Judaean Desert

The Dead Sea, as seen from the Judaean Desert

The Judaean Desert is a desert in Israel and the West Bank that lies east of Jerusalem and the Judean hills and west of the Jordan Valley and Dead Sea. It has a desert climate although many streams flow to it from the Judaean hills and the Jerusalem hills, and whom have carved beautiful canyons and ravines through the soft rocks in the region, such as those in the Dragot river.

Most of the attractions and sites throughout the Judaean Desert are located along the western shores of the Dead Sea. In addition to information about the attractions and sites in the Judaean Desert, this article provides expanded details regarding the various hiking trails in the Judaean Desert.



Though hostile and arid, the Judaean Desert was settled since before recorded history. Jericho, which was founded over 12,000 years ago (around 9,000 BCE), is one of the oldest continuously-inhabited cities in the world, and it is the first city in the world that had walls built to protect it. Another notable place is Ein Gedi, a large oasis that had cities built around it for over 6,000 years. Inside the desert itself there are numerous isolated monasteries, many are still active to this day.

The Judaean Desert played an important role in the Jewish kingdoms in Israel during the biblical times, and also during the Greek and roman times.

Due to its rough terrain and climate, the Judaean Desert was known as a hiding place for refugees and rebels. In one famous Biblical story, King David fled here with his soldiers after king Saul ordered to have him killed. During the Greek and roman times, the Hasmonean dynasty and the roman client king Herod the Great built and fortified many forts, strongholds and even palaces in the Judaean Desert, most famously, Masada. During the Roman-Jewish wars, the Jewish rebels fled to the Judaean Desert and fortified in the strongholds there. The last free standing Jewish stronghold in Jewish history, prior to the establishment of the modern state of Israel, was Masada.


 Climate Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Daily highs (°C) 20.5 21.7 24.8 29.9 34.1 37.6 39.7 39.0 36.5 32.4 26.9 21.7
Nightly lows (°C) 12.7 13.7 16.7 20.9 24.7 27.6 29.6 29.9 28.3 24.7 19.3 14.1
Precipitation (mm) 7.8 9.0 7.6 4.3 0.2 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 1.2 3.5 8.3

The coast of the dead sea offers many cold and hot springs.

The Judaean Desert has an average annual rainfall of 47mm. This is due to the fact that the rains in Israel, which comes from the Mediterranean Sea, are blocked by the Judaean mountains, creating a rainshadow desert over the eastern slopes of the mountains (the Judaean Desert), while the western slopes (the Shfela) receive an average annual rainfall of about 500mm. Because of that, the Judaean Desert contains a relatively large amount of oases, which are fed by the groundwater from the western slopes of the Judaean mountains.

Almost every year various travelers find themselves stuck in certain streams in the Judaean Desert when flash floods appear abruptly due to rain that occurred recently in the nearby Judaean hills and the Jerusalem hills. Some of these abrupt flash floods can be quite dangerous and even lead to deaths. Therefore, before hiking on the narrow streams in the Judaean desert, always make sure that no rain is expected to fall in the Judaean Desert or the nearby mountains.


Kelt oasis in the Prath river

The Judaean Desert is an array of hills and canyons, falling from the heights of around 1,000 meters in the Judean Mountains, to the Dead Sea which is, at -421 meters below sea level, the lowest place on earth. At its eastern edge, the Judaean Desert dramatically drops into the Dead Sea in cliffs of up to 500 meters, and waterfalls in the dry canyons fall in heights of 50-330 meters.

This cliff line was created as a result of the Great Rift Valley and the movement of the tectonic plates. The movement of the tectonic plates have created the valleys of the region, including the Dead Sea valley. This movement also created the sharp cliffs located at the eastern edge of the The Judaean Desert, above the Dead Sea Valley.

Cities and villages

Notable cities and villages throughout the Judaean Desert:

Get in

The majority of the Judaean Desert is either in the Palestinian territories of Judea, or stretches along the Dead Sea. The only other civilized area is the town Arad.

By car

Route 90 crosses the entire Dead Sea basin from the Lido junction in the north to the Arava junction down south, and passes through almost all settlements that are not in Palestinian territories.

From the north the route can be accessed by driving southwards on route 90, that begins in Qiryat Shemona and passes by Beth Shean.

From Jerusalem and the coastal plain it can be accessed by driving eastwards on route 1, the road that goes from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Pass by Jerusalem following the road signs to the Dead Sea. In the Lido junction, turn right and you're on route 90, driving along the Dead Sea. Alternately, you can drive southwards towards Beer Sheva on route 40 (or on the toll-road Route 6, which then connects to route 40), then take a left either on route 31 (going through Arad and connecting to route 90 in Zohar junction) or on route 25 (through Dimona to the Arava junction, on the southern end of the Judaean desert).

From the south, reach the Arava road (also part of route 90) and drive northwards, passing the Arava junction.

By bus

All following lines drive on route 90. All of them pass through the Ein Bokek hotel complex. The most frequent buses are from Jerusalem.


Most tourist attractions in the Judaean Desert are located near the western shores of the Dead Sea. Look there for further information.

Notable tourist attractions located in the Judaean Desert include:

  • Masada Audio-Visual Show,  +972-8-9959333. April to October - Tuesday and Thursday (excluding holiday eves). Running time: 40 minutes. Spectacular light show recounts the dramatic history of Masada with special pyrotechnic effects. Spectators sit in a natural amphitheater on the west side of the mountain, reachable only via Arad, 20km away.



Some Jewish settlements along the coast of the Dead sea have hostels. There is also a hostel at the base of Masada, while many high class hotels can be found in Ein-Bokek and Neve-Zohar in the southern coast of the Dead sea. See more info at the Dead Sea sleep section.

You can also camp for free in the coast of Ein-Gedi, where you also have shops, beach-showers and bathrooms.

Stay safe

Potential dangers

Go next

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Tuesday, August 18, 2015. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.