How to hike the Jordan Trail, a cross-country trek in the Middle East

Just as Spain has the Camino and the United States has the Appalachian Trail, so too Jordan has the Jordan Trail. 

This epic long-distance path that threads its way through the country’s most sublime landscapes, and in some way, also works as a journey into the national soul.

Its very existence is remarkable. The Jordan Trail is in a part of the world sadly beset by conflict: where borders are shut and the land is divided by concrete and checkpoints – where roaming freely might seem like an impossibility under the surveillance of so many watchtowers. Jordan itself, however, endures as a pocket of peace. Those travelers who tread its greatest trail earn a perspective on the Middle East you would never get just by watching the news. 

You can find deep tranquillity in sandstone canyons silent but for the gurgle of springs. You might take a midday nap in the shade of olive groves – or amble along Roman cobbles and beneath the ramparts of Crusader castles and feel the ancient past close at hand. Hiking Jordan’s wide open spaces you get a precious sense of liberty – on foot, you meet locals more readily than any passenger aboard an air-conditioned coach. 

There is also an ethos behind this trail. It was conceived 10 years ago as a social enterprise where communities help accommodate and feed hikers along the way. Part of the appeal is being guided by locals: stopping by Bedouin tents, pausing for cups of tea boiled on campfires. Another part is in sharing the path with others – shepherds or nomads on the move – as it winds its way from the waves of the Red Sea to the orchards along the Syrian border.

The Jordan Trail spans the full length of the country from Umm Qais to the Red Sea at Aqaba © Ali Barqawi Studios

Step 1: Which part should I hike?

The Jordan Trail is a serious undertaking – to hike its total 675km (420 mile) extent you should allow around 40 days (just like another famous wanderer of the Middle Eastern desert). Every so often the Jordan Trail organization runs guided “thru-hikes” for anyone looking to complete its length in one go – check the official website to see if any are planned.

Many choose to take on shorter stages. If you’re sensitive to the heat, the northernmost stretch is the coolest, running 80km (50 miles) from the colonnades of ancient Gadara through shadowy forests of oak and pistacchio to reach the mediaeval castle at Ajloun. For adventurers, the section parallel to the Dead Sea is probably the craggiest, crossing the deep-gouged canyon of Wadi Mujib. The 80 km (50 miles) between the Dana Biosphere Reserve and Petra is one of the most dramatic and most popular parts of the Jordan Trail, with the path burrowing through remote gorges before approaching the ancient rock-hewn city of the Nabateans.

What marks out the Jordan Trail is the diversity of landscapes and historical sites encountered along the way – on two feet you can watch world-famous sites, such as Petra and Wadi Rum, slowly emerge from the heat haze.

Step 2: When should I go?

It’s wise to avoid the northern hemisphere summer on the Jordan Trail – furnace-like heat means walking in desert environments like Wadi Rum can be dangerous. November to February is a good time to embark on the southern end of the trail, while the window stretches a little longer the further north you go: March and April see wildflowers and blossoms brighten the rolling northern hills.

A hiking guide prepares a pot of tea during a trek
Experienced hikers could take on the Jordan Trail solo but it’s sensible to trek with a registered guide © Justin Foulkes / Lonely Planet

Step 3: Should I go it alone, or go with a guide?

The Jordan Trail comes with caveats. It is, in large part, not waymarked or signposted in any form. For significant sections it is also distant from food, accommodation, help and – most critically – water. Some easier bits, such as the 13km-stretch (8 mile) from Little Petra to Petra can be tackled independently by confident hikers. For the rest, going solo entails significant backcountry experience, employing expedition-level planning and navigating using GPS files sourced from the Jordan Trail website. Be conscious that the route often strays from touristic centers – so basic Arabic is helpful as English may not be spoken. 

For most people, the most sensible way to embark on a Jordan Trail hike is to join one of the licensed tour operators currently running itineraries, or else to contact one of the registered guides – directories of both can be found on the official website. As well as blazing the trail, guides should be able to organize food and wild camps in remote spots (often as simple as a barbeque dinner and a mattress pitched under the stars). They’ll also be able to advise on the level of fitness required (for the most part, you’ll need to be of a moderate to high level). It’s very likely they’ll be able to unlock the stories of the land underfoot, providing insight as well as company over the many parched miles.

Two hikers follow a dirt trail across a desert landscape
Pack good boots and sun cream, and carry plenty of water at all times © Justin Foulkes / Lonely Planet

Step 4: What should I pack? 

You’ll need the obvious essentials – strong boots and sun cream – plus warm layers for surprisingly cold desert nights. Rainfall (and even snowfall) is not unknown in winter in certain spots, so you may also need a waterproof shell. Above all else you will need water – allow as much as 5L per person per day for drinking, ideally kept in a large bladder. Be aware that this, combined with water needed for cooking, can sometimes make for a very heavy pack. Never set out without knowing where you can top up your water supply.

Step 5: Safety precautions

Jordan has been a safe and popular holiday destination for decades and – with the exception of a thin strip along the Syrian border – there is no part of the country to which entities like the British Foreign Office or US Department of State currently advise against travel. A 2024 drone attack on US troops took place at a remote base close to the Iraqi border – this location was far from tourist centers and indeed far from the Jordan Trail. Crime levels are low in Jordan, and locals are, as a rule, extraordinarily friendly and welcoming.

Take some safety precautions on the trail: be cautious of wadis that can quickly become dangerous during flash floods, especially in winter, and always carry a phone with the telephone number of Jordan’s Tourist Police should you run into any trouble (117777).

Above all, remember this is a path on which to forget your worries, and enjoy the freedom of roaming across wadi and desert, forest and plain.

This article was first published Oct 11, 2017 and updated Jun 11, 2024.

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