The wildlife and nature trails of Ein Gedi Nature Reserve make for a fun day visit from Tel Aviv!
An oasis set in the Judean desert of central Israel, on the edge of the Dead Sea, Ein Gedi Nature Reserve is the perfect place for wildlife lovers to visit during their trip to other parts of Israel.
After seeing the deserts throughout the region on the way to Ein Gedi, the waterfalls and lush greenery will nearly knock you off your feet! As soon as you stand at the entrance of the Reserve, you’ll spot Syrian Rock Hyraxes (Procavia capensis syriacus), mammals found throughout the region, walking along the walls and crossing the pathways to the Reserve.
What the heck is a Rock Hyrax? And other wildlife in Ein Gedi
Great question. When we first decided to take a long weekend trip to Tel Aviv, my first instinct was to look up the best places to see wildlife nearby, including what is found there. As it happens, Ein Gedi is one of the best places to spot native wildlife in much of Israel because of its year-round water source.
A Syrian Rock Hyrax can be seen basking in the sun on a small rock - note how well they blend into their environment! Photo by Christa Rolls
Rock Hyraxes thrive in Ein Gedi, and are found mostly throughout Eastern Africa and the Middle East, with the Syrian subspecies found more readily in Syria, Lebanon, and Israel. These medium-sized mammals resemble rodents more than anything, but research suggests they aren't rodents at all, and are rather closer in taxonomy to elephants! They are so unique, in fact, that Hyraxes have a taxonomic order all of their own. In reality, they remind me a bit of smaller versions of the ROUS's (Rodents of Unusual Size) from The Princess Bride - their little faces almost look made up!
These funny creatures are quite social with each other, living in large colonies and being vocal about communicating, especially when predators are nearby. The individuals seen in the video below were likely ultra-vigilant because they had young nearby - Hyraxes tend to breed in August and September, giving birth around April to May, and our visit landed at the end of May.
Rock Hyraxes, per their name, live and breed in rock formations with crevices in which to hide and sleep. They're most likely to be found laying flat on their belly on top of rocks, basking in the sun.
These creatures are of least concern for the International Union of the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), but they do have natural predators in the area. The Verreaux's or Black Eagle is a specialist, preferring to feed mostly on Rock Hyraxes, so it's possible to see these beautiful birds of prey and others during your visit.
Ein Gedi is the only location in the area with water flowing year-round, so foxes, jackals, and wolves frequent the reserve, especially in the evenings past closing time. It’s for this reason that people are not allowed to stay after closing time and the exit periods are strictly enforced.
The lush vegetation and free-flowing water also make this a hotspot for birds year-round, especially as a stop-over site during migration.
Keep at keen eye out for Nubian Ibex (Capra nubiana) as you walk the trails through the Reserve, especially under the trees and along the rocky crags on the canyon walls above you. These desert goats are found in limited parts of the Middle East and northern Africa, centralized in areas with more remote, rocky locales, including canyons. They are considered endangered throughout their range, their decline continuing each year, due to poaching, so having the opportunity to see them is a wonderful thing.
A Nubian Ibex is seen lying in the shade of nearby trees, along the trail leading to the Reserve entrance. This individual was in a group of about ten others! Photo by Christa Rolls
Hiking Trails in Ein Gedi
There are a number of hikes throughout the Reserve, the most popular being the one to David’s Waterfall. Upon your entry to the Reserve, you'll receive a map with the hiking trails you can do, including the two main canyon trails through Wadi (meaning "valley" in Arabic) David and Wadi Arugot.
Cool, turquoise waters from waterfalls flowing down the canyons makes for a perfect spot to get away from the heat of the day. Photo by Christa Rolls
Wadi David Hike
The trails up Wadi David are the first you'll encounter as you enter the Reserve from the main entrance. As you walk the trail leading up past the David Waterfall, feel free to dip your toes in one of the many refreshing pools of water from the stream along the way. The pools are clear turquoise, and truly a sight to behold! Be sure to watch your step on the areas with wet rock as they may be slippery.
The Wadi David Hike to David Waterfall takes about an hour round-trip to complete, which should be plenty of time even if you're only planning a short stopover.
Ein Gedi is also home to an Ancient Synagogue that you can hiked to more directly from the Wadi David trail. The Synagogue remains date back as early as the 3rd Century and likely came into ruin in the 6th Century. Despite its old age, it wasn't re-discovered until the 1970s! The floor of the Synagogue is unique in itself and is largely well-preserved for its age.
Wadi Arugot Hike
Another trail takes you to Wadi Arugot and Hidden Fall, which also takes about an hour round-trip to complete. This route is less covered by the canyons, and is drier, not directly following open streams, taking you further into the desert landscape. The trek makes you especially glad to see Hidden Fall at the end, where you'll likely have the refreshing pools of water to yourself.
If you're feeling especially adventurous and have plenty of water, continue all the way up to the top of the plateau for an incredible view of the whole area.
Things to keep in mind
Eating, smoking, and pets are not allowed in the Reserve, though there are designated areas at the entrance of the Reserve for just this. You may, however, bring plenty of water and refreshments with you along the way. Unfortunately, prior experiences of people feeding wildlife has led to the decision to not allow food in the Reserve boundaries. Technically, I would say anything that doesn’t produce crumbs, such as fruit leather, would be an acceptable snack to bring, as long as you’re cautious about not dropping any food or leaving your trash anywhere in the Reserve.
The Reserve is very strict about ensuring that visitors are out of the gates by closing time, so time your hikes well to make sure you have left the premises by the time they start locking up the gates.
Remember, you're in the desert, so don't forget to have plenty of water as well as something to replenish your electrolytes, and a sun hat and sun screen. Our visit in May yielded temperatures around 80 F (25 C) by the time the sun began to rise.
Entry into Ein Gedi is 27 NIS ($8) for adults and 14 NIS ($4) for children. A great budget saver if you are going to visit several reserves and national parks during your stay are the "money saving tickets" issued by the Israeli Nature and Parks Authority, which allow you visits to multiple sites at a reduced fare.
Getting to Ein Gedi
The best way to get to the Reserve is by car or private transfer since it’s quite far outside of the main city. The tour we took for the day brought us to Masada National Park, a fortress with ancient ruins and history, Ein Gedi, and the Dead Sea. However, we didn’t spend nearly enough time at Ein Gedi as we would have liked, and we highly recommend spending the whole day exploring this beautiful area.
The tour guide we used took us to highlights in the region since we only had a day to see this part of the Judean Desert. If you are short on time and do not fancy driving, tour guides are a great way to get around and to have someone tell you more about the natural history of the region.
Otherwise, you can take the Egged bus #444 (Jerusalem-Eilat line) or #486 (Jerusalem-Neve Zohar line) from Jerusalem, from which it takes about an hour to reach Ein Gedi. You can reach Jersusalem by bus (#405 or #480) from the main train station in Tel Aviv. Ticket prices for each are around $8 round-trip. Keep in mind that public transportation, and other services, will shut down every Friday evening to Saturday afternoon for Shabbat!
The massive and beautiful Dead Sea, abutting the Judean Desert, with the mountains containing Ein Gedi and Masada in the background. Photo by Christa Rolls
Other Nearby Wildlife Hotspots
Hula Nature Preserve is on the northern side of Israel, and is one of the best places to see wildlife in the whole country. Hula stays green year-round, despite being in the middle of a desert, and lush marshes and waterways attract birds of all kinds. This is especially an important stopover site for birds during migration and winter, and you'll find one of the largest groups of wading birds and waterfowl, such as cranes, storks, pelicans, and more, gathering here throughout the whole region. It's also home to endemic water buffalo that you can see throughout the Preserve.
Ein Avdat National Park is another desert oasis, located among a series of canyons in the Negev Desert. The canyons are deep here and trails run through their valleys, creating a fun expedition-type experience! Ein Avdat is another wonderful place to spot birds of prey, as well as other desert-dwelling birds, and Nubian Ibex, particularly because of the streams that flow through the Park. Note that the pools of water found along the trails are not for swimming, and are rather kept aside for sole use by wildlife.
Visiting the desert, and finding the wildlife that lives there, is such a unique and different experience from that which we've previously experienced. Don't miss seeing Ein Gedi for its wildlife watching opportunities and hiking excursions on your trip to Israel!
Christa and Nathan