Spanning approximately 1,200 hectares north of Beit Shemesh; the Eshtaol Forest is one of the largest forests in Israel and is a great place to enjoy recreational activities. Just south of the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem Highway and close to Neve Shalom and Ta’oz; Eshtaol Forest features internal roads for scenic drives, several hiking trails, and many scenic picnic areas and viewpoints.
Furthermore, the Israel National Trail and the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem Cycle Trail pass through Eshtaol Forest. While smaller trails include the 5.2-mile Eshtaol hiking trail. Also, there are several recreation areas within the forest with picnic areas and observation points with enchanting views!
Most of the trees planted in the forest are pine trees of the Jerusalem pine species; which are resistant to direct sunlight conditions and cope with the rocky and limestone soil in the area. Following the afforestation in the improved soil a sub-forest system developed under the canopy of trees. Therefore, a habitat for animals and plants was formed. Such as spiders; mosses, and various beetles.
Eshtaol Forest: O’Higgins Recreation Area
The O’Higgins Recreation Area is named after Bernardo O’Higgins (1778-1842) who was an important statesman and military hero in the liberation of Chile and is one of the main recreation areas in the Eshtaol Forest. The recreation area was funded by Friends of the Keren Kayemet LeIsrael. In other words, the Jewish National Fund in South America and there is a memorial dedicated to the general on the edge of the recreation area. The O’Higgins Recreation Area has lovely picnic spots and a playground for children.
Shiri Scenic Lookout and Recreation Area
The Shiri Scenic Lookout honors Shiri Levinger and features a wooden observation deck with benches and a table, and boasts breathtaking views of the Sorek Valley; Mount Karmila; and the Tzora ridge. Also, the recreation area is accessible for the physically challenged and has another panoramic lookout and a variety of playground equipment for children. This is one of my favorites in Eshtaol Forest
Abraham (Boma) Goldstein Recreation Area
The Abraham (Boma) Goldstein Recreation Area features the remains of a Byzantine church mosaic with decorative squares and a circle with a large crucifix. Also, there are also the remains of an old lime pit.
Abie Nathan Recreation Area and Hill 314
Avraham “Abie” Nathan (1927 – 2008) was an Israeli humanitarian and peace activist. He founded the Voice of Peace radio station. So when he died the president of Israel said about him: “He was one of the most prominent and special people in the country […] He is the man who dedicated his life for other people and for a better humanity.”
Hill 314 is famous for playing an important role in the battle for Latrun during Israel’s War of Independence. In a covert operation known as Operation Bin Nun in 1948, the young 7th Brigade and the 32nd Battalion tried to break through the Jordanian Legion-controlled Latrun zone and came under heavy fire. Commander Ram Ron of the 1st Company of the 32nd Battalion fought back, covered the retreat of the 2nd Company of the brigade, and took Hill 314 with minimal casualties.
After the Independence War, an IDF outpost was positioned there to secure the ceasefire line between Israel and Jordan. The nearby village of Neve Shalom was established in 1969. With the intention to promote coexistence between Jews and Arabs. And today has a population of Jews and Muslim and Christian Arabs.