Covering 30 square kilometers, the Yatir Forest helps define the boundary between the Judean Mountains and the Negev Desert. It is an entirely man-made forest, having been planted since the 1960. It consists mainly of pines, especially Aleppo Pine, with less than 10% of the forest being made up of cypress, terebinth, jujube, carob, and other native species of the region.
The forest is almost empty of permanent inhabitants, though some Bedouin do live in the general area, and two very small towns sit on its edges. It has been a center for environmental research on subjects such as the effects of forestation on how much rainwater is retained rather than being lost to evaporation. The woods are also home to miles of marked recreational trails and other dirt roads, and to the occasional orchard or other piece of cultivated land. Near the highest point in the hills sits a large reservoir – unfortunately, swimming is not permitted!
In the heart of the forest sits a former fortress converted into a “Forester’s House.” This hilltop site commands an all-around view of the forested hills, and is an excellent spot from which to watch the sunset – and conveniently for hikers, it also contains a free room with cots, a bathroom and a mini-kitchen; those wishing to spend the night can simply walk in and make themselves comfortable.
The forest is named after a city mentioned in the Bible as a town designated for the Levites, often spelled “Jattir” in English. This town may have been on the same site as the ruin now called Yatir, and found adjacent to the Abraham Path’s route. However, the ruins here date back to Byzantine and Roman times, not to the time of Joshua. They are not marked or preserved, but free for anyone to explore – there are several arched rooms still standing, and mosaics in the classic Byzantine style as well.
The Yatir forest ends abruptly at a mountain ridge overlooking the Jordan Rift Valley, near the town of Har Amasa – a stark transition from a semi-arid Mediterranean ecosystem to the desert.