The El Al Stream in the Golan Heights is one of Israel’s most scenic routes. It is especially popular during the warmest months because of its two waterfalls and numerous spots for swimming. Below is an account of an ESRA (English Speaking Residents Association) hike which took place during the intermediate days of the 8-day Succot holiday in 2012, written by Steve Kramer.
We were heading to the Golan Heights, which necessitated skirting Lake Kinneret, known as the Sea of Galilee to most tourists. The Kinneret is the lowest freshwater lake on Earth, surpassed in its “elevation” only by the salty Dead Sea. We enjoyed the ride through the beautiful Galilee region and then started the long, beautiful descent towards the famous Jordan River, which feeds into the lake. We crossed over the Jordan near Degania Alef, Israel’s first kibbutz (1909). It was named for the varieties of grain which are grown in the area.
We soon ascended the Golan Heights, which overlooks the Hula Valley far below. Jews began settling in the Golan more than 3,000 years ago, when the tribes of Reuven, Gad and part of Menashe settled on the east bank of the Jordan River. The discovery in the Golan of more than twenty ancient villages and synagogues illustrates the existence of extensive and vibrant Jewish life over a period of 500 years during the period of the writing of the Mishnah and Talmud, from the 2nd to the 7th century CE.
We began the hike near the entrance to the agricultural settlement (moshav) Eliad, which overlooks the white waterfall in the El Al Stream, Lake Kinneret, and surrounding mountains. The settlement is also home to the Chateau Golan Winery. The moshav was founded in 1968 and was originally named El Al (skyward), the same as Israel's national airline. That name was an alteration of the name of an abandoned Syrian village named Al 'Al (high place), which sat on the remains of an ancient Jewish settlement. The moshav was renamed Eli Al in honor of Eli Cohen, a former Israeli intelligence agent whose reports enabled Israel to capture the Golan Heights in two days as part of Israel's victory in the Six Day War in 1967. Later, the name was changed once again to "El Al", as it is known today.
The beautiful El Al route in the El Al Stream nature reserve is famous because of two waterfalls that carve through the local basalt stone. The color of the basaltic Golan Heights is black, which is the background color of the “black” waterfall. The basalt waterfall, 25 ft. high, falls onto black rocks and forms an impressive water pool which is surrounded by plane trees. Further down the El Al Stream, the water has uncovered the white chalkstone layer behind the basalt, which has became the dominant color of the “white” waterfall, below which is another lovely pool, deep enough for swimming. This chalkstone waterfall is 60 ft high. Between the waterfalls are trails and orchards with juicy fruits, sabra cactus, plain, olive, pomegranate, and other fruit trees. We also saw an abundance of mint, squills, and reeds.
The scenery was beautiful along the entire El Al Stream route, which had its share of ascents and descents. Much of the hike was in a cleft between the hills with gorgeous scenery surrounding us. Most of us had taken advantage of the pools at the base of the waterfalls for a swim, which was incredibly refreshing on a hot October day. Because of the warm weather, our clothes dried very quickly even though some of us had not brought swimsuits.
The general direction of the hike was downward at the beginning and upward towards the end, with a difficult, but short, ascent to the finish at moshav Avnei-Eitan, which was founded after the 1973 Yom Kippur War in honor of six Israeli soldiers who had been killed in battle. As a special treat, we visited the Limonetto visitor center in nearby Givat Yoav. There we saw a short film on how the proprietors make the various lemon products which are offered for sale. We enjoyed tasting the lemon liqueur, various jams, and excellent lemonade. On another visit, we might stay at the Genghis Khan, a “Mongolian Village,” which is only ten minutes from Lake Kinneret.
ESRA (English Speaking Residents Association) organize hikes throughout Israel and are suitable for seasoned hikers. In addition, ESRA offers many bus tours which are recommended for those who want to tour the country but are more accustomed to walking than hiking.