The Jordan Trail: 400 Miles on Foot Through History

The following is a sponsored post courtesy of the Jordan Trail Association.  

The Jordan Trail is a newly established path traveling across ancient trade routes that are believed to be walked by Jesus, Moses, and Muhammad. It won’t be long before this trail becomes a popular feat much like our beloved Appalachian Trail. The fun of traveling by foot across a relatively unknown trail is that the interactions with locals are authentic and unplanned. There’s no formal infrastructure in place to accommodate a thru-hiker’s every need, making this a true outdoor undertaking that demands a realm of social, physical, and mental skills.

Overview of the Jordan Trail, courtesy of Wiki Travel.

The Jordan Trail At-a-Glance

Distance: 425 Miles (680km)

Location: The length of Jordan; from Um Qais to the Red Sea

Trail Type: Point-to-point

Scenery: Very diverse; wooded hills, historic villages, dramatic desert sands and canyons

Terrain: Moderate, with sandy desert stretches, rolling hills, and some rocky sections

Navigation: Printable maps, GPX elevation profiles, and Google Maps organized by small sections available through the Jordan Trail Association. The Jordan Trail is newly established and therefore not yet marked throughout. It is recommended to use a local guide due to the trail’s remoteness, lack of water sources, and connectivity in certain areas.

Hiking with a Guide

The logistics involved with planning any international thru-hike can be complicated, but the Jordan Trail is unlike any trail in the Western world. There are linguistic and cultural challenges, and one majorly daunting endeavor: crossing part of the Arabian Desert by foot.

Between the lack of way-marked trail, phone connectivity, and water, it is highly recommended to travel with the Jordan Trail Association or hire an independent local guide. Unless hikers possess excellent route finding and communication skills, and have hiked in extreme desert environments, the Jordan Trail would be ambitious (though not impossible; a few folks have done it) to walk unguided. It’s strongly advised to hike in a group, regardless. Guides help hikers arrange transportation, navigate the trail and resupply logistics, carry water by camel, facilitate and interpret conversation with locals, and share knowledge about the historical and cultural significance of the areas you’d be walking through. 

A guide helps hikers navigate unfamiliar and unmarked terrain.

Aside from the more tangible benefits of hiking with a guide for language and cultural purposes, it’s the relationships you form with them that are most memorable. The Jordanians are not only experts on the land, but they are genuine and generous people whom any hiker would benefit having by their side. Sunflower, a 2019 Jordan Trail thru-hiker, says, “The guides know all the edible plants … so you’ll always be munching on something fresh.”

Guides lead their hikes with pack animals like camels and mules, varying depending on the terrain. Independent thru-hikers may want to consider buying an animal for lugging necessary water.

Hikers who choose to hike with a guide have a few options.

1. Plan a trip with the Jordan Trail Association

In the past the JTA has hosted one thru-hike per year lasting about 40-45 days. In spring 2020, they plan to lead one NOBO and one SOBO thru-hike with 12 hikers in each group (there’s also the option to join only for a section). The two Bedouin guides that lead these trips are not only highly experienced adventurers, but they are shepherds of the land who first pioneered the route by hiking it in its entirety in 2016. They know the landscape better than anyone and share historical significance and experiences with their groups. The cost to travel with the JTA is ~$3,000USD and includes water, food, and guiding services—basically everything but your airfare, visa, and National Reserve permit.

2. Hire a local independent guide

Some local tour operators, like Experience Jordan, offer specialty guiding services along the Jordan Trail. Their services would include transportation, visas, entry fees, hiking itinerary, accommodations, sightseeing guides, and some meals. The JTA also provides a list of licensed individual guides who may be available for private hire.  Check out the list of tour operators here.

Getting to the Trail

First off, there’s getting to Jordan. International hikers will need to fly into Amman, and then travel by vehicle to either terminus. If you’re working with the JTA or a local guide, they will help facilitate your travel from the airport to the terminus. From Amman, it is a two-hour drive to the Northern Terminus in Um Qais, or a five-hour drive to the Southern Terminus at the Red Sea. If hiking NOBO, there’s the option of flying into Aqaba, a major city close to the starting terminus where a taxi could be easily arranged.

Traveling from Petra to Little Petra.

A vista is needed to travel internationally to Jordan, costing 40JD ($55 USD) and can be bought upon arrival to the airport. The standard visa expires after one month. If you anticipate your hike taking longer than this, you can easily have it extended by visiting a police station.

More information regarding transportation can be found on the JTA website.

Why Hike the Jordan Trail?

The Jordan Trail is unlike any other long-distance hike. It is a journey rich in history and heritage that showcases Jordan’s most authentic natural treasures. It’s also relatively new. As long trails in the US and Europe begin to crowd with ambitious hikers, there are still very few that have experienced the Jordan Trail in its entirety.

It’s a path connecting diverse ecosystems: from Jordanian forests to deserts and canyons, and along the bank of the iconic Dead Sea. Hikers get to experience monumental markers in the history of world civilization by foot, too see it as the ancient peoples would have.

The spectacular narrows and canyons are one of Jordan’s most unique features.

The landscape is breathtaking, but the people are equally beautiful. The trail is a great display of human connection and hospitality. As hikers walk through Jordanian communities, they witness the kindness of the Bedouin people. Past thru-hikers have noted that their interactions with their guides and other locals was the most appealing and positive part of their journeys through Jordan.

Financially, while the cost to travel to Jordan may be pricey, the cost of food and services in villages along the way is inexpensive. The cost of food is especially low. On any of the Triple Crown trails, it’s safe to say that most hikers spend the majority of their budget on town amenities. But on the JT hikers will find themselves mostly camping on the trail. This helps keep costs to a minimum. Additionally, an experienced guiding service will be reasonably priced in comparison what you may pay for a similar trip in other parts of the world. 

Weather, and When to Hike

The Jordan Trail presents a fairly narrow weather window to hike. The extremes of the desert in the south and high mountains in the north make February to April the best time to thru-hike (March and April are when the JTA plans trips). During these months, temperatures are more comfortable, the forests and flowers are colorful, and water is flowing more regularly.

It’s not unusual to experience some rain on a trek of the Jordan Trail.

It can be walked between September and mid-November; however, the flowers, greenery, and flowing water disappear after the hot summer months.

The weather on the Jordan Trail can be mild during the spring, but hot and cold extremes are always possible. The heat through the desert in the south and at lower elevations can be intense. Like in other desert environments, protection from the sun and dehydration is important. Rain and colder temperatures can occur, especially at the higher altitude of the mountains in the north. Because of these extremes, it’s best to bring various clothing layers.

Stay aware of Islamic holidays, when shops and services will have limited or no availability.

Gear Suggestions for a Jordan Trail Thru-Hike

The gear needed for the Jordan Trail is not much different from an AT or PCT thru-hike. The main consideration that differs from other long-distance trails is choosing modest clothing. It’s best to wear clothes that cover, at a minimum, from shoulders to knees (that means no tank tops). Jordan is predominantly Muslim, so out of respect for local customs, it’s considerate to dress appropriately. For women, it’s best to wear pants and avoid low-cut shirts. This helps to avoid drawing unwanted attention or disrespecting any locals you may encounter.

For footwear, lightweight or mid-cut trail runners perform best on the terrain of the Jordan Trail. There are long stretches walking through sand and loose rock through the Petra section where heavy boots would be uncomfortable.

The varied terrain and weather of the Jordan Trail demand a well-rounded gear list.

Given the foods available for resupply, most hikers will carry a stove for cooking. Outside of Amman, it is difficult to obtain gas for canister stoves, so it’s recommended to use a multi-fuel stove, like the MSR Whisperlite International, since they can run off gasoline available at standard gas stations.

It’s best to pack lot of layers. The heat of the desert during the day, to the chilly desert nights and rain in the northern mountains, means hikers will encounter a variety of weather conditions. Sun shirts, hats (or hatta, a head), and umbrellas are helpful through the exposed desert, and rain jackets and puffies make the cold weather more comfortable.

Some sections of trail are quite rocky, making a freestanding tent the best hassle-free shelter option. Trekking poles are great for navigating water crossings (flash flooding can be a concern in the spring) and steep, rocky terrain.

Water filters (like a Sawyer Squeeze) and larger capacity bladders are crucial for treating and carrying water.

The JTA gives a thorough outline of recommended gear for a hike.

Camping and Lodging

Camping along the Jordan Trail mostly involves backcountry camping. The JTA can facilitate house stays, but most need to be planned well in advance. There are no real camping restrictions aside from avoiding private property.

If this isn’t picturesque camping, I don’t know what is.

Helpful information can be found on the Explore the Route section of the JTA website. There, the trail is broken down into small sections with maps and other important information. The Accommodations tab on the right side of the page provides the location of backcountry campsites and other lodging options. I’d encourage prospective hikers to poke around on the site; there’s a ton of data in there. Many of the towns and villages along the trail won’t have facilities that Western thru-hikers are used to, like showers and laundry. Hikers should expect to embrace the dirt.  Some hotels will offer laundry service for a fee, which is sometimes expensive.

Jordan Trail Highlights

The trail travels across a diverse country. The south features the most spectacular desert in the world, while the north travels through challenging terrain with sweeping views.

The JT travels through Petra, a famous hidden archaeological site in Jordan’s southwestern desert. Quintessential narrow canyons and sandstone cliffs surround famous temples that marked the capital of the Nabataean Kingdom, dating from 300 BC. Many famous movies have been filmed here, including Indiana Jones and Arabian Nights.

Hidden by sand and time, Petra tells the story of civilization nearly 2,000 years ago. Today, most people don’t arrive by foot.

Any tourist can go to Petra and get a taste of the region and its story, but thru-hikers recognize it’s the journey by foot that offers the greatest opportunity to truly see a place for all that it is. The journey from Petra to Wadi Rum is empty wilderness where humans seldom go. Between rugged wadis and sandstone buttes, the stargazing skies lead a back route into these famous historical sites.

Just north of Petra, the JT travels through the mountainous Dana Nature Preserve (the largest nature preserve in Jordan) with abundant wildlife, a quaint village, and soaring canyons.

Note: There is a small entry fee to get into Petra.

Water

Hiking through desert environments requires much diligence for staying hydrated, especially during warmer weather. While water on the trail isn’t considered frequent, hikers can expect to find water at least once per day with the exception of one stretch.

Water isn’t a challenge throughout the entire trail. Here, a clear water source in Northern Jordan.

Despite Jordan’s appearance as desolate desert, there is a surprising amount of natural water sources along the trail. Through the country’s western mountains and gorges, there are wells, streams, rivers, and springs (a result of rainfall at high altitude) that supply water to the local Bedouin people. Through this northern region of the trail, it’s necessary to treat the water.

It’s important to note the type of water filtration system used during a hike of the JT. Commonly used filters in the US, like the Sawyer Squeeze, filter against protozoa and bacteria, but NOT viruses. While a Sawyer could be used, it may come with some risk. Viruses are small, and most filters can’t catch them. Alternative methods, like a UV light, water purifier bottle, or chemical purification, are most effective. Boiling, though inefficient, is also an effective option.

When the trail travels through towns and villages, it’s easy to obtain water. Buying bottled water is the safest option, and the preferred method of locals. There is tap water available; however, it is not constantly pumped through the pipes and contamination is frequent. Hikers could always treat water from the tap.

Through the southern desert section, water is more sparse. There is a 125-mile stretch between Rum Village and Aqaba where it’s extremely difficult to obtain water. The JTA and local guides may pay local Bedouins to carry water in by camel to supply hikers, if not already traveling with a pack animal.

Navigating the Jordan Trail Association website.

Due to the nature of this hike, it’s recommended to always carry additional water capacity. Bladders and soft bottles, like the Platypus 2L, are efficient in size and weight.

Listed on the JTA website and divided up by smaller sections of trail, hikers will find detailed water information on the right side under the Food & Water tab.

Resupply Options

Restaurants and shops can be found along the trail, more frequently in the north. Farther north, food is available within a reasonable day’s hiking distance, but in the southern section, resupply options can be a few days apart. Generally, hikers don’t need to carry food for as long of stretches as they may be used to on other trails.

The Bedouin people pride themselves on being hospitable (it’s a large part of the Muslim religion) and will offer help to any hikers in need. Many locals you encounter on the trail will invite you in for food or tea. It should not be relied on as a means to navigate waterless stretches or resupply, but is common along the trail.

All food is included in the cost of traveling with the JTA.

Closing Thoughts

If the Jordan Trail isn’t at the top of your list already, it definitely deserves a spot up there. The Jordan Trail is a newly established path traveling across ancient trade routes that are believed to be walked by Jesus, Moses, and Muhammad. It won’t be long before this trail becomes a popular feat much like our beloved Appalachian Trail. The fun of traveling by foot across a relatively unknown trail is that the interactions with locals are authentic and unplanned. There’s no formal infrastructure in place to accommodate a thru-hiker’s every need, making this a true outdoor undertaking that demands a realm of social, physical, and mental skills.

Anyone who has hiked in the desert knows that sunrises and sunsets are an inspiration. No shortage here.

Hikers have the opportunity to choose how they want to hike this trail in a way that’s unlike many other long trails. Some may want to test their level of experience and ability to subside expectations with an independent hike, while others may enjoy the cultural adventure and ease of logistics by traveling with a knowledgeable Bedouin guide.

As I’ve mentioned previously, there is a LOT more information that can be found on the Jordan Trail Association Website.

Have you hiked this trail and blogged about it along the way? We’d love to hear from you! 

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