducks. On full moons, there are hikes, jeep rides, bicycle trips and hikes to spot wild animals or visit nearby wadis.

Special in winter: The teepee and the group tent have heating. The khan has bathtubs lined on the outside with bamboo with hot water all day.

Price per night: teepee: NIS 500 for up to four; NIS 70 for each additional guest (maximum six people); group tent: NIS 120 per person (minimum 10 people).

Campground: Indiani Jones

Location: Moshav Sha’al, northern Golan Heights

Nearby attractions: Banias Nature Reserve, Tel Dan, Hatzbani Stream and Hula Nature Reserve

Six teepees are nestled in the heart of a natural woodland. Each of the three larger ones can sleep up to nine people each and each of the smaller ones can sleep up to four. Every tent has two single futons and mattresses for whatever number of guests make reservations. Pillows, quilts and sheets are available for an extra charge. Each tent has a refrigerator and a microwave inside and a fire pit, a seating area and hammocks outside. Adjacent to every tent is smaller tepee with a hot shower and a private toilet.

Special for winter: The tents have space heaters and are leak-proof. There’s always hot water and there’s a small, shared kitchen and dining room with a gas heater.

Price per night: Large tent: NIS 130 per person (minimum five people), NIS 110 for every additional guest (maximum nine people); small tent: NIS 130 per person (minimum three people), NIS 110 for every additional guest (up to four people).

Campground: Fata Morgana

Location: Neot Hakikar

Nearby attraction: Dead Sea

The Fata Morgana khan is located south of the Dead Sea, which is a warm area even in the winter. Tents offer mats, mattresses and pillows. The campground has wooden tables, chairs, fridges, stoves, a grill and lighting. The variety of meals on offer include “farm-style,” vegetarian or “desert feast.” Guests can take part in various workshops and there are plenty of nearby places to tour.

Special for winter: Tents are heated, with gas rather than electricity for ecological reasons. There’s a wood fireplace in the main tent. Some of the tents are made out of recycled cartons that have been treated to keep out wintry weather. Nearby the tents are two buildings with individual toilets and hot showers.

Price per night: weekends: NIS 90 per adult, NIS 70 per child up to age 12. A two-night stay gets you a discount of NIS 10 per person per night.

Campground: Chai Negev Revivim

Location: Kibbutz Revivim, about half an hour from Be’er Sheva

Nearby attractions: Nahal Habsor and Golda Park

Chai Negev Revivim offers a variety of opportunities for overnight camping: Bedouin tents, teepees or a khan built ecologically out of mud. Each tent has mattresses and a fridge. The site offers tours of a desert zoological park with a variety of animals; a petting and a feeding corner; desert hospitality, including traditional pita baking; an “archaeological dig” corner about dinosaurs; an oasis, and camel riding.

Special for winter: The ecological structures are heated with wall-mounted spiral heaters; the tents have space heaters. Every structure has electric outlets and hot water all day.

Price per night (including breakfast): Teepee: NIS 95 per adult, NIS 75 per child. Tents sleep up to 6 guests (minimum NIS 300 per night).

Campground: Khan Nahal Arava

Location: The Peace Road between Hatzeva and Ein Yahav

Nearby attractions: crocodile farm and Nahal Tzin

Khan Nahal Arava features tents of various sizes with mattresses on mats or rugs. A central shade structure has tables for low seating, rugs and mattresses and a self-service kitchen with a fridge, a freezer, a stove, gas, a work area and cold mineral water.

Guests are invited to tour a crocodile farm and the nearby Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel Field School, visit the Antelope Farm and hike the nearby wadis.

Special for winter: The tents, which have strong construction to protect against wind and rain-proof sheeting, are warmed by safe heaters.

Price per night: NIS 80 per adult; NIS 60 per child.

Campground: The Antelope Farm

Location: The Arava Road between Moshav Ein Yahav and Moshav Tzofar

Nearby attractions: Sapir Park and Sheizaf Nature Reserve

The Antelope Farm has a central sheltered area subdivided into sleeping areas of various sizes with mats and mattresses. African antelopes and other rare animals wander the site freely. There’s a barbecue corner, lawns and playground equipment. For Saturday breakfast, guests can order traditional Yemenite “jahnun.” You can join a tour of the farm and learn about the animals, swim in a thermal pool on warmer days and enjoy hammocks, mattresses and pillows around the pool.

Special for winter: The overnight shelter has an electric heater. There’s hot water all day and guests can have a bonfire.

Price per night: NIS 70 per person

Lamplight tour of ancient Mamshit

Campground: the Nabatean khan at Mamshit

Location: eight kilometers from Dimona toward Rotem Junction

Nearby attraction: the Nabatean city of Mamshit

Mamshit National Park has a large khan with 15 permanent family-size structures (in Ethiopian tukul style) and a Bedouin tent that can sleep 200 people. The site offers a common field kitchen with fridges and a gas stove. There are also toilets and hot showers, shaded areas for meals, movable tables and benches, barbecues and areas for bonfires. There are electric outlets, too. You can rent a mattress for NIS 10 per night. A guided lamplight tour of the Nabatean city and other activities can be reserved.

Special for winter: The Bedouin tent and the tukuls are heated with gas or electricity and there are hot showers.

Price per night: tukul: NIS 350 for up to 5 guests; NIS 30 per each additional guest (maximum of 8 people). Israel Nature and Parks Authority members get a 10 percent discount.

Itamar Greenberg