Waking up covered in mosquito bites, sore from head to toe from enduring a night’s (lack of) sleep directly on the ground, only to then face the unthinkable, greeting a new day with the very noticeable lack of flush toilets. This is what often flurries into our imagination when considering camping in the great outdoors. These images are shortly followed by the thoughts of a luxury zimmer or five-star hotel. Anyone who has planned a family vacation has had these conflicting thoughts and nine times out of ten, the indoor sleeping options reign supreme. However, it does not need to be this way. You are not necessarily doomed to 15 hours of unbearable hardship, or as I have heard said “cruel and unusual punishment”, when deciding to pitch that tent.
With the right planning, sacrificing five-stars for five-million stars spread across the canvas of the night’s sky, will grant you an activity that is enriching, invigorating, and deeply connective. The fresh air, breathtaking views, heartwarming sunsets, and the tranquility of being in nature are the backdrop to an experience that is uniquely bonding and even transformative for your family. Combine a great overnight site with some nearby adventure options and your family vacation enters the realm of epic. Choosing the right location, bringing the proper gear, and enlisting a good attitude are the prerequisites for a successful campout.
Let’s start with locations, in Israel you have forests, fields, mountains, and deserts all within a reasonable drive. Depending on the time of year, some regions are better than others. In the summer, heading north is the optimal choice, for spring and fall our local sites are great, and in the winter, the Negev is the place to be. Here are three sites that although rustic (and free) they are accessible by car.
Park Adamit– This KKL forest is adjacent to Kibbutz Adamit, approximately twenty minutes from Rosh Hanikra. The park is perched on the mountain tops that line the northern border and affords gorgeous views of the entire Galil and the Mediterranean Sea. With many dirt roads branching off of the park access road, you are bound to find a quiet corner to set-up camp. The main parking area has running water and bathrooms that open at 8AM everyday, picnic tables, and gazebos. The hard-to-beat highlight of this park is the famous Keshet Cave which is only a five minute walk on a paved trail from the parking area. From here you can opt for an exciting 35 meter rappel off the natural stone arch or miles of hiking trails that hug the ridgeline.
Posh Camping Alternative: If you prefer an official campground, for a small fee you can spend the night at the Achziv National Park which is on the cove-filled coast just north of Nahariya. Gated camping area, grassy tent-sites, hot showers, and a kiosk are available for your comfort.
Mitspeh Masua– Only ten minutes from Bet Shemesh is a lovely camping area that is guaranteed to please. With views to the west of the coastal plane and to the east of the hills of Gush Etzion you will enjoy a sunset and a sunrise right from your tent. Picnic tables, campfire pits, running water, and bathrooms (sorry, not flush toilets but better than an outhouse) are all situated within a short walk of the prominent stone fire tower and viewing platform. Mitspeh Masua is on the Israel trail and from here you can hike to the well known Midras Ruins and Bar Kochba tunnels. Bike rentals are available too in nearby Tzafririm at Nekudat Motsa. Looking for a nearby swimming hole, a short drive down to Route 35 and you can hop into the cool waters of Breichat Tzan. Bet you never knew we had so much so close to home!
Posh Camping Alternative: Yishi Country in Moshav Yishi now offers luxury campsites in a lovely gated area with grassy knolls, electrical outlets, water faucets, and a private pool.
Machtesh Ramon– When the rest of the world is ploughing through its daily grind, getting a night out in the desert for is an oasis for the mind. Route 40 descends from Mitspeh Ramon directly into the center of the giant machtesh. About ten kilometers after leaving the city you will see signs for Chan Beerot on your left. After turning here, you have a six kilometer bumpy (but drivable) dirt road to a campsite that looks about as unassuming as a stone, in fact, that is all there is, just a circle of stones delineating the camping area from the vast and expansive desert beyond. Why camp here? This spot is secluded, serene, and absolutely quiet with the clearest skies you will see anywhere in Israel with the walls of the machtesh rising up around you like a giant cradle. Nearby is Har Ardon, a challenging hike with spectacular views the entire way. You can arrange a jeep pick-up from Har Ardon’s base for a 4×4 tour of the area, or head back to town for rappelling and mountain biking.
Posh Camping Alternative: Not that this option is actually posh, but compared to the stone circle mentioned above this location is Beverly Hills. Chan Beerot is a campground just a bit farther down the same dirt road and clearly signed. Here you will find shaded picnic areas, showers, bathrooms, and mattresses/sleeping bags for rent.
Now that you are armed with some good locations, what do you need to pack? There are the obvious things like a tent and sleeping bag but be sure to include the following to make your night pleasant.
– Camp mattress, even a thin styrofoam pad makes a big difference
– Good flashlights, walking into a cactus at 3AM is not an experience you
want to discover
– Bug spray, a priceless commodity when sleeping outside
– Plenty of food and water, no need to be hungry, thirsty, or dirty for the
duration of your trip
– Matches or lighter, enjoying family-time around a safe campfire is unforgettable
– Light sweater, the evenings are often cool, and even the posh options listed above
do not have climate control units
– Deck of cards or other packable games, kids will love playing games in their
tent before bedtime
– If you can, do not pack techie gadgets, leave some of the phones behind!
As far as attitude, the right expectations are pivotal to an enjoyable experience. Yes, being outdoors overnight has its challenges. Yes, you will be giving up many of the comforts and gadgets we are so dependant on. Yes, setting up a tent for the first time may have you wondering how you passed kindergarten and do not be surprised when the only thing that gets properly cooked in your BBQ is your fingertips. But here you have the opportunity to lead by example and teach your children that stepping out of our comfort zone is fun because it is challenging. Try to tap into the depth of the camping experience and look beyond the rocks and bugs to see how natural it is for humans to be in nature. Enjoy leaving the confines of our usual four-walls to be part of an open air wonderland of new sensations. Watch your kids’ curiosity and creativity blossom as they explore and discover the simple things around them. Shed the distractions of the fast-paced culture we are forced into, just for a day, and you will be changed. Sometimes getting outside is the best way to see what is inside. Get out there!
Ariel Fishman runs Adventure Israel, an action-packed adventure travel provider specializing in rappelling, rock climbing, mountain biking, hiking, caving, and camping trips. ODT workshops and camping gear rental are also available. All trips are safe, fun, and empowering, and the intensity of the adventure is decided by you. From extreme expeditions to super-relaxed family trips, Adventure Israel’s staff are here so you can enjoy and challenge yourself like never before. Ariel can be reached at 058-536-4938. For pictures and more trip options visit www.adventure-israel.com.