Itinerary Allow four days of hiking for the 40-mile route, and spend at least one full day in Nazareth before you start. Go in spring or fall. Accommodations It’s possible to camp along the Jesus Trail, but you’ll get more out of the experience (and can carry a light pack) by staying in towns. Most guesthouses have bunkroom accommodations for as little as 100 NIS (about $25 in new Israeli shekels) per night. Guidebook/map/info Obtain everything—including lodging reservations, shuttles for you and/or gear, GPS data, and more—at jesustrail.com. Order Landis and Dintaman’s guidebook, Hiking the Jesus Trail ($25), on the site, and get a 25-percent discount by using the code "Backpacker.”
"Leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the Sea." - Matthew 4:13
It’s not one of the most powerful statements in the New Testament. No miracle required. No subversive questioning of spiritual authority. Just a man of about 30, a native of the Galilee region, leaving the small hilltown where he was raised and moving to the city—a bustling shoreline fishing village of about 1,500. But it turns out to be transformative. Jesus had been rejected by the citizens of Nazareth. It’s in Capernaum that his disciples gather, his followers grow, and his message spreads. It’s almost like his life really started with that 40-mile walk from Nazareth to the Sea of Galilee.
The gospels are silent on when, precisely, he made the journey. But I like to think he did it in early March. That’s when I embark on the same route, and it’s an auspicious time to walk through the rolling Mediterranean landscape. The conditions couldn’t be better—crown anemones blazing red under olive trees, bright sunshine making everything look fresh and new, temps in the 70s. I’m hiking the Jesus Trail, a new 40-mile path that connects the most significant biblical and historical spots between Nazareth and Capernaum, and I find myself thinking about that short passage. Was it just another trek to him, one of the countless Jesus made while preaching town-to-town in Judea? Or did he pause on the ridge above Nazareth, and look down on the hills and valleys of his youth before striding east?
In the initial few miles, his route would have taken him past the village of Cana, believed to be the place where he performed his first miracle: turning water into wine at a wedding feast. As I approach Cana myself, I walk through a meadow on the outskirts of town. Sheep graze on the spring grass, and it’s easy to imagine Jesus walking through this same field as he left Nazareth behind.
Of course, I’m not the first to come to the Holy Land and wonder if I’m stepping where Jesus did. It comes with the territory, so to speak. I take a break to snap some photos, drink a little water, and duck behind a screen of bushes to go to the bathroom—a routine moment on any hike. But then I realize that nothing’s routine on this trail. Could I have just shared a pit stop with Jesus?
The thought surprises me, and no doubt it will offend some (sorry!). But what’s wrong with imagining Jesus sweating up the hills of the Galilee, getting blisters, stopping at a view? Could it actually give you new insights into his life and message? Whatever you believe about Jesus of Nazareth—man or Messiah—he’s arguably the most important figure in Western history, and literally walking in his footsteps is irresistible if, like me, you find something profound about every trek. I want to know what a hiker—regardless of faith—can learn from the journey.