Scorpion pass (Maale Akrabim] road serpentines

Makhteshim (Craters) Land Road Trip

A short but dramatic drive!! Cross the “Big” Makhtesh, visit  desert springs, walk a few short desert hikes, enjoy a great view‑point on the “Small” Makhtesh and the drive down the historic Scorpion Pass. 


  • Total net distance: 50 Km
  • Total Net driving time: 1 Hour.
  • Total itinerary time: ½ day – full day.
  • Can be easily combined with a drive to Eilat.
  • Recommended Period: Not in the summer!! Best period December-April.
  • Possible hikes near the route: Akev / Havarim

Over a short distance of just 50 Km you will visit an amazing group of desert highlights mostly “of the beaten track”!!

Main Attractions:

  • “Big” Makhtesh: Drive across the Crater, explore colored sands and climb up (Short hike) to the Makhtesh wall  for some great views.

  •  Yorkeam Spring: Visit a beautiful desert spring and take a short hike in the Hatira Canyon.

  • “Small” Makhtesh: Go on a short and easy walk to a dramatic view-point on the edge of the cliff above the “Small” Makhtesh.

  • Scorpion Pass: Drive down the 18 serpentines of the Scorpion Pass road.

  • Zin & Akrabim Springs: A short hike to an oasis with a spring and palm trees.

  • Hazeva Hill: A Short climb on an interesting hill that offers great views over the Arava valley (prairie).

Map of the Road Trip

Makhteshim (Craters) Land road Trip map

Click the map to download it in full quality


You can purchase for just 6$ a set of Detailed maps and GPS files for the short hikes along the drive. Maps included in the download pack are:

  1. Big Makhtesh colored sands and short hike.
  2. Yorkeam spring and Hatira Canyon  short hike.
  3. Small Makhtesh Cliff view-point short walk.
  4. Scorpion & Zin Oasis short hike .
  5. Hazeva Hill  short hike.

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Makhteshim (Craters) – Introduction

Definitions:

  • Crater – A roughly circular depression in the ground usually caused by volcanic activity, impact or explosion.
  • Makhtesh – A crater-like formation created by erosion

The word “makhtesh” is the Hebrew word for a Mortar and Pestle. The geological landform was given this name because of its similarity to a grinding bowl.
There are only 7 such craters in the world, all of them located in the Land of Israel(5) and  the Sinai desert(2). Of the 5 located in Israel, two are very small ones near  the top of mount Arif. That  leaves us with the 3 main Makhteshim (craters):

  • Makhtesh Ramon: It is the largest makhtesh in the world. Over 40 km long, 10 km wide and about 400 m deep. It is also the most famous and by far the most visited since the main road #40 from Beer S­heva to Eilat is crossing it. (We will not visit it during this road trip)
  • Makhtesh Hatira (called also the “Big” Makhtesh) is the 2nd in size. 14 km long, 6 km wide and about 400 m deep. It is much less popular than it’s “bigger brother”, but not less beautiful. This gives an advantage of a more “intimate” experience. We will drive across it and visit a few interesting sites.
  • Makhtesh Hazera (called also the “Small” Makhtesh) is the 3rd in size. 7 km long, 5 km wide and over 500 m deep. There are a few features that makes this lesser known Makhtesh the most impressive:
  1. It has an almost perfect round shape.
  2. It is the deepest.
  3. It is relatively small and therefore you see almost all of it in one look.
  • We will take a short an easy walk and stand on the edge of the cliff on the crater’s wall for an overwhelming view of the Makhtesh!!

Big Makhtesh

A view from mount Avnon on the big Makhtesh, negev, israel
The Big Crater
  • Getting there:
  • Starting point: Yerucham (GPS: 30.988664, 34.923494)
  • Drive to Mount Avnon lookout (GPS: 30.971814, 34.981020) (7 km)
  • Just next to the parking there is a fantastic view-point over the whole crater.
  • Continue driving down to the Makhtesh bottom and follow the road until a small car park. (GPS: 30.951220, 35.025525) (8.5Km).
  • Use the “Big Makhtesh” Map and GPS file from the download pack for the short hike and orientation in the area.

Colered Sand from The Big MakhteshJust a few meters Northwest to the car park is a small hill with “colored sand”. A popular activity in Israel is to make with it a small “sand bottle”, so we recommend to come prepared with an empty glass bottle and make by yourself a great Israeli souvenir for free!!
After a short visit to the colored sand hill, you can go on a short but exciting 3­­­­­-4 Km short hike.


Short hike to the “Snapir” (Fin)

The “Snapir” at the Big Makhtesh

A short, but “real”  hike climbing the walls of the Makhtesh

  • It is recommended to use the “Big Makhtesh” Map and GPS file from the download pack.
  • This is a short hike with some great desert views!
  • Cross the road and climb the east wall of the crater on the black marked path until reaching a junction with a Green marked path and the INT. (Israel National trail)
  • From this point you can make 2 back and forth short walks.
    1 – Follow the INT going south along the edge of the cliff above the crater for as long as you want and return to the junction. (Great views on the crater)
    2 – continue on the black marked path over the ridge and then up to the next summit.
  • From the summit you have a great view east on the Hatira ridge and west on the “Snapir” (fin) ridge you just crossed. (The ridge received the nick name because it resembles the shape of a fish fin).
  • Retrace you steps to the junction and go down on the Green marked path back to the car park.

Ein Yorkeam (Spring)

Ein Yorkeam

A great picnic spot and an option for another short hike

  • Getting there:
  • Drive just 2 Km to our next stop. (GPS: 30.940873, 35.036387)
  • Use the “Yorkeam” Map and GPS file from the download pack for the short hike and orientation in the area.

Follow the green marked path going east  for about ½ Km until you reach the Yorkeam spring.
This is a fantastic spot for an extended break, and during the winter and spring offers also a good swimming opportunity!

Ein Yarkam is a seasonal spring in the upper part of the Hatira wadi, east of the “big” Makhtesh. The spring is “active” mainly during the winter and early spring , filling a large pool with water up to 5 meters depth. Towards the end of the summer only a few water puddles remain in the lower part.
Ancient steps were cut in the wall of the northern bank of the wadi, which were probably used to take drinking water from the pool. Near the spring are also ruins from the Byzantine period that served as a security point.

After the visit to the spring, you can return to the vehicle or continue further down the wadi for about 1.3 km along the green marked trail. Walk until you reach a tall dry waterfall nicknamed “Nakeb El Yahud” (Arabic for “The pass of the jews”). The view from the top of the waterfall down to the canyon is impressive.

Maale Palmach, Hatira Canyon
Hatira Wadi By ekeidar [CC BY-SA 3.0]Wikimedia
“Nakeb El Yahud” – How it got its strange name?  A Palmach platoon was in the midst of a long 21-day journey from the Judean Desert to the Negev. It was the winter of 1944, the British Mandate ruled in Palestine. Because the platoon did not want to be discovered by the British In the open areas of the Rotem Plain, they were forced to deviate from the route they had planned. After passing through a few wadis, the company reached a “dead-end”,  facing a huge dry waterfall rising to the right and a high cliff blocking the path to the left. What to do? Out of lack of choice, they climbed the canyon cliff that was considered impassable until then by the Bedouins living in the area!! so, they named it “Nakeb El Yahud” (Pass of the Jews). Today it is called “Ma’ale Palmach” (Palmach Pass). Nowadays, a metal ladder and cables serve the hikers on the path that goes along the canyon.

The “Small” Makhtesh

Hiking to the small Maktesh, Negev, Israel
Small Mkhtesh By Mboesch [CC BY-SA 4.0]/Wikimedia

A short hike to an amazing view-point the Makhtesh

  • Getting There:
  • Drive on road #206 until the junction with the minor road #227 (GPS: 30.963291, 35.049315) (3 Km).
  • This minor road used to be the main road from Beer Sheva to Eilat until 1954 when road #40 was constructed.
  • Turn right and drive until (GPS: 30.932605, 35.142557) (11 Km).
  • Use the “Small Makhtesh” Map and GPS file from the download pack for the short walk and orientation in the area.

From here it’s a 2 Km easy hike along the red marked dirt road. Pay attention that after about 1.5 km you have to fork right to an unmarked dirt road!! (As the red path goes left)
All of a sudden the amazing view of the whole “Small” Makhtesh open up. Wow!!
Absorb the views and retrace your steps to the car.


Ma’ale Akrabim (Scorpion pass)

Scorpion pass (Maale Akrabim] road serpentines
Scorpion Pass By IsraelHikingMap [CC BY-SA 4.04]/Wikimedia

The historic main road to Eilat

  • Getting There:
  • Drive just 3 Km further on the road to the head of the Scorpion Pass. (GPS: 30.910166, 35.132370)

  • It is now hard to believe that this minor road used to be the main road to Eilat until 1956.
  • From here, you have a great view east down to the Arava valley and to the Edom mountain in Jordan across the border.
  • It is also the spot of a very tragic event from 1954, the “Ma’ale Akrabim massacre”:

The Ma’ale Akrabim massacre, known in English as the Scorpions Pass Massacre, was an attack on an Israeli passenger bus, carried out on 17 March 1954, in the middle of the day. Eleven passengers were shot dead by the attackers who ambushed and boarded the bus. One passenger died 32 years later of his injuries, in a state of paralysis and partial recognition. Four passengers survived, two of whom had been injured by the gunmen. Read further in Wikipedia


Ein Zin Oasis

ein-zin.jpg
Zin Spring Oasis

A short hike to an oasis

  • Getting There:
  • Drive down carefully the sharp serpentines until (GPS: 30.899716, 35.131586) (2.5 Km).
  • From here use the “Zin” Map and GPS file from the download pack for the short drive until the trail head and the short hike.
  • Turn left on a blank marked dirt road and follow it for 1.7 km until the road ends.
  • From here you can go on an easy short 3­­­­­ Km hike to visit the oasis that is formed around the Akrabim and Zin Springs.

Near the springs you might encounter Mosquitos. It is recommended to  use a Mosquito Repellent. It’s a back and forth very easy hike. Follow the black marked path, unit a junction with a Green path going right. On your left you can see the external side of the “Small” Makhtesh walls. Turn right, and follow the green path unit you reach an area with Palm trees and a water stream. The water are contaminated from the phosphate factories that are located upstream. Therefore you should avoid drinking and dipping in the water! It’s still a very pretty dessert site despite this sad fact.


Hazeva hill 

Hazeva Hill

A short hike to an attractive viewpoint on the top of a steep hill

  • Getting there:
  • Continue to Drive down the same road until (GPS: 30.814456, 35.245310) (15 Km).
  • From here use the “Hazeva” Map and GPS file from the download pack for the short drive until the trail head and short hike.

Turn right and after a few hundred meters right again on a red marked dirt road. when the red markers branch left from the road, park your car. Frome here it’s A short 2 Km hike:
The hill is only 50 m high, but is very prominent in contrast to the flat Arava valley around. It is made part from sand and part from rock in various red coloring. All this together with the fine views from the top make this a rewarding short hike!!
Follow the red marked path towards the hill, which is clearly seen in front of you. As you come close the path becomes steeper. The top of the hill is a large flat plateau. walk around to get views from all directions. Continue with the red markers to the other side of the hill and descend back on the black marked trail.


If you still have time and energy you can continue to the nearby “Arava Peace Road”.
The Road is the name of a driving route that runs along the border between Israel and  Jordan. All along the way travelers can enjoy viewing the cultivated fields of Idan, Hatzeva and Ein Yahav, stopping at the observation points that overlook the landscapes of the Arava and the mountains of Edom. Full information is available in KKL-JNF website.