The weather in Saudi Arabia is amazing during the winter months and perfect for a day trip to the desert. Rawdat Khuraim, also called the King's Forest, is an easily accessible and pleasant 'getaway' from the hustle and bustle of Riyadh. It really is like a green oasis suddenly appearing from the desert. And the best part? Even though it’s literally in the middle of nowhere; you don’t need an SUV to reach it!
Rawdat (which means garden in Arabic) Khuraim is a beautiful and serene park about 100km North from Riyadh. It's called the 'King's Forest' mainly because King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz has a private farm there where he usually goes for a "spring retreat". Crown Prince Abdullah inaugurated the Rawdat Khuraim wildlife park in 2005. Today, the area serves as a sanctuary for various wildlife such as gazelles. The universities often conduct studies there due to the diversity of insects, flora and fauna which can be found there. The 'forest' is divided into the area accessible to public and the wildlife park which has been restricted from entry in order to preserve the nature and wildlife. The area meant for public is less green and lush than the part which is off limits but nevertheless it is a wonderful change of scenery from the sand and cement.
The Al-Dahna desert sand dunes can be seen from the park and a number of valleys are nearby such as Wadi Khuwaish and Watheelan which are easily accesible and make for an interesting visit.
The public area is huge and grows a variety of trees, bushes, flowers and other vegetation year round. In the springtime, when the Rawdat is in full bloom, flowers such as Lavender and Three leaf clover fill the air with their sweet scent. There's an estimated 132 species of wild plants and 42 species of animals present in Rawdat Khuraim, some of which have been released into the wildlife sanctuary.
The public park has a pole fence all the way around it and the best parts are accessible by foot only. The area inside is clean and free of trash, which is unfortunately a rarity for picnic places in Saudi. It's a lovely place to go walking, bird watching or just for a picnic and women can take their abayas off if they so wish. There are large green grass fields perfect for football and other outdoor games. On a weekday you can have the entire place to yourself.Overnight camping is not allowed inside the fenced area but on the outskirts it's OK to pitch a tent and overnight there. Visitors should leave from inside the park before 10 p.m when the rangers start roaming the area.
For more tips and warnings in Rawdhat Khuraim check this post.
If you want to make a campfire it's strictly forbidden to use the forests trees as firewood. On the way there’s roadside vendors selling firewood, charcoal and small fire pits. You will also find kites, toys, blankets, pillows, snacks, water and basically everything you would need to have a picnic. There's even a tent renting service and on weekends a few Bedouin women come to sell traditional handicrafts and goat milk products.
Directions: From Riyadh take the Dammam highway (route 40E) toward Rumah. After about 40 km turn left to Rumah. Then drive another 55km and you will see signs for Rawdhat Khuraim on the right. Follow the signs and the gardens are easy to spot from the highway ahead of you.
Drive towards garden on the tarmac road and turn right or left off that road to enter the area. if you continue straight on this road, it leads to the gates of the King's farm and the preservation area which are closed off from public with barbwire fences. To the left of this road you can see Dahna sand dunes. Drive closer to the pole fence and park the car (accessible with a regular car) and then you must continue on foot to reach the best areas.
Lots of locals don't even bother to walk beyond the fences, so it might seem crowded around the fences. Don't be discouraged by the crowd, just a few minutes walk away from the fence and you will find yourself the only people around.
For the most quiet places drive off to the right from the road, around to the back of the area beside the fence until you see a nice spot. The forest is so huge you can drive for half an hour along the fence and still not see an end to the park. Alternatively you can go left from the road next to the red sand dunes but this place usually is more crowded because it's easier to reach. You can drive here with a normal car but if you wish to venture further you will need a 4x4.