Let me start by saying I wake up for no sunrise. I'd walk a mile for a camel, and climb a peak for a decent sunset, but I am not a sunrises kind of guy. Having said that - do not skip the Masada sunrise in case you're in the neighborhood. None of our guests, NONE, had said it wasn't worth the early rise. Masada is an ancient fortification situated on top of an isolated rock plateau, which rises 63 meters above sea level, and 450 meters above the Dead Sea at its foot. It is located on the eastern edge of the Judean Desert, overlooking the Dead Sea 20 km (12 mi) east of Arad.
The Back Door
Masada N.P. is operated by the Nature and Parks Authority (NPA), and has 2 entrances - the eastern and the western . While at the east (the "entry plaza") you will find the snake path, the cable car, the sheltered parking, the museum and the inevitable souvenir shop, at the west - (the back door, let's face it) you will find the Roman Ramp. The cable car doesn't operate until 8:00hrs., and The Snake Path (or Snake Trail) takes too long to climb if you want to be at the top of Masada for sunrise (~1 hour). One can catch the sunrise half way up the Snake Path, but the only way up for watching the sunrise from the top - is the Roman Ramp.
The western entrance opens at first light (crack of dawn, if you wish). That will be 45 minutes before sunrise. Driving time from Arad is 25 minutes. Be aware of camels on the winding dark road. It is warmly advised that you will be there by opening time. After all, the beautiful part of sunrises is before the sun is up. And you don't want to rush either. It will take some minutes to pay, to park, and to disembark - and then you have 10-20 minutes "hike". To Cut a long story short: if you left Arad 1 Hour before sunrise - you're good, if you take 1:15hrs - you're even better.
The climb itself is not too bad - less than 100 meters up over half a kilometer (while the Snake Path is 2km and 3 times higher):
Well, yes - There's a payment (and a discount)
As mentioned Masada is a National Park. You may want to know that beside of being a popular point for sunrises, it is one of Israel's most popular tourist attractions, a World Heritage Site (UNESCO ), and has an interesting historical story and some 2000 years old impressive ruins. Herod the Great built palaces for himself on the mountain and fortified Masada (between 37 and 31 BCE). The siege of Masada by troops of the Roman Empire at the end of the First Jewish–Roman War ended in the mass suicide of 960 people, the Sicarii rebels and their families hiding there (please don't get too inspired, ok?). You might as well consider to go through their site pamphlet (PDF).
However, you do have to pay entrance fees: Adult - NIS28, child - NIS14, Students - NIS24. in case you plan to stay for a while, climbing down the Snake Path (most people don't combine it with sunrise), and than takןמע the cable car up again (opens at 8:00AM ) you should take into account another payment for the ride (Adult - NIS28, child - NIS14, Students - NIS24).
There are options for all kinds of tickets: entrance fee only, entrance fee and cable car in one direction, entrance fee and cable car in both directions (not for sunrise!) or cable car only (one or both directions) for holders of free or multi entrance cards.
In fact, in case you are traveling in Israel for a while, it is wise to purchase Israel Nature and Parks Authority Money Saving Tickets that offer 3 site visits, 6 site visits, or unlimited site visits, all valid for two weeks.
A Comic relieve: Bloody Romans
Well, in case you had missed Monty Python's Life of Brian, maybe it's a a good time for that.
How to get there - 3199
By car. For the time being there are hardly any buses nor shuttles to the western entrance of Masada (we are working on that), and driving is the maim way to get to Masada for sunrise. The country's longest dead-end road (road nr. 3199) runs from Arad to Masada western entrance. You have to go off road nr. 31 and enter the town, follow the signs to Masada and then drive 20 km out of town. This is also the way you should take for the Masada sound and light show.
You better sleep in Arad, of course. The town offers all kinds of accommodation, hotels, B&Bs, guesthouses and apartments. Another option will be Kfar Hanokdim, a desert oasis and a camels ranch, half way from Arad to Masada along road 3199, that offer guest rooms, goat hair Bedouin tents and stone lodges. The Best place to stay will be (surprise!) Yehelim.
Taxi. In case you didn't rent a car you can take a taxi. It can be easily arranged at the evening before. One way will be around NIS150. Another option will be to take a privet guided tour from Arad. A tour-guide with a car can both take you, and guide you through the site. Some of the local tour-guides have also 4WD, and can combine the visit with a morning desert tour on the way back.
Shuttle. On Sundays and Wednesdays one can use the shuttle of Wild-Trails for EUR35. It leaves Arad 1 hour before sunrise, and allows you 2 hour at Masada.