If you are visiting Israel’s mountainous northern region, you cannot miss the Golan Heights. Rising majestically to the east of the Sea of Galilee to form a green rocky plateau, the Golan Heights, or simply the Golan, is home to some of the most spectacular views in Israel. It is a perfect retreat from the country’s bustling cityscapes.
The Hebrew word golan is translated to mean “something surrounded.” Relatively small in size, the Golan Heights borders Israel, Lebanon, and Jordan, and abuts Syria in the east, running about 40 miles from north to south, and an average of 12 miles from east to west. What it lacks in size, however, it makes up for in importance—the Golan supplies Israel with over one-third of its water, thanks to the snow-covered areas in the higher elevations, which flows into the Jordan River watershed.
Undoubtedly its greatest resource, water has kept the Golan landscape lush, green, and teeming with life. The Golan boasts what are arguably Israel’s most spectacular waterfalls—the Saar Falls, and the iconic Banias Waterfall, the largest waterfall in Israel. Fed by the melting snow of Mount Hermon, Banias is a popular spot for locals and tourists.
The lush, green valley and hills of the Golan are also an ideal climate for its abundance of vineyards and wineries, producing some of the most sumptuous wines found anywhere in the world.
In addition, the Golan Heights has a variety of sites scattered throughout that offer a variety of activities for tourists and hikers year-round. In the winter, both amateur and professional skiers flock to the Mount Hermon Ski Resort, Israel’s only ski resort. In the summer months, the resort also offers visitors gorgeous views as well as access to the many mountain-fed streams via the ski lifts. Hikers can also enjoy the many streams as well as multi-colored flowers which carpet the plains. For those who are simply looking for the best view, the summit of Mount Bental offers a stunning panoramic view of the region.
Nicknamed the ‘Masada of the North,’ the Gamla Nature Reserve is the former site of a Jewish city founded approximately 2,000 years ago. There is also a 1,500 year-old Byzantine church with a monastery. Popular with bird enthusiasts, its observatory attracts many visitors from around the world. You can also watch eagles nesting here and on the cliffs. There are also the remains of a Chalcolithic Era settlement as well as ancient burial grounds, which are about 4,000 years old.
Heading south in the Golan, visitors can enjoy a spa day in the calming waters of Hamat Gader resort, a 2,000-year-old thermal spring. Nearby are the ruins of two ancient Roman spas, which once bubbled with the therapeutic waters of the hot springs. Hamat Gader also boasts the only crocodile farm in all of the Middle East. The farm is part of a sprawling wildlife preserve which also features a petting zoo and a parrot show.
Not to be outdone, the Golan Trail offers plenty of adventure for hiking enthusiasts. One of Israel’s most majestic trails, it offers plenty of challenge and beautiful panoramas for the experienced hiker, stretching from Mount Hermon and ending at the Sea of Galilee.
Nearby, is the spectacular Nimrod Fortress National Park, home to the largest Crusader Era fortress in Israel. Situated on a peak adjacent to the snow-capped Mount Hermon, Nimrod Fortress affords visitors commanding views of the Hula Valley as well as a vibrant snapshot of living history within its beautifully-preserved ruins.
Steeped in history, culture, and natural beauty, the Golan Heights is a paradise for nature lovers, with an abundant range of sites and activities.