Bar'am National Park in the Upper Galilee is home to an ancient synagogue with an opulent structure, with beautiful ashlars that reflect the thriving Jewish presence that existed there in the fourth and fifth centuries CE. The synagogue has three gorgeous carved doorways that face Jerusalem, with the central doorway being particularly magnificent. A second, smaller synagogue left practically no remains and its lintel is on display in the Louvre in Paris. The park also contains remains of the Maronite village of Bir'am who had to leave the area in 1948 due to security reasons. The village church still serves as the community's spiritual center. The Bar'am oak forest is close by and contains a reserve of huge Kermes oaks. Special events such as Bar Mitzvahs and weddings are often held at the site. How to get there: The Park is located on Road 899, half a kilometer from the junction of the new northern road.
The Hula Nature Reserve is a wetland home to tens of thousands aquatic birds. The Hula Valley was once an important rest-stop for migrating birds that were making their annual trip from Europe to Africa and back. After the State of Israel was established it was decided to drain the Hula swamp and to turn it in to arable land. Part of the waterscape was preserved with a 3200 dunam lake kept as a nature reserve. Thousands of birds of other 200 species stay in the reserve as they know that there is an abundance of food here. Rare aquatic plants are also sheltered here and species that have become extinct in the wild have been reintroduced in the reserve. The reserve has paths, a floating bridge over the swamp and areas from which the birds can be observed. The paths are wheelchair accessible. The Oforia Visitors Center shows visitors a model of the Hula Valley, dioramas and a multimedia presentation of a flock of migrating birds with exciting special effects. How to get there: On road 90 turn east 3km after the Yesud Hama'ala junction.
The Hula Lake is locate in the southern part of the Hula Valley, north of the Nature Reserve, established as part of a JNF rehabilitation project. In the early 1990s a part of the valley was flooded due to heavy rains. A decision was taken to develop the surrounding area and to leave the flooded area intake. The site became the second home for the thousands of migrating birds in the autumn and spring. The lake covers one square kilometer and has several interspersed islands that serve as protected bird nesting sites. The Lake is a major stopover for birds flying the Europe-Africa-Europe route and is a major bird watching site.
Nahal Iyon Nature Reserve is named after the Iyon Stream which starts in the Iyon Valley in Lebanon and cuts through steep rock walls near the town of Metula. The springs are capped for agriculture in the summer leaving only a small amount of water flowing through the streambed. In winter however the waters of the Iyon flow powerfully creating one of the most spectacular trails in the Galilee with four waterfalls. One of these four, the Tahana ("mill") Fall, named after the old flour mill at its foot is a magnificent 21m tall. The best- known waterfall of the four is the Tanur ("oven") Fall that shoots down a chimney that is about 30, high. Lilies and colchicum-flowered sternbergia blossom in Autumn and an abundance of wildflowers in Spring. There is a 1.5 hour, non-circular trail that begins at the reserve's upper parking lot and a 30 minute loop trail which includes the Gani lookout and the Tanur waterfall that starts at the lower parking lot. How to get there: To the Tanur Waterfall- From the Kiryat Shmona-Metula road turn east about one kilometer south of Metula. To the Iyon waterfall and the stream- take the road that begins at the northeastern end of Metula near the border fence.
The Snir Stream (also known as the Hatzbani Stream) is about 65 kilometers long but only a small part of the stream can be enjoyed. The rest of the stream is enjoyed by our Lebanese neighbors. The strongly-flowing stream that we do get to enjoy was made in to a Nature Reserve, bringing an information center, parking lot, kiosk, picnic tables, water pools, a disabled access trail and toilets to the natural landscape. The Snir is one of the three main sources of the Jordan River and has a surprisingly strong flow especially after a rainy winter. On the banks of the stream there is impressive vegetation and a thick forest. Where: Entrance to the Snir Stream Nature Reserve is near Kibbutz HaGoshrim
Hurshat Tal National Park ("Hurshat" meaning "small forest", "Tal meaning "dew") is situated in the northern part of the Hula Valley. With landscaped lawns, well-kept campground, the 190 acres of the national park make the perfect the place to enjoy a few days when visiting the north of the country. There are also bungalows and rooms for rent on site. A stream from the Dan River cuts through the park filling a large pond which is open for swimming. With some of the highest waterslides in the country and fishing at no additional charge, Hurshat Tal provides enjoyable activities in a stunning natural setting. Twenty-five acres of the park are a nature reserve due to the 240 Mount Tabor oaks growing there that are centuries old and among the largest in Israel. After rain the park blooms magnificently with anemones and spring flowers creating a rainbow of colors. Hurshat Tal is the perfect base for those exploring the Galilee, northern Golan heights and Mount Hermon area. Where: Route 99, northeast of Kiryat Shmona
The ancient Jewish town of Bet She'arim is located in the Lower Western Galilee. Its inhabitants hewed grand tombs in the hill. Ancient courtyards, corridors and steps lead visitors to large halls where they can see rock-cut burial chambers and stone coffins which feature an abundance of carved reliefs, inscriptions and wall-paintings. Some of the caves feature stone-carved doors. The reliefs and paintings feature Jewish motifs that were popular in the Roman period, as well as secular motifs. Most inscriptions are in Greek but there are also those in Hebrew, Aramaic and Palmyran. In the third century BCE Bet She'arim became a famous Jewish center due to the presence of Rabbi Judah Hanasi who was the head of the Sanhedrin. The roman authorities supported his leadership and provided him with much property. Rabbi Judah was buried in Bet She'arim in 220 CE. Don't miss the ruins of Bet She'arim at the top of the hill. Near the remains of a basilica which was apparently built during the lifetime of Rabbi Judah Hanasi, is a bronze statue of the pioneer Alexander Zayid on his horse. Zayid established the defense organization called HaShomer and discovered a burial cave in 1926. How to get there: Off road 75 between Hatishbi and Hashomrim junctions, on road 722, ten minutes from the center of Kiryat Tivon.
The Tel Dan Nature Reserve has streams flowing in all directions into a wild river and the tall trees provide welcome shade on the hot summer afternoons. The Dan River is the largest, most important source of the Jordan, fed by rain and snow that trickles down from Mount Hermon. It emerges at the foot of the Hermon in hundreds of springs, making up the most plentiful karstic spring in the Middle East. The reserve is only 120 acres but features three different trails, one of which is wheelchair accessible. The trails pass along streams, the river and through shady trees. A flour mill that operated until 1948 is also passed by as well as the ruins of the Canaanite city of Laish. There is also the High Place which is attributed to the time of King Jeroboam. How to get there: Road 99, about 11km east of the Metsudot junction north of Kiryat Shmona, near Kibbutz Dan
West of Nazareth in the Lower Galilee is the Zippori National Park that encompasses the ruins of the ancient Roman and Talmudic-era city of Zippori.
Zippori fell to Herod the Great in 37 BCE and was destroyed by the Roman governor Varus when, after Herod's death, they rebelled against the Romans. Herod Antipas restored Zippori so exquisitely that is was described by Josephus Flavius as "the ornament of all Galilee." Rabbi Judah Hanassi redacted the Mishnah after moving the Sanhedrin from Bet She'arim to Zippori. Sages of Zippori also contributed to the Jerusalem Talmud.
In 351 CE Zippori's residents together with the rest of the Galilee rebelled against the Romans and according to Christian sources as a result Rome crushed Zippori. No archaeological evidence for this was ever found. Rather, there is evidence that the city was destroyed by an earthquake that struck in 363 CE.
From the fifth century Jews and Christians lived together in Zippori and there is archaeological evidence of a small Jewish community living there during the Middle Ages. On top of the hill of Zippori there is a Crusader fortress built by a Bedouin ruler of the Galilee in the 18th century.
There is a 4,500-seat Roman theater in Zippori which has been partially restored and provides a stunning view of the Galilee mountains and the Bet Netofa Valley. Additional attractions include a Talmudic-era residential quarter, the Crusader fortress, a restored third-century villa that is home to an incredible mosaic with scenes from the life of Dionysus (the god of wine) and the beautiful "Mona Lisa of the Galilee". The synagogue also features a magnificent mosaic and the 250-meter-long first-century CE underground water system should also not be missed.
The Zippori Visitors Center hosts activities and guided tours and it is possible to hold events on site too.
Gan Hashlosha National Park (also known as Sachne) famously features springs with waters at a constant, year-round temperature of 28 degrees Celsius, making swimming pleasant throughout the year. There is an old water-powered mill operating once again in the park and visitors can also enjoy the display of agricultural tools and the Arab hospitality room (also called madafeh) that has been restored. Tel Amal was one of the Tower and Stockade settlements, established on the night of December 10 1936 and there is a restoration of the settlement in the park. Visitors can enjoy the exhibition of daily objects used by the pioneers and children have the opportunity to put together a model of the settlement. There is also a ten-minute film in the restored dining hall of the Arab revolt of 1936-1939. If arranged in advance, interactive group activities can be arranged too. The Mediterranean archaeological museum is found opposite Tel Amal and it displays rare Greek tools, excavations from the Bet She'an Valley and a unique exhibit about the Etruscans. How to get there: Off road 669, between Hashita Junction and Bet Shean, 15 minutes from Bet Shean, bus 412 (Kavim Company) from Bet Shean to Afula reaches the site. Tel: 04-658-6219\04-658-6352 (Museum)\04-658-1017 (Tower and Stockade Site)