Tel Dan Nature Reserve

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The Dan Stream rises in the Tel Dan nature reserve – the largest and most important of the sources of the Jordan River.

The abundance of water from the melting snows of Mt Hermon is the reason for the development of one of the largest and oldest forests in Israel, the Dan Forest – a significant landmark on Israel’s northern border.

Main points of interest

  • The Dan Stream watercourse - the source of the water is the gushing abundance of the Dan Spring, creating a strong current.
  • Paradise Springs – calmly babbling brooks creating channels along which the well-developed riverside forest offers charming and shady corners.
  • Pooh Bear Tree - a large, a hollow tree - an attraction for children.
  • Wading pools - shallow pools of refreshing, cool water alongside the hiking trail.
  • Tel Dan - one of the largest ancient tels in Israel, with the remains of a 5000 year old city. The height of the city's development was during the Canaanite and Israelite periods.
  • Abraham Gate (the Canaanite Gate) - an ancient gate from the Canaanite period. The gate was made of mud bricks, and has been preserved to its full height of 7 m. Alongside the gate is a paved platform, reminiscent of biblical descriptions, and another gate from the Israelite period. Another noteworthy find is the ritual compound, harking back to the biblical story of the Golden Calf.
  • The Israelite Gate - another gate from the Israelite period, and a paved podium recalling descriptions from the Bible.
  • Ritual site - a ritual compound bringing to mind biblical stories of the Golden Calf.
  • The flour mill - an ancient flour mill preserved in its entirety, but not operational today.
  • Hiking trails for people with difficulty walking and families with baby buggies - in the entrance plaza are accessible toilets and accessible picnic benches. Accessible benches can be found throughout the site, alongside the hiking trails. The accessible trail begins at the entrance to the site, follows the first part of the hiking trail, and reaches the wading pool, the Israelite Gate, and the Abraham Gate (the Canaanite Gate). Another short trail goes to a new accessible observation point, looking out over a wooden terrace towards the flowing waters of the Dan Stream.

Points of interest in detail

  • Dan Stream watercourse - the Dan Spring is the largest of the springs in the nature reserve. It is the most plentiful karstic spring in the Middle East, fed by the snow that accumulates on Mt Hermon every winter and trickles down to the springs at the foot of the hill. The output of the springs is an estimated 250 million m³ a year. The springs are considered to be constant, with no great changes in flow between winter and summer (unlike springs of the Hermon, Banyas and Snir-Hatsbani streams). The spring produces water at a low and steady temperature throughout the year.
  • Paradise Springs – calmly babbling brooks creating channels along which a well-developed riverside forest grows. This is the only place in Israel with a "wetland forest" of northern trees - the narrow-leafed ash (Fraxinus angustifolia) and bay laurel (Laurus nobilis). This forest is shady throughout the year, and is home to many species of climbers. Cool rivulets flow at the foot of the trees, populated by rare salamanders and invertebrates.
  • Pooh Bear Tree - a large, old narrow-leafed ash - a northern species, Israel being the southernmost point of its distribution. The trunk of the tree is hollow, and as a result it attracts both children and adults. In the past, there were other large trees on the slopes of Tel Dan, such as the Palestine oak (Quercus calliprinos) and the Mt Atlas mastic tree (Pistacia atlantica), but these were destroyed by fire due to the negligence of hikers.
  • Wading pool - a shallow pool that is part of the hiking trail. An excellent place to get your feet wet in the cool and refreshing waters of the pool. An accessible path for people with difficulty walking reaches this pool. It has recently been expanded and surrounded by a wooden deck and benches, accessible to people with disabilities. The wading pool is the only place in the nature reserve where it is permitted to paddle in the water. Wading is prohibited in other parts of the nature reserve in order to protect the natural habitat from matter being stirred up from the bed of the river.
  • Tel Dan - the remains of a 5000 year old ancient city. The city reached its height during the Canaanite and Israelite periods. In Canaanite times, it was called Laish or Leshem. The city is mentioned in the Bible, in particular in connection with the capture of the city by the tribe of Dan, which migrated here from its original land in the Judean plains, and changed its name to Dan after the forefather of the tribe. Dan was a major reference point in the unified kingdom - "from Dan to Beersheba". After the kingdom was divided Jeroboam, son of Nabat, made Dan one of the two centers of worship in the Kingdom of Israel, at which golden calves were set up. The city decreased in importance with the development of the nearby city of Panias (Banias)

    Following the War of Independence, a large military post was set up on the tel in order to protect Kibbutz Dan and the Dan Springs. This post was active until 1967, and it is still possible to see the remains of communication trenches and bunkers. A Syrian tractor was also brought here, used by the Syrians to divert the sources of the Jordan River in the 1960s.
  • Abraham Gate (the Canaanite Gate) - the most impressive find of the Tel Dan excavations is the ancient Canaanite Gate. The gate was built of mud bricks, and has three arches that are considered to be the earliest of their kind in the world. The gate has been preserved to its full height of 7 m. The Nature and Parks Authority has implemented measures to protect the gate from weather damage.
  • The Israelite Gate - the remains of the entrance gate to the city of Dan and the fortification walls from the Israelite period. The remains of a palanquin were found at the site, on which the ruler of the city would have been enthroned, alongside benches for the elders of the city.
  • Ritual site - another noteworthy find is the ritual compound, with a paved platform. This structure recalls the biblical stories of the golden calves.
  • The flour mill - the remains of a number of flour mills were found at Tel Dan, which used the strong current of the water to turn the millstones and grind flour. The flour mill that can be seen today along the hiking trail is the latest of them, and was in operation until the 1960s. It has been conserved and work was carried out to stabilize the walls, which were in danger of collapse. The aqueduct bringing water to the mill has also been conserved, and now carries water to a part of the nature reserve where water has not flowed for many years.
  • Trail for people with difficulty walking, and families with baby buggies - an accessible trail has been made in the first section of the hiking trail, reaching the wading pool and the Abraham Gate (the Canaanite Gate).

 

Observation points

There are two observation points in the nature reserve on Tel Dan:

  • The Army Post observation point - on the northern part of the tel. The observation point looks out over the Naftali Hills, Lebanon, the village of Ghajar on the border, the route of the diversion channel, Nokhila Springs, and the slopes of Mt Dov. Alongside it are the trenches of the army post that was abandoned in 1967, and visitors can walk along them.
  • Ha'ela observation point - on the south of the tel. The observation point offers a view of the Naftali Hills, the slopes of the Golan, and the Hula Valley. The observation point is named after the unique Pistacia saporta tree that grows here. The Hebrew name of the tree is "hybrid pistacia", because it is a kind of hybrid of the terebinth and the mastic tree.
  • The River observation point - a new lookout that has been made accessible for people with mobility problems and for baby buggies. The observation point has a wooden deck. It is located in the picnic area and looks out over the flowing waters of the Dan Stream.
  • Views of the Dan Stream from wooden bridges - along the stream there are several wooden bridges, and an observation platform over the course of the gushing water. The rushing stream and the clamor of the water create a multisensory experience.

Identity card

Status:

Tel Dan nature reserve was declared in 1964. In 1989 and 2013 extensions to the reserve were declared. This was the second nature reserve to be declared in Israel.

Reasons for declaration:

  • The largest karstic spring in the Middle East.
  • A wetland habitat of brooks that are cold and shady year-round, the only one of its kind in Israel.
  • An ancient city, a major heritage site in Israel (a candidate for declaration as a World Heritage Site).
  • Rare species of plants grow in the reserve, among them the marsh fern (Thelypteris palustris), growing in Israel only at this site, the smallflower hairy willowherb (Epilobium parviflorum), the narrow-leafed ash, the lesser pond-sedge (Carex acutiformis), St John's wort (Hypericum hircinum), an abundance of lichen and algae, and more.
  • Rare animals, among them the amphibian Near Eastern fire salamander (Salamandra infraimmaculata). Because of the special conditions at the nature reserve - cold water flowing year-round - this species has a unique lifestyle here and is active throughout the year, not only in the winter. A variety of invertebrates also live in the nature reserve.

Geographic location

Galilee Panhandle. The nature reserve is to the north of Kibbutz Dan and Kibbutz Dafna. Access is from Road 99, to the east of Kibbutz Dan.

​Activities of the Nature and Parks Authority

  • Conservation of the Abraham Gate (the Canaanite Gate) - excavations at Tel Dan have been ongoing since 1966. In the course of the excavation work, a wide variety of finds have been made, the most important of them being the Abraham Gate, with the oldest complete arch in the world. Until this gate was revealed, archaeologists thought that it was the Romans who invented the construction of the arch, but the gate shows that 1,500 years before the Roman period, this sophisticated technology was already in use.
  • Conservation of the flour mill and aqueduct - stabilizing the walls of the ancient flour mill, which were in danger of collapse, and restoring the aqueduct that carried water to the mill. The aqueduct now also brings water to an area of the nature reserve in which no water has flowed for many years.
  • Conservation of the fortification walls - preserving the walls of the ancient city by the Israelite Gate
  • Thinning out invasive plant species - during the 20th century, many Red River gum trees (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) were planted at Tel Dan, over an area of 35 dunams, while the Syrians planted white poplars (Populus alba) and Sidney golden wattle trees (Acacia saligna) there. The eucalyptus trees produce a substance that prevents germination underneath them, and, together with the other trees, create heavy shade all around, pushing out the natural local vegetation of the reserve. The Nature and Parks Authority has been working since 2003 and gradually replacing the "foreign" trees with local trees, so as to encourage rare species to flourish. To this end, the eucalyptus and golden wattle trees have been felled in the areas near to the water. Eucalyptus trees have only been left in the area away from the water, near Tel Dan. There has also been ongoing treatment of the poplars growing in the reserve, and work is carried out to prevent the golden wattle trees and castor oil plants from spreading through the reserve. Each year the invasive plants are monitored at the reserve, in order to prevent them from spreading.
  • Rehabilitation of the area after fires – as one of the most visited nature reserves in the north of Israel, and because of its proximity to the border with Lebanon, the Tel Dan reserve is particularly vulnerable to fires, both those cause by careless visitors, and those resulting from military actions and security incidents. For this reason, it is absolutely prohibited to light fires anywhere in the nature reserve, including lighting charcoal grills.

    In 2008 there was a big fire at two points in the western field of the nature reserve. The fire was apparently caused by deliberate arson. The fire caused heavy damage – some 50 dunams went up in flames, including around the stream, and damage was caused to the wooden bridges over the watercourse and to other infrastructures.

    As part of the rehabilitation work after the fire, trees that had been burnt and were a danger to visitors were felled. In addition, the wooden bridge making it possible for people with mobility problems and families with baby buggies to cross the stream was rebuilt. Fire breaks were made throughout the nature reserve, to allow escape and access for the fire and rescue services.
  • Taking care of the Pistacia saporta at Ha'ela observation point - the unique tree that grows at the observation point is called a hybrid pistacia, because it is a hybrid of the Mt Atlas mastic tree and the terabinth. The Nature and Parks Authority conserves the tree by pruning dead branches to prevent insect damage.
  • Conservation of the marsh fern population - the reserve contains an important concentration of the rare marsh fern (Thelypteris palustris). This fern is common around the world, but in Israel it grows only in this nature reserve. In order to ensure its continued existence at the reserve, the places where this species sprouts along the hiking trails are regularly monitored. As necessary, the new ferns are moved to places protected from trampling, and in one case the trail was diverted in order to prevent damage to the fern population.
  • Protecting the Near Eastern salamander population - the damp and shady habitat is home to one of the largest concentrations in Israel of the amphibian Near Eastern salamander (Salamandra infraimmaculata), a species that is in serious danger of extinction. The population in the nature reserve is regularly monitored, including counting the salamanders along the hiking trail after the rain.
  • Monitoring otters - a periodic survey is carried out to check the otter presence in the reserve. Along the Dan Stream, seven stations that the otters mark with scent by leaving droppings are sampled.
  • Monitoring the output of the springs - the output of the springs in the nature reserve is checked every month, and every year the impact of the changes in output on the proper ecological functioning of the wetland habitats in the nature reserve is examined.
  • Improving the function of the wetland habitat - until the 1970s, the waters of the Dan Springs were joined by water from Enot Koren (Nokhila Springs), to the north of the reserve. In the wake of sabotage to the adjacent oil pipeline, and to prevent contamination of the waters of the Dan, the flow of water from Enot Koren was diverted to a bypass canal towards the Snir Stream. In 2013 the Authority opened up this canal and water once again flows through it towards the brooks of the Dan.

Wildlife

Despite the small size of the nature reserve, it is particularly rich in wildlife species in general, and water- and shade-loving species in particular - different types of fish, amphibians (including the Near Eastern salamander), and many invertebrates. Particularly noteworthy among the mammals are the otter and the wild boar. On rainy days or immediately afterwards, visitors to the nature reserve are likely to meet the rare salamanders alongside the trails.

The creature most identified with the nature reserve is the Near Eastern salamander (Salamandra infraimmaculata), Israel being the most southerly point in the world where it is found. In Israel, this species is in serious danger of extinction. The salamander is particularly active at night and immediately after rain. The salamander population at Tel Dan is different in color and size to other populations known in Israel and around the world.

The many surveys carried out at the nature reserve indicate that the salamanders are mainly found in the Paradise Springs area, where they have not only shade and water, but also stones among which they can conceal themselves.

In the undergrowth of the nature reserve wild boars are active, and many other mammals, birds and fish also live here, but particularly notable among them are the invertebrates: river crabs, dragonflies and damselflies, primitive crustaceans and water insects. Visitors frequently entering the water can harm the activities of the invertebrates, and so, also for reasons of safety, entering the water is prohibited throughout the nature reserve other than in the designated wading pool.

In reserve, there is a problem of penetration of invasive fish species, coming from the nearby fish ponds.

Flora

Tel Dan nature reserve has a large variety of wild plants from a number of different areas, in particular "northern" plants that grow alongside the cool flowing brooks. One of these, the marsh fern, grows nowhere else in Israel, while for others this is the southernmost point at which they are found. In addition to flowering plants, the reserve also has a great diversity of lichen and algae.

The plant life in the nature reserve combines several areas of vegetation - plants of northern origin, such as the narrow-leafed ash (Fraxinus angustifolia), the Jerusalem thorn (Paliurus spina-christi) (a rare species), and the marsh fern (Thelypteris palustris); Mediterranean plants - the Mediterranean buckthorn (Rhamnus lycioides) and the bay laurel (Laurus nobilis); and savanna vegetation such as the Mt Atlas mastic tree (Pistacia atlantica) and jujube (Ziziphus lotus).

The heart of the nature reserve includes a wetland habitat rich in water plants (especially "northern" species and species from damp Mediterranean habitats). Particularly noticeable here is the well-developed "riverside forest" of narrow-leafed ash and bay laurel, together with many climbers. Among the rare species, the marsh fern (Thelypteris palustris), and St John's wort (Hypericum hircinum) must be mentioned, as well as the water plant smallflower hairy willowherb (Epilobium parviflorum), which is in danger of extinction. This plant disappeared from the nature reserve decades ago, and reappeared only after the eucalyptus trees were felled. Also notable here is the large variety of lichen and algae. Downstream in the brooks there is a diversity of riverbank vegetation - the common reed (Phragmites australis), holy bramble (Rubus sanguineus), purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria), European bugleweed (Lycopus europaeus), and many others.

At Tel Dan and on its slopes, in the area away from the water, are Mt Tabor oaks (Quercus ithaburensis) and Mt. Atlas mastic trees (Pistacia atlantica), creating a "park forest" landscape. This vegetation includes clearly Mediterranean species, as well as savanna species that are typical of low-lying and hot regions. It is worth mentioning the Pistacia saporta, the hybrid pistacia that grows at the Tel Dan observation point, a hybrid of the Mt. Atlas mastic tree and the terebinth (Pistacia Palaestina). Today, alongside the wild trees there are many Red River gum (eucalyptus) trees, planted in order to conceal activities at the site from the Syrian army, which was positioned nearby until the Six Day War.

Archaeology

Tel Dan is one of the important antiquities sites in Israel, and the state of Israel has proposed that it should be declared a World Heritage Site. The city of Dan is mentioned in a number of sources - in Bible stories and in archaeological finds from Egypt and Iraq. The ancient city reached its height during the Canaanite and Israelite periods. In the days of the Kingdom of Israel, King Jeroboam set up one of the golden calves at Dan. The excavations at Tel Dan have been ongoing for decades, and have revealed, among other things, a Canaanite brick gate that is considered to be the earliest of its kind in the world, and fragments of inscriptions mentioning the House of David and the name of the ancient city.

At Tel Dan, the remains of a 5000 year old city have been found. The earliest settlement at the site was during the Neolithic period, and the city reached its greatest status and importance during the Canaanite and Israelite periods. In Canaanite times, it was called Laish or Leshem. The city is mentioned for the first time in the Egyptian execration texts of the 18th century BCE, and also in tablets from the city of Mari in Iraq. The city is mentioned many times in the Bible, in particular in connection with its capture by the tribe of Dan, who migrated here from their original land in the Judean plains, and changed its name to Dan after the forefather of the tribe. Dan became a major reference point in the unified kingdom - "from Dan to Beersheba". After the kingdom was divided, Jeroboam, son of Nabat, made Dan one of the two centers of worship in the Kingdom of Israel, at which golden calves were set up. A fragment of an inscription found in the tel mentions the capture of the city by the Aramean king Hazael, and this is the only evidence found outside the Bible of the existence of the "House of David". The city continued to exist even after its capture, and a dedicatory inscription to "the god that is in Dan" has been found from the Hellenistic period, when the region was ruled by Antiochus III, testifying to the continued existence of a ritual center at the site. With the development of the nearby city of Panias (today Banias), Dan lost its former glory and declined from a large city to a small settlement. After the Arab conquest, the name of the settlement was translated literally to "Tel al Kadi" (the Tel of the Judge). The Tel Dan excavation delegation began work in 1966, under Prof. Avraham Biran, and excavations have continued on and off until the present. Since 2009, the state of Israel has proposed a motion to declare Tel Dan as a World Heritage Site. The most impressive find of the excavations is the ancient Canaanite Gate. This gate, built of mud bricks, incorporates three arches that are considered to be the earliest of their kind in the world. Alongside the gate is a paved platform, reminiscent of biblical descriptions, and another gate from the Israelite period. Another noteworthy find is the ritual compound, bringing to mind the biblical story of the Golden Calf.

History

The ancient city of Dan lost its glory with the rise of the adjacent city of Banias. It was only during the 20th century, when it became a reference point on the northern border of the mandatory land of Israel, that Dan once again took its place in history. It returned to the headlines after the War of Independence because of its importance for settlement, security and the water sources of the state of Israel.

When deciding on the border between the British mandate and the French mandate in the early 1920s, Tel Dan was a point on the northern border of the land of Israel and the border of the British mandate. In 1939, Jewish settlement at the site was renewed with the establishment of Kibbutz Dan, near to the tel. From the early days of the kibbutz and until the present, the waters of the Dan Springs have been used for drinking, agricultural irrigation, and the fishponds.

Following the War of Independence, a large military post was set up on the tel near the border with Lebanon, in order to protect the settlements, including Kibbutz Dan, and the Dan Springs. This post was active until 1967, and it is still possible to see the remains of communication trenches and bunkers. Visitors can walk along the trenches, which are at the Army Post observation point. A Syrian tractor was also brought here, which the Syrians used to divert the sources of the Jordan River in 1964.

Geology and geomorphology

The northern Hula Valley is covered by travertine deposits. The northern part of the travertine area is covered by a young basalt deposit, and Tel Dan is at the point where the basalt deposit and the travertine deposit meet. To the east of the tel are ancient steps of alluvium brought from the Si'on Stream.

Hydrology

The hydrological system at the nature reserve is based on the current of the Dan Spring - which is considered the largest karstic spring in the Middle East. The source of the spring water is the melting snow and the considerable precipitation that falls on the nearby Mt Hermon. The location of the spring is influenced by the border of the geological deposits. The flowing brook that leaves the spring divides into a number of rivulets, which are apparently the remains of ancient irrigation channels.

The Dan Spring is considered to be the largest of the karstic springs in the Middle East. The spring rises at the foot of Tel Dan. Other springs (such as En Leshem) rise in a depression on the tel itself, at a height of 12 m above the surrounding area. The total output of the springs is some 250 million m³ a year. The water is particularly cold, at a temperature of 14 - 16.5°C.

The location of the springs is a function of the border between the basalt deposit and the travertine deposit. The rain and snow that fall on Mt Hermon every winter trickle into the subsoil, but on reaching the foot of the mountain they come up against the impervious basalt deposits, and therefore the water breaks out only at the edge of the basalt deposit - within the area of the nature reserve.

The channel of the water splits into a number of rivulets, some of them flowing towards a meeting with the Hermon stream (and creating the Jordan River), while others drain into the Snir Stream. Today it is usually considered that some of these rivulets are in fact ancient channels intended for agricultural irrigation in the north of the Hula Valley.

The drainage basin of the Dan Stream is very limited. Until a few decades ago, the drainage basin only included the nearby streams to the north – Enot Koren (Nokhila Springs). An old oil pipeline -  the TAP Line - passes near to the nature reserve, which carried oil from the Arabian peninsula to the port of Sidon, and today is not in use. After the Six Day War the pipeline was sabotaged, and crude oil flowed towards the sources of the Jordan. Following this incident, the water from Nokhila Springs was diverted to a bypass channel, eventually reaching the Senir Stream. In 2013 the Nature and Parks Authority made an opening in the channel in order to rehabilitate the old route of the water, which used to flow from Nokhila Springs to the Dan.

 
How to get here: Along Road 99 (Kiryat Shmona – Mas'adeh), about 11 km east of the Metsudot junction. Near Kibbutz Dan.

Length of tour:  1 – 2 hours

Best season: All year


 

Other attractions:

Restaurant, cafeteria, picnic area, wheelchair access

  

Opening hours

Entry to the nature reserve until one hour before closing time

 

Summer:

Sunday to Thursday and Saturday – 8 am – 5 pm
Friday and the eve of holidays – 8 am – 4 pm

 

Winter:

Sunday to Thursday and Saturday – 8 am – 4 pm
Friday and the eve of holidays – 8 am – 3 pm

 

On the eve of New Year, the eve of the Day of Atonement and Passover eve: 8 am – 1 pm

  Contact us

Telephone: 04-6951579 

Fax: 04-6950128

  

Entrance fee

Individuals: 

Adult - NIS 28, child - NIS 14

Student – NIS 24

Groups (over 30):  Adult - NIS 23, child – NIS 13


    Content under construction, the information apears soon.
    Content under construction, the information apears soon.

    In the Tel Dan Nature Reserve, adaptations to make the site accessible to people with disabilities are being made. Adaptations currently in place include:

    • Disabled parking spaces
    •  restroom facilities
    •  a trail with observation points over the river
    •  flora and fauna in the reserve.​

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