Arbel National Park and Nature Preserve
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Hiking the Cliff at Arbel National ParkIt's nearly impossible not to trod on hallowed ground in Israel. In its north, along the shores of the Sea of Galilee, every mountain and valley seems to have had its shining moments in the blistering Middle Eastern sun.
This is particularly true of Arbel National Park, just north of the city of Tiberias, where an imposing basalt and limestone cliff rises 1,280 feet (390 meters) above the Sea of Galilee, which is, uniquely, 685 feet (209 meters) below sea level.
The cliff face is the most dramatic and significant part of the park, its natural karstic caves (many enlarged by human hand) having played a role in history stretching back beyond the earliest days of the common era. In 37 BC, the Galilean Zealots hid in them and fought to the death against Herod the Great. The rebels in the 67 AD Great Revolt of Galilee fortified a cave-village here. Amazingly sheer 17th-century walls from a stronghold built by a Druze emir still exist. Of course, Jesus preached in the Ginnosar Valley right at the foot of the cliff.
The best way to take it in is via a spectacular walking trail not for the faint of heart. The three-hour circuit hike skirts the high edge of the Arbel Plateau, complete with astounding views of the Galilee, drops precipitously – sometimes down steep rocky defiles with metal handholds – and then traces the base of the cliff, with a detour up into the fortress ruins, before quite literally billygoating up a rock face, again using metal handholds anchored in the rock.