Jordan’s most popular new adventure activity is a 400-mile walking trail that covers the length of the country, from Um Qais in the north to the Red Sea in the south. According to Malia Asfour, director of the Jordan Tourism Board, North America, the aptly named Jordan Trail offers 40 days of inspirational trekking if done in full, although groups can choose to hike it in sections.
“This project, which is still growing and developing, takes you on a journey through the layers of Jordanian landscape and history and provides an encounter with the country’s people and their cultures, traditions and cuisine,” she says.
In addition to adventure, the Jordan Trail, with several significant sites along the way, offers a glimpse into biblical times as well. After all, Jordan is the land where Jesus was baptized; where he walked among the people, taught them and performed miracles; and where he started his final journey toward crucifixion in Jerusalem. If you prefer to focus on the Christian elements of the trail, you can select the sections of the trail that are the most relevant.
“And the trail can be done in pieces: a portion of the trail in the north, in the middle or in the south,” Asfour says. “The terrains, lifestyle and cultural traditions change as you pass through different biogeographic zones.”
Here is information on each of the eight sections on the trail, with references on key biblical sites included:
Um Qais to Ajloun (49 miles)
Highlights of this northerly and green corner of Jordan include Roman ruins, hot springs, mysterious prehistoric structures and villages focused on community-based tourism.
Biblical references: Um Qais was known as Gadara in biblical times and was a town where Jesus spent time and performed miracles, including the Miracle of the Gadarene Swine in which he healed a mad man by casting out his evil spirits onto a herd of pigs.
Ajloun to Fuheis (37 miles)
From the village of Burma, the trail leads across the King Talal Dam wall and past rich farmlands to the Christian village of Fuheis and a nearby microbrewery.
Fuheis to Wadi Zarqa Ma’in (45 miles)
The climate becomes warmer and more arid as the trail passes by scattered Bedouin camps, crosses a plateau overlooking the Dead Sea and descends through basalt canyons. (A wadi is a valley or ravine.) Today the Dead Sea remains a popular pilgrimage site because many believe that its waters have special healing powers.
Biblical references: Many stories from the Old Testament occurred in or around the Dead Sea. For example, the book of Genesis describes the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, two cities that were located along the east coast of the Dead Sea.
On the way to the Dead Sea you will encounter the Pillar of Lot’s Wife, a monument commemorating the biblical story of Lot’s wife being turned into a pillar of salt. Further down the road you can visit Lot’s Cave, where Lot and his two daughters lived after escaping Sodom and Gomorrah. Later a monastery was built on this site.
Mount Nebo is another famous biblical location to visit on this section of the Jordan Trail. According to the book of Deuteronomy, Moses stood on Mount Nebo to view the Promised Land. From here, you can see Jericho and Jerusalem in the distance on a clear day. Some stones from a 4th-century church remain at the site, and a collection of beautiful Byzantine mosaics are preserved inside the present-day shrine at Nebo, where the 6th-century basilica once stood.
Three Wadis to Karak (47 miles)
Hiking from Wadi Wala and Wadi Hidan, trekkers cross Wadi Mujib, described in the Bible as the Ammon Valley. Today Wadi Mujib is often referred to as the Grand Canyon of Jordan. The trail then crosses a fertile plateau, passes the ruins of Magdelina and ends at the imposing castle of Karak.
Biblical references: Karak is the Crusader castle, and it also was the capital of the biblical kingdom of Moab. The castle dates to 1140, but it has been a fortress since biblical times. The Bible says that the king of Israel and his allies from Judah and Edom “ravaged Moab and besieged its king, Mesha, in the fortress of Kir Heres,” as Karak was known then.
Karak to Dana (52 miles)
From the southern fortifications of Karak, the trail goes past the abandoned village of Khirbet Ainun, descends to the orchards and olive groves of Al-Iraq, zigzags between limestone cliffs, passes Edomite ruins and arrives in Dana, at the edge of a wildlife reserve.
Dana to Petra (46 miles)
Named by National Geographic as one of the best hikes in the world, this section of the Jordan Trail crosses several climate zones and provides the full spectrum of the region’s geology, from majestic mountaintops to peaceful countryside. The route ends at the ancient city of Petra, the Nabatean city in the rocks, which was named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007 and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Biblical references: Many believe that the narrow entrance to Petra, known as the Siq, was the place where Moses parted the rocks to find flowing water for his people during the Exodus. Known in the Bible as Sela (or Selah), Petra was also one of the rest stops for the wise men as they journeyed to see baby Jesus with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Also, Jesus spoke Aramaic, the language of the Nabataean people who founded Petra.
Petra to Wadi Rum (68 miles)
This section offers trekkers a taste of desert silence as they journey from deep, rugged wadis into sandy plains with sandstone buttes.
Wadi Rum to the Red Sea (40 miles)
Heading from Wadi Rum, a World Heritage site with sandstone desert mountains, the trail passes beneath towering cliffs en route to the Bedouin village of Titen. As they follow old shepherd paths, hikers get glimpses of the Red Sea and the mountains of Sinai before descending down to long sandy wadis to the sea.
Biblical references: The most well-known reference to the Red Sea is found in the book of Exodus with the story of Moses parting the Red Sea so that the people of Israel could escape the Egyptians.
The best times of year to hike the Jordan Trail vary by regions, but consider late May to mid-September as too hot for trekking. To learn more about the trail, visit jordantrail.org or reach out to Asfour.
Photos by Jordan Tourism Board