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Backpacker Magazine – March 2012

The Jesus Trail: Hiking from Nazareth to the Sea of Galilee

Every hike is a pilgrimage, but this new path from Nazareth to the Sea of Galilee is holier than most. Literally following in His footsteps, the 40-mile route immerses hikers in biblical history.

by: Dennis Lewon; Photos by Jason Florio

The author climbing the Arbel Cliffs
The author climbing the Arbel Cliffs
Traverse of the Horns of Hittim
Traverse of the Horns of Hittim
Dintaman and Landis
Dintaman and Landis
Capernaum, Jesus's home during his ministry
Capernaum, Jesus's home during his ministry
The author walking off in the Sea of Galilee
The author walking off in the Sea of Galilee

Trip Planner

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 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.”

from afar, it’s easy to imagine jesus wandering through a wilderness when he left Nazareth. But that’s a mistake. Hiking through the same landscape, I see how close everything is; he likely walked well-trod paths and stayed in villages each night, as we’re doing. Take the first 10 miles: The trail starts at the Basilica of the Annunciation, built over the spot where, according to Luke, the angel Gabriel told Mary she would bear the son of God; from there it meanders just over five miles to Sepphoris, known as the home of Mary’s parents, and likely a place where Jesus worked as a young man; then it crosses a forest to arrive at Cana, site of the wedding feast.

“If you’ve grown up with stories from the Bible,” says Landis, “it’s incredibly powerful to experience the landscape where they happened. Not knowing where things are is like playing chess without a chessboard. But it’s not just the sites. Jesus lived in a complicated world, and the Galilee is still a complicated place today. Interacting with that world—its religious and ethnic and political diversity—puts you in the stories.”
Sepphoris, or Zippori, is one of those complicated places. Over the last 2,500 years it’s been a Jewish stronghold, destroyed by the Romans and resurrected as a first-century center of wealth and culture; the site of a Crusader fortress that was destroyed by Muslims in the 12th century, and later rebuilt by Bedouins and used as a school during the British Mandate period; and an Arab village until 1948. Today it’s a protected preserve—Zippori National Park. 

After touring the ruins—one intricate mosaic tells the story of the binding of Isaac; another depicts Dionysus, god of wine, and uses 1.5 million stones in 23 colors—we descend into a cavernous Roman-era cistern. It’s really more like a mini slot canyon, 200 yards long and deep enough to provide a cool, shady sanctuary at midday. It contains only a shallow puddle today, and reminds me how precious water has always been here. Even at the height of spring, I’ll see only a handful of running streams in 40 miles. I refill my bottles from the park’s faucet, thankful I don’t have to make do with the muddy liquid in the cistern. A first-century hiker would have no such luxury. A traveler on foot in the desert heat, 2,000 years before CamelBaks, would be intimate with the power of thirst. I recall Jesus’s encounter with the Samaritan woman. As any hiker can attest, a simple drink of water when you really need it can feel like a form of salvation.

For Christian pilgrims, the holiest water around is in the nearby Jordan River. Today, thousands of salvation seekers go annually to Yardenit, one of the Jordan River sites claimed to be where John the Baptist dunked Jesus. There, you can rent a white robe (required) for your geographically correct baptism.

At first, I’m taken aback by the commercialism that has developed around the most famous biblical sites. At Cana, we drop our light packs (we carry no camping gear) at a guesthouse and walk to the nearby Franciscan Wedding Church. Dozens of couples from all over the world crowd the courtyard. They’ve come to renew their vows at the sacred site, long believed to be the place where, when the wedding hosts ran low on vino, Jesus saved the day with the ultimate party trick. I watch as a minister in a red polo shirt, praying with an Alabama twang, blesses the marriages of one group. The couples toast each other, most likely with official Cana wedding wine, which is sold in souvenir shops on both sides of the church. Certificates commemorating the event are available in English, Korean, Spanish, and eight other languages, for $7.
Crass? Maybe. But there’s nothing false about the way the couples embrace after drinking the wine from paper cups. And I’m learning to mind Jesus’s admonishment not to judge others—especially when it comes to pilgrims in the Holy Land.

A day earlier, at the Basilica of the Annunciation, I found it hard to see what was spiritual about the big church built in 1969. Travelers arrived by the busload, bought postcards and maybe a souvenir cross in the nearby souk, then departed as another busload took their place. Many of the sightseers wore name tags, and tour guides shuttled them along. But inside, deep in a grotto beneath the building, where the air is cool and dry and you can smell the earth from the Byzantine-era ruins, I watched a group of Italian pilgrims gather around the bare rock walls in the lowest part of the shrine. There, they prayed at the very spot where Mary purportedly communed with God’s messenger. There was no denying the rapture on their faces. With Christianity, as with all religions, you can’t always distinguish between exploiting someone’s faith, and fulfilling it.

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Star Star Star Star Star
Jul 07, 2014

Thank you for this fascinating article. I found it researching next Sunday's sermon. I like to make my congregation "see" the Bible.

Star Star Star Star Star
Jan 13, 2014

Been to parts of this as a Seminary student. But man, if I could have done this by hiking, WOW. I want to go back again. If you ever get the chance to do a hike like this, do it. Your faith will soar. There is no other place like it on earth.

Star Star Star Star Star
Trekking in Nepal
Mar 01, 2013

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May 22, 2012

Awesome article... it's inspired me to write a tract about the gospel of Christ to share with others I meet along my hikes. Thanks again!

Apr 13, 2012

Apr 09, 2012

We hiked parts of the Jesus Trail. Twice! We are a German family of 4 and having lived all over Asia, parts of the US, Italy and Germany, we did an enourmous amount of travel....enjoying famous places, sightseeing, but mainly trying to find unique and off-the-beaten-path moments. In Israel we only spent a short amount of time near the traditional sightseeing places (Jerusalem etc) but really slowed down to soak up the Galilee. Its lush green hills in March, the solitude of the trail, wildflowers cheerful in their colors, Capernaum with its message: "Jesus lived here", the lake where his friends made their living as fishermen, everything in this remarkable landscape spoke to our souls. We made this journey as a pilgrimage. Our daughters (9 and 12 years old) read our favorite bible passages out loud at the places where the stories took place. No Sunday school lesson, no classroom experience could rival this hike and what each of us is learning along the way. The Jesus Trail is no mainstream tourist destination, it is a very personal trail, offering its charms and multi-layered message to those willing to get off the bus and spend a week walking, or even just a day.

Apr 07, 2012

Thank you so much for having the courage to write about this holy trail. God Bless you...I am very excited about hopefully doing this trek someday!

Apr 07, 2012

Excellent article covering so many important aspects of travel in this land (I'm in Israel)! I also work in the tourism industry and this is really one of the most well-rounded, interesting features I've read on Israel.

Doc Edgar
Apr 06, 2012

Fantastic news. The Jesus trail really excites me. The insights to this story is very stimulating makes a good read.

Apr 06, 2012

God blessed me beyond what I could ever hope for as I'm going to be taking this trek in May............... Praise God.......

Apr 06, 2012

Has anyone given any thought to the political implications of hiking through an occupied territory?

karla from colorado
Apr 06, 2012

Thanks for this information and for not being afraid of the "No religion allowed" naysayers!!!! I would love to be able to do this someday!! :)

Apr 06, 2012

This has been added to my hiking bucket list. Thank you. For posting this story and the information about making the trip. No matter what your beliefs, it is sure to be a truely inspirational walk.

Apr 06, 2012

Thanks for sharing. I would never of imagined making this trek without reading about it. How refreshing.

Apr 06, 2012

Sounds like a wonderful hike... good for you for sharing.

Apr 06, 2012

Thank you for sharing this insight. I never look at my husband's hiking magazine but the topic caught my attention. I like the nice history lesson as well as the attention to detail of how the local people are working together. I like the note on the landscape. Thank you.

Apr 05, 2012

Like the article - would love to add this to the top of the bucket list!

Apr 05, 2012

Great timing to re-run this article (tomorrow is Good Friday, 2012). Makes me really want to walk this trail. Thanks for the article.

Feb 20, 2012

There are two guides about the Jesus Trail. The second one is by Jacob Saar: Jesus Trail and Jeruslem. One should look for bothj guides.


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