Big Crater (Hamakhtesh Hagadol)

Colorful sands, stunning views, numerous hiking options, and a magnificent oasis, in the Big Crater, a unique natural phenomenon, and one of the best sites to see in the Israeli desert.
Big Crater (Hamakhtesh Hagadol)

A rare natural phenomenon

The Big Crater, located in the central part of the desert in Israel, is one of only 5 craters of its kind in the whole world (all in the Middle East), making it an extremely rare and unique site to visit. With magnificent views and several unique natural phenomena, like colorful sands and rare rock formations, it truly is one of the most epic and underrated natural wonders of Israel.

The Big Crater, also known as Hamakhtesh Hagadol, one of 5 such phenomena in the whole world, is one of the most impressive and unique sites you can find in the Israeli desert. Thanks to a multitude of viewpoints and hikes, there are countless ways to marvel at the beauty of this epic site, which is considered by many to be the middle brother: the small and lesser-known brother of the Ramon Crater, and the less interesting brother of the smaller Small Crater. Here’s all of the important information about visiting the stunning Big Crater.

The formation of the Big Crater

The craters in the Negev are a rare phenomenon that can only be found in the desert in Israel, as they are the result of a combination of several unique natural conditions. Those include an asymmetric arch, rock layers of different kinds, a stream that sweeps away the contents of the crater with a low drift base, and a desert climate.

In the first stage, a layer of sandstones was laid down in a terrestrial environment. The flooding of the Tethys Ocean resulted in the stratification of marine sedimentary rocks – limestone and dolomite – on the soft sandstones.

About 90 million years ago, folding forces began to operate in the area, operating for about 40 million years and creating the Negev arches (ridges created by the uplift of the land), with the walls of the Big Crater being among them. Then, About 30 million years ago, the ocean retreated from the Negev region.

The retreat of the ocean exposed the area to terrestrial weathering processes that eroded the arches. The upper layers made of hard limestone rocks were eroded and the soft sandstone inside the arch was exposed. The sandstone layer was rapidly eroded and washed out by a paddling stream. Then, the removal of the sandstone layer flattened the hard limestone layers, widening the crater and creating vertical crater walls, forming the magnificent phenomenon we see here today.

Most Beautiful Sites in the Big Crater

Colorful sands

The Big Crater has a wide variety of colored sands and in the Colorful Sands parking lot you can find all the colors in one place, so it is the ideal place to enjoy this spectacular natural phenomenon. Here, many travelers take a small bottle and fill it with colored sand, to keep a souvenir of the spectacular place. The best time to visit here is during sunset when the colors of the setting sun paint a perfect picture with the colorful sands.

Ein Yorke’am

A seasonal spring that is full mainly in winter and a deep water hole that is filled with flood water that comes from the nearby Nahal Hatira, the main stream of the Big Crater. The spring stay full for most of the year, thanks to its great depth, and is a great site to visit at any time outside the summer months.

From the overnight campground, which is adjacent to the spring and is right at the exit of the crater, there is a descent to a walking path with green markings, which is about 500 meters long, that reaches Ein Yorke’am, where carved steps will carefully take you down into the huge pool, an ideal place to enjoy spectacularly the typical desert peacefulness and cool down.

Avnon Viewpoint

Mount Avnon is the best vantage point of the Great Crater and is located just east of the town of Yeruham. The best way to get here is via the narrow and winding road 225 that leaves from Yeruham and at the end reaches the edge of the crater. Here, just a bit before you will start your descent into the crater, turn left to a dirt road that will take you to Mount Avnon within a short 5-minute drive.

The view from the mountain, which is 656 meters/2,150 feet high, is spectacular at any time of the day and the closer you get to the cliff, the better the view gets. On the west side of the parking lot, you will see a small hill that offers a challenging climb, which will reward you with an even more beautiful view of the region.

Best Hikes in the Big Crater

Little Fin trail

A great route that goes up on one of the walls of the crater and gives a wonderful view of the entire beautiful area. The route starts from the Colorful Sands parking lot. From here, we will carefully cross the road and look for the black-marked trail, which will accompany us to the edge of the crater, known as the Little Fin.

The climb is short but steep, and the higher you climb, the more you will feel the fresh desert air that characterizes this area. Towards the end of the ascent, you will be helped by pegs that will make it easier for you to climb to the top. When you arrive, take a deep breath and spend some time at the top, admiring this spectacular natural phenomenon.

The way down is much easier, but to go safely to the parking lot, you should choose the green route that descends from the summit and makes it a circular route. The descent is easy and moderate, but be careful not to slip. At the end of the descent, cross the road again and turn left (west) with the blue marking, which will accompany you to the colorful sands parking lot, where you left your car.

Big Fin trail

The Great Fin is one of the walls that are located inside the Big Crater. This route is much harder than the previous one and is mostly suitable for hikers with technical ability and plenty of experience. Although the route is not very long, as it’s only 4 kilometers/2.5 miles each way, its challenging nature is what makes it a pretty challenging trail. The hike got its name because of the shape of the wall leaning on the sides of the great crater like a giant fin.

The starting point of this route is at the Ein Yorkam parking lot, from where you must cross the road, and then follow the black marking. The track curves to the left and passes under the bridge, which is actually a tunnel that goes under the road. and continues straight into the big fin.

The big fin is a huge wall with a sharp slope that sits on the sides of the Big Crater. This route of the Big Fin essentially crosses the Big Crater, as it includes ascents and descents of varying levels of difficulty and goes along a gradient route. When making your way to the top of the big fin, you will reach a mesmerizing observation point over almost the entire crater.

The views from here are absolutely dreamy, as they include endless spaces in a variety of colors, and Just before the end of the hike, there is a section that includes walking on steps, after which you will get to the colorful sands parking lot. From here, you can choose between returning the same way or finding a short ride (7 minutes drive) back to the parking lot where you started.

Opening hours

Open at all times

Parking and transportation

There are parking lots next to every major site in the Big Crater.

Accessibility arrangements

  • The hikes in the Big Crater are not wheelchair-accessible.

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