The Jesus Trail™, also known as the Gospel Trail, is a 65-kilometer hiking trail in the Galilee region of Israel which connects important sites from the life of Jesus as well as other historical and religious sites. The Jesus Trail™ offers an alternative for travelers and pilgrims to experience the steps of Jesus in a way that is authentic, adventurous and educational by hiking through the rugged and beautiful landscape of the Galilee in Israel.
The Jesus Trail and the Gospel Trail
There have been many articles in the press about the recently launched "Gospel Trail" by the Israeli Ministry of Tourism, focusing on its newness, readiness and ease for Christian pilgrims. As the people who've developed the Jesus Trail, we feel that the public has been deceived by the Ministry of Tourism and its message to the press. We are sad to see so much time and money put into something that has attempted to recreate a walking experience of the Jesus Trail that has been successful since 2007 for thousands of pilgrims, and in the end produced something of lower quality for the hiker and traveler. The Israeli Ministry of Tourism has supported the Jesus Trail until recently, by promoting it on their official website (although some links have been removed), a private visit by the Minister of Tourism himself, and even partially paying for its marking in 2009.
The Jesus Trail has always been and always will be a free, public hiking route that welcomes use from all people and strives to support the local communities of the Galilee (see our vision and philosophy). It was developed by a group of international and local volunteers in coordination with the Society for Protection of Nature in Israel. Entrepreneurial efforts were added to the trail as it matured, offering support services to hikers, new guesthouses in towns without prior overnight accommodation, and the first comprehensive hiking guidebook for the Galilee written in English, all with the intention of sustaining the vision of the trail and further its development. The Jesus Trail has no political, religious or nationalistic agenda, and our efforts have been focused in to making the Jesus Trail a bridge to build transformational relationships and understandings between nationalities, cultures and religions in the Middle East.
Independent Travelers and Route Choices
For the independent traveler who is interested in walking where Jesus walked in the Galilee, we are writing to inform you of the major factors in deciding your route. We write this primarily for the safety and comfort of hikers, which has been foremost in our mind in developing the Jesus Trail. The most important factors for a safe and successful hiking experience are navigation, water and emergency access, which have not been taken into account for large sections of the Gospel Trail.
The first 25km of the each route is entirely different. The Jesus Trail begins in the heart of Nazareth, near the Basilica of the Annunciation and public transit lines, and passes through Zippori National Park, and the towns of Mash'had and Cana. The Gospel Trail begins on the southern outskirts of Nazareth at Mt. Precipice, a site not accessible by public transit (2km walk uphill from nearest stop). The Gospel Trail handbook shows this being connected, but the route does not exist in reality at this point.
The routes converge near the village of Ilaniya, which is near where the "Secondary Route" to Cana as listed on the Gospel Trail map. This side trail to Cana does not exist on the ground. From this point, both routes follow the same path until the outskirts of Kibbutz Lavi (last water for 12km). From the Lavi cemetery, the routes diverge and the Gospel Trail passes north and skips the Horns of Hattin and Nebi Shu'eib (important water stop and cultural site), rejoining the Jesus Trail route in the olive groves west of Kfar Zeitim. The Gospel Trail leaves the Jesus Trail at this point by staying in the Arbel Valley to Wadi Hamam (spring for water), and not climbing Mt. Arbel, one of the highlights of hiking in Israel. At Wadi Hamam, the routes join again and follow identical paths until Nakhal Amud, where the Gospel trail turns southeast to cross highway 90, and follows nearby the highway until Tel Kinrot, where the routes become identical until Capernaum.
Markings, water and access, community development and diverse holy sites
1) The Gospel Trail is not as well marked as the Jesus Trail. The Gospel Trail is marked with large, stone basalt cairns (rock towers), which are sometimes placed up to 500m apart, with turns not always being marked. This type of marking is expensive to create, and even more expensive to maintain. Similarly-marked trails in Israel have not often withstood the test of time as these projects run out of money after their initial creation and trail maintenance stops. The official Gospel Trail map has all SPNI trails (see below) in the region labeled except the Jesus Trail, making the map confusing to hikers and inaccurate to the markings on the ground.
The Jesus Trail is part of Israel's 10,000+km of hiking trail network, which are marked by the Israeli Society for the Protection of Nature (SPNI). SPNI uses three-colored striped paint markings (see illustration below), which is one of the best trail-marking systems we have encountered in the world. In SPNI's system, trails are marked in both directions, and you should theoretically be able to see the next marker from the previous one. Turns are marked redundantly: one at turn itself, and with a confirmation blaze following the turn. SPNI paint blazes are refreshed every 2-3 years, and the Jesus Trail receives even more attention through a team of volunteers that checks the markings year-round. SPNI also produces excellent topographical maps (although only in Hebrew at this time), and the Jesus trail is featured on SPNI map #3 for the lower Galilee.
The Jesus Trail was marked in the spring of 2009 by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, and is included on map #3, 2010 edition, as part of Israel's national network of marked trails.
We have spent years hiking this area, spending time in local communities, and working hard to produce a very detailed guidebook on the Jesus Trail and the other routes in the Galilee. We strongly recommend that you bring Hiking the Jesus Trail to aid in your navigation and planning success. SPNI is also producing a Hebrew-language guidebook for the Jesus Trail, available soon.
2) Water and food resupply is an issue on the Gospel Trail. The route favors the Beit Keshet forest area for almost the first 30km (half of the route), with water access only off-route in the villages of Iksal and Daburiya, and nothing else that is reliable until Golani junction. The end of stage one near the "Old Oak Tree is only accessible by a dirt road, with no public transport access. The other long stretch without water is from the Lavi cemetery to Wadi Hamam, a distance of more than 12km (Jesus Trail has water at Nebi Shu'eib). Water access is the most important factor when hiking in the Middle East, and hikers die every year in Israel from dehydration. Hiking a long section like this without water access requires carrying an additional 5-9 liters or kilograms (10-20 lbs) of water per person per day, with the amount depending on the season!
3) The Gospel Trail does not pass through the diverse communities of the Galilee, favoring forests and Jewish areas instead of accurately portraying the diversity of people who live there. This has a variety of disadvantages. By leaving the Arab towns of Nazareth, Mashhad and Cana out of the route, not only to hikers lose important access to bus routes, water and food, but they also miss interaction with locals and the warm hospitality that these encounters provide. For most Jesus Trail hikers, diverse experiences of hospitality in Jewish and Arab areas have been the highlight of their experience. The Ministry of Tourism has communicated that these Arab villages are not safe and are dirty, but we have received feedback from many hikers over the years communicating their positive experience in these areas. The Jesus Trail route was designed to pass through these communities because we feel that it is essential to include local communities in the future of the route. These are the people that benefit the most, ensuring the longevity of the route and the most positive experience for hikers. The Gospel Trail has been designed in a way to support large tour companies and guided bus tours, and by its route makes it difficult for hikers to have a personal, unfiltered experience with the local community
4) The Gospel Trail does not include as many Christian sites as the Jesus Trail. As many historic Christian places in the Holy Land are focused around the Arab Christian populations, the Gospel Trail avoids the Muslim and Christian Arab towns of Nazareth, Mash'had and Cana, and bypasses many of the Holy sites present in the Jesus Trail in Nazareth, Zippori and Cana. The first church encountered on the Gospel Trail is at kilometer 59, after completing 90% of the route. If your interest as a hiker and pilgrim is to visit these Christian sites, we recommend following the Jesus Trail route. The Gospel Trail also avoids Nebi Shu'eib, the holiest Druze site in the world, which is directly on the Jesus Trail route.
We hope this information has been helpful to you, and we value your safety and experience above all else. We strongly recommend that you carefully plan your pilgrimage hiking experience in a way that is safe and enjoyable, and uses the best resources on the ground.
The Jesus Trail Team
December 5, 2011
We encourage you to read what others are writing, and determine the facts on your own. Better yet, come to the Galilee and see for yourself!
Here are a few articles on this topic to get you started:
- Gospel Truth - Matthew Teller (http://quitealone.com/2011/12/03/gospel-truth/)
- "Cross Roads" Article in Ha'aretz about the Jesus Trail and "Gospel Trail" - Julian Bender (http://julianbender.blogspot.com/2011/12/cross-roads-article-in-haaretz-about.html) - Julian’s article includes a full English translation of the Hebrew article in Haaretz (below)
- “Following the Path of Jesus in Northern Israel - Moshe Gilad, Haaretz (http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/features/following-the-path-of-jesus-in-northern-israel-1.399540) - For some reason, the web version of this article has been shortened from the Hebrew print/web edition, and the English print edition, which has removed the most controversial parts
- פרשת דרכים: מה שלא רואים מ"דרך הבשורה"
השבוע הושק שביל המתחקה אחר הדרכים שבהן צעד ישו בגליל התחתון. אלא שהוא דוחק מהמפות מסלול אחר, עוקף כפרים ערביים, וכמעט אין לאורכו כנסיות
If you a journalist interested in writing about the Jesus Trail, please visit our page for the press.