Following in the Footsteps of the Good Samaritan in the Holy Land
One of best (and most challenging!) things that I’ve done recently in the Middle East is hike from Jerusalem to Jericho. It’s something that I’ve wanted to do for years but the timing (plus lack of credible information on how to) had prevented me from doing so. However, on my 2019 trip to Jerusalem for Easter, I decided that it had to happen. So, on Holy Saturday, we packed up our belongings and headed out of Jerusalem – unsure if we would actually make it to Jericho or not!
The path between these two cities is well known from The Bible’s parable of the Good Samaritan. These are the paths that Jesus and his followers walked. And, to me, being in this place (particularly at a holy time, such as Easter), is incredible. It’s here, in this land, that I see The Bible come to life and feel as though I walk in the footsteps of the great prophets of ancient times.
While I had wanted to experience the walk between Jerusalem and Jericho for years – definitive information on the hike was hard to come by. So, I hope that this post will give you some practical information about doing the hike yourself. And, if you’re interested in more information related to the parable from The Bible, I hope that you’ll check out my related post (in my “Come & See. Go & Tell.” series here).
Where does the hike from Jerusalem to Jericho start?
The first point of key information to share is – the starting location of the hike.
While there are a number of places you could start walking from, the most traveled and recommended one is Ein Prat Nature Reserve near the town of Almon. Readers should know that Almon is an Israeli settlement located in the West Bank just outside of Jerusalem (approximately 15 km/9 miles away).
As we hiked on Shabbat, our only option in getting from our overnight accommodations in Jerusalem to the trail’s start was via taxi. [Particularly on Shabbat or if you’re not clear where you’re doing, we often find it easier to use Gett (which is similar to Uber for taxis). You can pay via credit card, and the driver can just follow directions in the app.]
When we got into our taxi to head to the start of the hike (and before we started driving away), we discussed with our taxi driver, who was Palestinian, where we were going to ensure that it wouldn’t be an issue for him. He said that he would drive us but was unsure whether the settlement would let him drive through the gate and potentially that he’d have to drop us off at the entrance to the settlement (still a bit far from the start of the hike).
After about a 20-minute drive, we slowly rolled up to the gate of the settlement… The entry bar raised up, our taxi driver waved, and we continued on our way.
The road to En Prat Reserve winds down, down, down into a wadi. We were stopped at a checkpoint for the reserve, paid the entry fee, and then were sent further down into the valley to the small visitors center.
As we drove down, our taxi driver mentioned that he had been to this area when he was young. Down in this wadi, near the spring, he used to go fishing with his family. As we pulled into the visitors center, he parked his car to get out and look around – seeing a place from his youth with new eyes and for the first time in years. Like most every moment in Israel and Palestine – politics is pervasive.
We bade our driver farewell and headed over to the visitors center where we found the most useful information for the hike that we had yet! (Although, half way through the hike, we discovered that a lot of it was not quite correct…but, it was the best information we’d found so far!)
We sat with a woman at the center and reviewed the map of the trail from Ein Prat all the way to Jericho together. She showed us the various hiking options, gave us options to “escape out” if we needed to exit the trail, and wished us luck.
One of the many interesting things about the trail’s location is that is starts in an Israeli settlement (which Palestinians generally can’t access) and ends in Palestine (where it is illegal for Israelis to go). However, as a foreigner, these restrictions don’t apply. However, this means that as those working for the Israeli park system providing information haven’t hike the whole way, and, therefore, don’t have the firsthand information about the second half of the trail.
Below is a map provided by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, which is very helpful; although, as mentioned, not entirely accurate. However, in planning our hike we found little factual information out there about the trek so were very happy to receive this upon arriving to the Park.
Ein Prat Nature Reserve
Ein Prat, the namesake of the park, is one of the springs along the Prat Stream, which flows through the Judean desert from Jerusalem to Jericho (28 km/17.5 miles). And, the Reserve itself is beautiful in its own right and a good option for some off-the-beaten path hiking near Jerusalem.
If you’re not up for the full hike to Jericho, the Reserve has several trails within it – ranging from 500 m (30 minutes) to 1.25 km (2 hours). Or, when you meet with Reserve staff at the visitors center, you can talk with them about options if you need to exit the trail before making it all the way to Jericho.
Starting the Hike from Jerusalem to Jericho
Prior to starting the trail to Jericho, I recommend going to the left, back behind the visitors center (starting on the 500 m trail loop) to check out the spring and Faran Monastery (believed to be the first monastery in the Judean desert). As we wanted to hit the trail to Jericho as early as we could, we didn’t walk all the way up to the monastery but took in views from below at the spring.
From there, we doubled back to the visitors center and headed off on the trail toward Jericho.
There are several potential paths to take when starting off the trail. It took us a few moments to find the markings so we just headed down into the wadi and started walking.
Along the Trail – Out of Ein Prat
The first few hours of the trail are either in or right beside the wadi (we finally came across the white and blue trail marker blazes that we followed for much the first half of the hike). The views are beautiful with the rocky sides of the canyon on either side and lots of lush vegetation from the water flowing through the wadi. We hiked in spring so the wadi was very green – full of water and life. There are pools of water, as well as several waterfalls, along the way if you need to take a break to cool off.
Do be prepared that your feet will likely get wet. For the most part, we were able to jump across the pools of water; however, we did get to several points where we had to take off our boots, roll up our pants, and wade through fairly deep water.
In addition to water, there is a bit of scrambling and climbing to be done along the trail. There are handrails/grabs installed in some areas of the trail to help you climb up and down.
And, while the distance of the first few hours isn’t that long, climbing up, down, and around, as well as through water, does take more time (and energy!) than you may anticipate. However, the landscape is stunningly beautiful.
Arriving to En Mabo’a/Ein Mabua/Ein al Fawar
About 3 – 3.5 hours into the hike, we arrived to En Mabo’a (Ein Mabua) (or Ein al Fawar, which means “bubbling” in Arabic), which is popular for swimming and picnicking. The spring here is famous as the water will disappear/drain out and then refill regularly.
We found this to be a good place to take a break – sit on the benches to rest and have a snack (that we brought with us), use the restrooms, etc. There are some nice waterfalls and lots of people picnicking and swimming. It’s a very nice place for a break to ensure you’re hydrated to continue on.
However, we didn’t stop for long as we needed to get back on the trail and continue. At the entrance to Ein Prat, we were told that someone here from the Israeli park staff could provide us more information about continuing on the trail to Jericho; however, when we asked a staff member there, he didn’t speak English or have any information to provide us. So, we just continued on our way!
After En Mabo’a, the trail leads you up above the wadi (with sweeping views of the desert mountains), back down into the wadi, through pools of water, across to the other side of the canyon, up and over rocks, back down again, back across the water, and so on. It is beautiful, but it is also tiring and you hike/cover distance at a much slower pace than if you were going on a long a more straightforward trail.
Also, somewhere around En Mabo’a, the trail blazes also shift from white and blue to white and red. The map shows several trails with the paths intersecting at various points; however, we rarely found this to be accurate.
Approximately 1.5 to 2 hours after En Mabo’a, the trail moves up and out of the wadi, and the landscape changes dramatically from the lush, green vegetation to mountainous desert, which is beautiful in its own way. I find these desert mountains to be uniquely beautiful and some of my favorite scenery in this part of the world.
As you continue on, the trail makes its way alongside an aqueduct system (approximately 2 to 2.5 hours after En Mabo’a) (which in some areas, you have to precariously walk on with water to your left flowing through the irrigation system and a steep drop off down a cliff side to your right – not my favorite moments!) Throughout the trail, if you look closely, you’ll see remnants of an aqueduct system built in the Hasmonean period (second century BCE), which channeled water to the Hasmoneans’ “winter palaces” close to Jericho. The water system was also used during the Roman and Byzantine periods. Later, in 1919, a local family build a concrete aqueduct on top of the ancient system from En Mabo’a via Wade Qelt.
At some point, the trail will split, and you will have the choice to continue up by the aqueduct or turn right and go back down into the wadi. With the blazing sun up top, we decided to try to go back down into the wadi and continue all the way to St. George’s Monastery. However, this was a mistake. We made our way all the way down and started through the wadi, which was full of deep water. Due to the high levels of water, we discovered that there would be no way to continue without walking (or really swimming!) directly in the water for several more kilometers. So, we decided to turn back, pulling ourselves back up the hill, out of the wadi to back to the path by the aqueducts. If you’re not hiking in the winter or spring, going through the wadi may be an option – but for us, in the spring (just after months of above-average rainfall), there was too much water to continue without having to swim.
St. George’s Monastery
Approximately 1.5 – 2 hours after seeing the aqueducts, you’ll start seeing crosses in prominent locations on either side of the wadi, indicating that St. George’s Monastery is close!
Eventually, you’ll come around a corner, and there it is – the Monastery! It’s not terribly far from Jericho so once we could see the Monastery, I knew that we were going to actually make it to Jericho (and hopefully back to Jerusalem that night).
Approaching the monastery trail takes you down into the wadi via a staircase and below the monastery, which is built into the cliffs and seems to float above the valley.
We arrived to the Monastery about 8 hours after leaving the visitors center in En Prat.
When we arrived, the Monastery was closed; however, we anticipated this. We had visited the monastery before and weren’t attempting to get there before its 1:00 PM close. However, when we did get there, we were exhausted.
We found an area in the shade, had a snack, drank some more water, and prepared ourselves for the final leg – making it to Jericho.
Arriving to Jericho
We arrived into the center of Jericho about two hours later – just as the sun was starting to set. Phew! We were exhausted but happy to have made it. (And, my husband was certain that we weren’t going to get out before dark so I was even happier that we made it out just in time and weren’t relying on the flashlights of our cell phones to finish the hike – which has happened to us once before on the Jesus Trail. Ooops!)
Getting Back to Jerusalem
Because we arrived to Jericho fairly late in the day, there were not a lot of transport options back to Jerusalem.
In the past, we’ve taken a shared taxi/”ser-veece” from the central circle in town (approximately here) to either one of the checkpoints to cross out of the West Bank or to Ramallah and then taken a second shared taxi/”ser-veece” onto Jerusalem. However, we were exhausted after the trek and were willing to pay for a more direct option back to Jerusalem.
If you arrive late like we did, a good option is taking a taxi from Jericho to one of the cafes/gas stations near the Al Amog intersection (approximately here) – approximately 15 to 20 minute drive from Jericho. This puts you on Highway 1, which connects with Jerusalem. From here, you have the option to potentially taking a bus, calling a taxi via Gett or catching one along the road, or hitchhiking (which the Israeli Reserve staffer had suggested as a good way to get back) to Jerusalem.
Thoughts after Arriving Back to Jerusalem
We arrived back to Jerusalem (and had a much-deserved burger and beer!) approximately 12 hours after leaving for the hike. In total, we walked around 29 km/18 miles on our journey from Jerusalem to Jericho.
To be honest, I don’t think that I’ll walk the whole trail again. However, I’m very glad that I did it.
Walking form Jerusalem to Jericho is something that I have wanted to do for years. And, for me, the connection that I feel to my faith while hiking, particularly in the Holy Land, is not outmatched by any other spiritual discipline. Walking in the footsteps of Jesus and the Good Samaritan through the Holy Land connects me directly, and in a physical form, to my faith. And, gives me a much better understanding of the life of those in The Bible than I could get any other way.
Doing the full walk in one day was strenuous (particularly when I was hoping to be at an Easter sunrise service the next morning! – which I didn’t make it to…). And, I think that the sections of the trail at the start and the end are the most beautiful. So, a day hiking just in En Prat and a day just hiking to St. George’s from Jericho and back to Jericho are other options that can still be moderate to strenuous hikes but not take quite so long. (For instance, we’d previously walked the section from Jericho to St. George’s monastery and back to Jericho in 2015 and very much enjoyed a relaxing walk through this part of the Holy Land.)
However, for those of you interested in doing the full hike, I’d absolutely say – go for it! I don’t regret it at all despite the tired muscles, dehydration, and exhausted we felt at the end. It was an experience that I won’t forget. And, as there is not much complete or credible information out there about the trail so I hope that this will help for those who want to complete the journey.