Looking to incorporate a fun family excursion during your visit to the Galilee? A popular local choice is to get the family in a raft and go floating on the Jordan River. We did just that last week and I'm here to report what's rafting on the Jordan River in Israel is like in July.
Not only that. I'm also going to share some tips with you that will help make sure your rafting/floating trip is a success!
Our floating trip on the Jordan River
You may notice I use the words rafting and floating interchangeably in this post. There's a reason for that. Israelis use the word "rafting" in Hebrew to describe any trip along a water source that's done in a raft. Kayaking is usually the other option and that's simply going on the water in a kayak. In the case of fresh water kayaking, that's usually an inflatable kayak for two people.
What we did last week falls under the category of a floating trip. Which is fine, as long as you know what to expect. The operators did a great job explaining everything beforehand so no problem here.
So, what did we do?
We arrived at Nehar Hayarden Rafting company near Kibbutz Gadot on Thursday morning. Their website doesn't have an English version but if you need to get a hold of them, their phone number is 04-9007000 and their email is [email protected].
This was a fairly spontaneous day trip to the Galilee so we didn't make any reservations in advance and turns out we didn't have to. They're open throughout the week (not on Saturdays though) and you can just come and go down your river trip.
We opted for one of the rafts and following a short safety talk, we went down to the river and entered our inflatable boat.
Just as the instructor had told us, most of the way was a very relaxed floating trip, lasting over an hour.
We had the river to ourselves. The boat that went in the water after us was super slow for some reason and the river winded enough so we never saw them. The only sound was that of our boys debating the right way to row the boat so that it would actually keep facing the right direction. Fortunately, it's hard to go wrong here. The current takes you in the right direction even if you never use the oars.
On several occasions, my husband hopped off the boat to cool off in the water. They reached his waistline so he managed to swim for a little bit. The current is slow at this point, so there was no fear of him "losing" the boat. In fact, at some point, he was walking behind us and pushing the boat forward.
We did see some animals during the floating trip but I couldn't get very good photos on the move. We saw two nutrias (aka copyus) which look a lot like beavers only with a rat's tail. We also spotted fish, crab and a couple of water turtles, as well as kingfishers and other birds.
After about an hour of peaceful floating, we reached the narrower and more shallow part of the route. This also means faster, so at this point, we began to see some water movement.
At the very end, we went over what I think can safely be called an actual water rapid. Which was lots of fun but lasted practically seconds.
The next thing we saw was the line of blue barrels used to indicate the end of the route. That's where we embarked, returned our gear and were shuttled back to where we had left our car.
Can you go rafting in the Jordan River?
Yes, you can! Only not during summertime. During winter and spring, the same company offers whitewater rafting trips on the Jordan river. They last a total of five hours and are open to ages 15 and above. They sound totally awesome and I hope we get to take one next year after our Dan turns 15.
You can also rent a tube in season and go over a shorter section of the river that's suitable for that particular activity. Nehar Hayarden Rafting company offers a really nice package combining tubes and kayaking in season.
Depending on what kind of winter we had in Israel, the water level usually goes down during June. During July and August, you can't really go out on a whitewater rafting trip and should expect what is mostly a floating trip. Which is perfect for the whole family. If you do come with young children please know that the minimum age for going on the water is 5 but they may sometimes raise the limit, depending on river conditions.
Finally, my tips for making the most of your floating trip during the summer months!
1. Wear water shoes
You have to wear either shoes or sandals when you get on the raft. They won't let you on barefoot. If you can, wear shoes or sandals that are a good fit for walking in the water. My boys had their crocs on and that was perfect.
Not only will you get your feet wet from the water that gets into the raft or kayak, you may just want to hop out and cool off in the water from time to time. Getting your hiking boots and socks soaked isn't much fun and could prevent you from using them for other activities later in the day (or even the following day).
According to the operators, the kayaks tend to take in a lot of water, so if you rent one of them, you're bound to get your feet wet. The rafts are better at staying above the water line. I did actually wear my hiking boots and while I couldn't get into the water per se, I didn't have any issues with keeping my feet and shoes dry.
2. Try some body rafting
You're wearing life jackets anyway, so why not make the most of them? Body rafting is a popular element when floating in the quieter Jordan River. All you have to do is lay on your back, relax and float along the raft. In this particular route, once you get to the two bridges, just hop back on the boat. Not only will you not lose your raft, you'll also avoid getting hit by rocks.
3. Take lots of water with you
Yes, you'll be surrounded by water. No, that doesn't mean you won't need to bring your own along. Remember, the temperature is almost certainly above 35 degrees Celsius (in the high 90's in Fahrenheit). With limited shade, even if you're not doing the rowing, you could easily become dehydrated.
We took three large bottles of drinking water along with us and they were all used to the last drop by the time we reached the end of the rafting route. An additional one wouldn't have hurt, so my advice is to take one water bottle per person.
If you go rafting with Nehar Hayarden company in Gadot, then look for the excellent water cooler. It's just between the bathrooms and the snack bar, has three taps with flowing cold fresh water that you can use to fill up your bottles. You can also get cold drinks at the snack bar but the free cold water is great too.
4. Lather yourself with sunscreen
You're getting more sun exposure on the water, so do wear sunscreen. And plenty of it. I didn't use enough and still ended up with a mild sunburn. My sons and husband used more and were fine. Anyone with sensitive skin - including young children - should consider covering up with long sleeves. Just keep it lightweight because it is hot out there.
5. Wear a hat and sunglasses
Again, you're going to be in the sun at least for some parts of the trip on the water. And anytime between June and September, you're likely to experience high temperatures too which isn't a result of the sunlight but does tell you something about the place. The operators recommend making sure any eyeglasses - shades or prescription eyewear - are secured using straps. You may want to get something like this from Amazon:
Not only does this neoprene strap secure your eyewear, it also stays afloat if you do end up dropping it in the water somehow. It's a good investment if you enjoy water activities but don't worry if you don't have a strap like this. First, you can always improvise with any piece of string and secondly, you're unlikely to lose your eyewear during this gentle family floating trip.
6. Get the waterproof phone cover
While this isn't a whitewater rafting trip, you will get splashed and slightly wet. Which may be fun for most of us on a hot day but not so much fun for our phones. You can leave your belongings in the car or in a locker but then how would you take pictures of your floating trip? The solution is a good see-through waterproof phone cover. I used the one they sell on the site for 60 shekels -
That white plastic part on the top locks into position and keeps your phone safely sealed inside the waterproof wrap. You can still operate the phone through the plastic sheath and shoot photos along the way.
7. Listen to the safety talk
Just because this is a relaxed floating trip doesn't mean there are no safety rules. Listen to the guide giving the talk at the beginning of your trip and follow the instructions.
Finally, don't forget to have lots of fun! We sure did! I think this is a great activity for families visiting Israel and looking to do something fun in the area on a hot day.
I'd like to thank Nehar Hayarden Rafting company for generously offering to sponsor our trip on the water once I told them about this blog. As always, you're still getting my honest opinions on this.