The Israel Trails Committee under the SPNI worked unceasingly to mark safe, interesting trails that protect nature.
There are about 10,000 km of marked hiking trails in Israel, including the Israel Trail – the longest hiking trail, which is about 1,000 km long and traverses the length of Israel along a route that offers a spectacular, safe and enjoyable hike, as well as enabling free movement throughout the year without the need to traverse military firing areas or areas that necessitate security escort.
Israel is a wonderful country for hiking. Its unique location, as a bridge between continents, allows us to enjoy diverse landscapes over a very short distance. Only a short trip is required to reach the heart of the desert, swoon before the evergreens of Mt. Carmel, listen to the bubbling water of the Jordan tributaries, touch snow on Mt. Hermon or take a dip in the Red Sea. Israel is undoubtedly beautiful and its nature manages to move even the most jaded among us. In Israel, hiking trails in nature are accessible and clear to the hiker. We are all familiar with the trail markings that seem as if they have always been there; three painted stripes – one white and two colored.
Many of us hike along our country’s trails, assisted by the markings, following the colors, and checking the trail descriptions or marked trail maps to figure out which color we need to follow when we reach a fork in the path. The trail shows us the way and ensures that we’ll stay on the path that is safe for walking. Those who hike with children are surely familiar with their questions about who made the markings. Sometimes this question remains unanswered.
This year we launched a new format for the marked trail maps as well as an Israel Trail map folder that is available in English as well!
So, who is responsible for Israel’s excellent marking of hiking trails?
The first hiking trail was marked in 1947 in the Judean Desert. In the early 1960s the Israel Trails Committee, under the auspices of the SPNI, was established. The marking that was chosen to mark hiking trails in Israel is a ‘marking rectangle’ comprising three parallel strips. Since then, the committee’s staff have been responsible for marking and maintaining trails that appear on 20 hiking maps and marked trail maps. The Trail Marking Committee was established at the initiative of SPNI. This is a public committee that brings together representatives of many bodies with the aim of planning, executing, marking and maintaining thousands of kilometers of hiking trails around the country. The committee invests great efforts in maintaining, marking, and renewing tens of thousands of trails and marked paths.
Until the year 2000, the trails were marked by volunteers, but since then the trail marking team has become professional and its members must commit to their role for at least one year. The markers must be sociable people who love to hike, and are not afraid of hard physical work or of taking on responsibility. The requirements of this role may sound very basic but in practice this is a very complex role with great responsibility. The marking teams set out for a week of marking in the field. The team must spend time together, from Sunday to Thursday, without any separation. Thus it is obvious that trail markers do not spend much time at home. A very high level of concentration is required – the markers must mark the best, safest path, while considering both topography and protection of nature. They must also make sure to space the markings correctly in order to create a clear sequence of trail markings for hikers.
Every trail in Israel, and there are tens of thousands of kilometers of them, is re-marked every three to four years. Special emphasis is placed on checking the safety of the current route and making adjustments as needed. New trails are also marked of course; recently the emphasis has been on long trails and cycle trails.
The Israel Trail:
The Israel Trail is undoubtedly the star of the marked hiking trails. This is a contiguous trail “from Dan to Eilat”; it traverses a range of landscapes, passes near sites holy to the main religions and near Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Druze and other communities. The Israel Trail serves as the backbone for thousands of kilometers of trails that were marked in the past, connecting them into one system – while ensuring protection of the region’s nature and character.
The name and sign of the Israel Trail are registered trademarks of SPNI.
The trail begins at Beit Ussishkin in Kibbutz Dan and ends at the SPNI Field School in Eilat. It passes over mountains, through forests, cities, towns, villages, rivers, springs, near roads and nature reserves, historical sites and unique natural phenomena. The trail reveals values of nature, landscape, heritage, tradition and religion, multiculturalism and a spectacular and fascinating encounter with Israeli society. All sectors of Israeli society walk along the trail: school children, youth movements, soldiers, tourists, families and all lovers of the land and nature. The trail is marked by graduated stripes of white, blue and orange.
In 2015, to commemorate twenty years of the Israel Trail and one decade of Google’s activity in Israel, the two organizations initiated a joint project – documentation of the trail using cameras and uploading the trail to Google Maps. The photography of this trail is the longest ever undertaken, and is the first photography in the world of a hiking trail that traverses an entire country. The trail experience is available through Google Street View anywhere in the world.
The Israel Trail has become a main route on which to encounter wonderful initiatives that characterize Israeli culture. One of the initiatives that has become an institution is the “Trail Angels” initiative. Trail Angels are citizens who usually live near the trail route and work on a voluntary basis. They help with rescue, burying water in problematic areas, providing a cup of coffee, helping transfer equipment and even offering a bed and a warm shower, or a grassy area to set up a tent on.
In 2019 we will continue working to make sure that the Israel Trail remains open and accessible and attracts a wide range of hikers from Israel and around the world.