Friday, January 13, 2017

Hiking Nahal Katlav in the Judean Hills

Cool and shady in the creek bed

Hubby and I had a free day on Saturday last weekend and we needed some fresh air, some dirt and some hills to climb. It was time to drive our little car out of town for a hike (queue the angels singing)!

Nahal Katlav is listed as a Top 10 Hike near Jerusalem and it sounded perfect. I found a brief description of the Nahal Katlav hike online and was able to decode the Hebrew on Google Maps to feel relatively confident that I could locate the trailhead. Described as a 3.5 hour hike that would go down to a creek bed, then up past an abandoned Arab village, and loop us back around to the parking area, it looked like a good 1/2 day out. Cut to the happy ending, we were right!

Hiker tip: take a photo of the map at the trail head

Nahal Katlav is a beautiful dry stream bed in the hills just outside of Jerusalem. In Hebrew, Nahal means creek (in Arabic they would say wadi). Katlav is the name of a small Mediterranean species of tree called the Strawberry Tree, known for it's striking red bark and little red berries that ripen in November. It belongs to the Arbutus genus which includes Madrone trees and it looks exactly like one, with the tough green leaves and red bark that peels off. Strawberry Tree Creek, has a nice western ring to it...

Hubster on the trail, Jerusalem off in the distance

Following Google map directions to the restaurant named Bar Behar at the trailhead we turned off the main road and into what looked like a crowded festival parking lot with bandanna-wearing motorcyclists, spandex-sporting road cyclists, big families pushing strollers, young bearded hipsters and Columbia-clad hikers. Luckily most people were there for the brunch and the booze at Bar Behar. The internet said it was closed on Saturday for Shabbat, as are most businesses in the Holy Land, but the internet can’t always be right. The view from their patio was amazing so we vowed to return with a plan to brunch there in the future. We found a cute little parking spot in the weeds between some other cars and were glad we decided on buying a cute little French car instead of holding out for a bigger more traditional American style SUV.

Little car! We haven't decided on a name yet...

Google Map showing where Bar Behar is

On to the hike: it was gorgeous! It was very perfectly a 3.5 hour walk including our hour-long lunch break along the trail. The trail consisted of a steep descent on an open hillside, into a dry creek bed, past the railroad tracks and an abandoned train station, back up the hill past an abandoned Mosque and along a dirt road back to the trail head. It was well-marked with painted rocks the whole way. The views over the canyon were really nice, the dry creek bed was cool and shady and had some fun rock scrambles, and the ruins of the Arab village were fun to explore but also a sad reminder of the history of this region. Katlav Creek leads to Sorek Creek, a full-on rushing stream with green bushy vegetation along the shores. Unfortunately the water smells like sewage and has signs posted along it warning people not to swim in it, no problem, I wasn’t really tempted. But the ducks didn’t seem to mind. Poor desert ducks! I guess they don’t have many options for swimming spots.

Exploring inside the old mosque

Along this hike I learned two new and interesting things. The first is that, according to the sign at the trail head, hyenas live in Israel! Holy crap! I’m not scared of wolves or coyotes, but aren’t hyenas huge and vicious? I think they fight with lions, and everything in Africa has evolved to eat people. I hope I get to see one! The second thing is there seems to be a different hiking etiquette here than we have back in The States as demonstrated by the hikers that pee and leave toilet paper right in the middle of the trail, awesome. Also, if you come up behind a group hiking slower than you they will ignore your footsteps and heavy breathing and look shocked when you ask nicely if you can pass. They also don’t initiate a greeting. If I said, “shalom”, they would usually respond but that wasn’t as surprising because people don’t like to say “shalom” in Jerusalem either. Of course as an overly friendly American that picks up trash along the trail, I bet I was really annoying.

The review? I highly recommend Nahal Katlav and I would hike it again in a second. If you aren’t a hiker, just go for the views at Bar Behar.

Hand holds on the rock scrambles

Walking on the roof of the abandoned mosque


  1. Love your cute little car. I am sure it will serve you well. I guess you will have to add a dedicated trash bag and gloves to your hiking pack. Mir recently told me that these same people who are crapping on the trail do not like to use public restrooms, so when flying they ALSO crap in the isles. For this reason she never took advantage of all the perks (the best hotels, tours, etc.) flying in the region.

    1. Wow, tales from the skies... poor Mir! Of course it's not everyone but you know what they say about a few bad apples...