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.
There are two observation points in the nature reserve on Tel Dan:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Restaurant, cafeteria, picnic area, wheelchair access
Entry to the nature reserve until one hour before closing time
Sunday to Thursday and Saturday – 8 am – 5 pm Friday and the eve of holidays – 8 am – 4 pm
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
Adult - NIS 28, child - NIS 14
Student – NIS 24
Groups (over 30): Adult - NIS 23, child – NIS 13
In the Tel Dan Nature Reserve, adaptations to make the site accessible to people with disabilities are being made. Adaptations currently in place include: