Outdoor The Israeli Experience Magazine

The Banias Nature Reserve

Mythology, archeology and an amazing show which includes a spraying waterfall and a trail that hangs above an abyss. There is no doubt that the Banias Nature Reserve (Hermon Stream) is candy for the soul
by: Eyal Shapira   |   17.08.2011

 Before we start to sing nature’s praises, here are a few of the technical-geographical facts that make this area so charming. The Hermon Stream, which is known to everyone in its Arab name, Banias, flows 125 million cubic meters of water a year. And because not many people actually understand the meaning of cubic meters, think about a quarter of the water that flow through the Jordan River. Just like that. So there, a stream that deserves respect.

The tributaries of the Banias are found at the feet of the Hermon, as well as in the area of the Banias Cave. This full flow takes place all year round, which means that even if you come here during a dry summer, everything will be flowing: the stream, the waterfall, the cascades, the brooks. Everything. However, because we are talking about a nature reserve with a delicate and complicated ecological balance- one cannot enter the water here. This sounds like a bit of a let down, but this trip is exciting enough even without the possibility of a dip, guaranteed (and besides, the fact that the water temperature is 15 degrees Celsius here might quite literally cool down your enthusiasm). In any event, the beautiful Hermon Stream Nature Reserve includes two main areas: the springs area and the waterfall area. And if you do not know which one to choose, we are here to help.
Our advice: go for them both. Each one of the two is different than the other, and each one is more beautiful than the other in its own way.

Because of the Panic

First of all, lets get our expectations right. Right and left, north and south and even up and down almost do not exist here. Why? Because this is a well-marked nature reserve and it has quite a few trails of different lengths. At the entrance to the nature reserve one receives a wonderfully illustrated map which makes note of everything in this nature reserve and makes one want to explore the whole area. In short, you do not really need us in order to find your way here.
We will start in the eastern area of the springs. This is a trail that starts with panic. Why panic? This is an excellent question, the answer to which is worth remembering and using it later as a trivia detail in a social event, which will gain you others’ respect.
In the 4th century BCE, at the time that the Greeks ruled the area, they discovered this place which you see now – cliffs, caves, springs and a dramatic view. They decided to build here a temple for the god Pan, who is half man and half goat. And because this god had this kind of a, lets say, different look, people feared him and ran away every time he came around. He had no choice but to spend his days in secluded forests, away from the frightened public. And thus, with time, the word "Pan” became "Panic”. And what about the Banias? This is the Arabic distortion of the name "Panias”. So there you are, everything connects.
Generations later, Herod the Great built here a temple dedicated to Augustus Caesar, alongside many temples and structures which were built here throughout the years. Because, as it turns out, our ancestors also knew that in real estate it’s the location that counts. The city went through many changes (and quite a few conquerors) until it was destroyed and mostly abandoned following the Mamluk rule.
The temples do not stand here any more, but quite a few archeological remains are still found here, a testimony to past magnificence. It is very easy to imagine the glory days of Banias through different periods in history. Just stop next to a brook or a mysterious cave and let your imagination run wild.
The area includes lovely pools, bridges, pleasant shaded trails and a lot of remains from the past. One can spend a long while here and one can continue (in a vehicle or on foot) toward the other area of the waterfall. Those who choose to go on foot (2.5 kilometers in each direction) will encounter, among other things, a deserted officers’ pool as well as the Matroof water-powered flour mill - the only one that can still do the job due to the preservation and reconstruction works that were done here.

Fun in nature

The waterfall area is a celebration of nature and landscape. In one of our previous visits here we heard someone say that it is just like concentrated nature (and we add, concentrated yes, but not too sweet).
Just as in many of the streams of the area you will find here along the trails Plane and Willow trees. The Plane tree is easy to recognize, due to its leaves resembling the palm of a hand. Or at least something close to it. Some of the Plane trees reach the impressive height of ten meters and more. There are also Poplar trees here, orchard trees and an abundance of streams and stream banks flora which serve as a quiet and beautiful setting.
As befitting a place that has water, vegetation and hiding places mix with each other, this nature reserve is full of animals that live along the stream which stretches over about nine kilometers. Perhaps you will not get to see wild boars and jackals, especially because they are mostly active during the night and do not really like busy trails that are frequented by travelers. But it is likely that you will meet many Hyraxes. Falcons fly in the sky and next to the rocks plump pigeons gather. If you have the patience and perhaps a bird’s guidebook, you may see among the stream banks flora Sardinian Warblers, Winter Wrens and Graceful Prinias. One just needs to do something that most of us forgot how to do – look.
You know what? Let’s continue in this direction to the end, especially if you have children with you. Let them do the following things: touch an exposed tree root, listen to the sounds of the birds, watch the leaves or branches that move in the breeze, listen to the sound of the leaves, smell different plants and close their eyes and listen to the flow of water. Mission accomplished? This perhaps will not wean them from PlayStation but it will definitely make them think a little differently.

Hanging above the stream

In March 2010, after years of planning, the hanging bridge was inaugurated at the Hermon Stream- 80 meters that stretch between the sky and a stream that flows strongly, and everything is surrounded by sinister and a little frightening basalt canyon cliffs. In the beginning, this trail caused quite a few discussions as to the development level of a nature reserve, or in other words, how to make nature look better without turning it into an amusement park.
It seems that whoever designed this trail did a good job, as from the moment that you get on it, it will seem to you an inseparable part of the nature here. And on its way it reveals scenes that past travelers here could not enjoy. The fact that one walks in the opposite direction to that of the water flow makes the "WOW” effect even stronger.
After the hanging trail finishes, starts a more natural trail, which looks as if it passes through a picturesque rain forest. It will lead you to the dessert- the Banias waterfall, which falls from the height of about ten meters. Even a lovely viewing balcony was built here in honor of the show which this waterfall provides.
And now, if you have read so far, receive a bonus in the form of a nice little trick: stand in front of the flowing waterfall, choose a random spot in the midst of the flow and look only at it for a whole minute. Immediately after the minute ends, move your gaze toward a random rock surface. The result will provide you with a treat…

Arrival and opening hours: drive on road number 90 and from it turn east toward road number 99. The entrance to the springs area in the Hermon Stream Nature Reserve is located about three kilometers to the east of kibbutz Snir. The entrance to the Banias waterfall area is located about two kilometers east of kibbutz Snir. The Hermon Stream Nature Reserve is open during the summer between 8 am – 5 pm and in the winter until 4 pm. Entrance is allowed until an hour before closing time. There is an entrance fee.
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