Snakes On A Trail: Everything You Need To Know

by Nigel Robert

May 19, 2022 Pro Tips

Want to know how to avoid snakes on the trail or what to do if you get bitten?

We’ve invited Nigel Robert, wildlife consultant and managing editor at More Reptiles, to give us the lowdown on hiking in snake habitats.

Snakes will usually avoid people at all costs. However, this doesn’t mean we won’t come into contact with them while out hiking. Snakes are especially active during the warmer months, which just so happen to be the perfect months for hiking.

While we think snakes are pretty amazing, that doesn’t mean you want to stumble across one in the wild. Luckily, there are a few tips and tricks that will ensure your safety when you interact with wild snakes.

How To Avoid Snakes While Hiking

The best way to avoid snakes while hiking is to avoid the places they like to hang out. Staying on populated trails is a great way to avoid seeing snakes—as they usually prefer somewhere much farther away from people.

Be cautious in areas with sand or large rocks that may attract snakes that want to bask in the sun during the cooler times of the day. If you are straying from hiking paths, make sure to be aware of where you are stepping at all times. Watch out for movement or the rustling sounds of a snake on the move. Don’t move large rocks or logs, or stick your arm in any crevices or dens. These areas are ideal for snakes to hide in during the hotter parts of the day.

Depending on what season it is, avoid hiking during times of the day when snakes are active. Summer in North America is considered “snake season” but temperatures are frequently too high for snakes to be active during the day. Lots of snakes will change their activity periods in the summer and become active only at night, in the morning or the evenings.

Snakes You Might See

Where you live will influence what snakes you will see while hiking. However, there are a few species that are found all over North America that you will likely come across regardless of what state you live in.

  • Rattlesnakes are the most common venomous snake in North America. From California to Florida, down to Mexico and up to Montana, there are rattlesnakes everywhere. The feature that makes their identification relatively easy is the namesake rattle on their tail.
  • Garter snakes are another species you will likely come across while hiking. In fact, the Common Garter snake is thought to be the most widespread species of snake in the US. These snakes are small with a dark body and yellow stripes running their length. Not easily mistaken for a venomous snake, they are safe to handle and often kept as pets.
  • North American Racers are another common species with 11 subspecies in the US. They are usually blue or black in coloration with a pale belly.
  • Gopher snakes or Bullsnakes are widespread in North America and frequently seen by hikers. These snakes are large and usually tan with brown or red blotches on their back. This species is frequently mistaken for Rattlesnakes.

This is by no means a complete list and knowing what species are present in your state will help narrow down which snakes you may come across in your area.

What To Do if You See A Snake

If you see a snake on the trail, the best thing you can do is leave them alone. Snakes will not attack unless threatened and if you come across a snake, it will often try to escape first. If you find yourself too close to a wild snake, back away slowly until you are a minimum of 4-6 feet away. This will put you out of striking range for all but the largest snakes. It is recommended to back away even further between 10-15 feet as this will give them ample room to feel safe enough to leave.

If the snake in your path is not leaving, you can move around them as long as you maintain at least 4-6 feet distance between you and the snake at all times. Always treat snakes with caution and you should have no problem avoiding a dangerous interaction.

Avoiding Bites

Leaving wild snakes alone is a great way to avoid bites. If you respect the snake’s space, 9 times out of 10 they will choose to remove themselves from the situation and continue on their way.

If you accidently stumble upon a snake or even step on them unknowingly, it is a little harder to avoid a bite. In this case it is always in your best interest to learn about the habitat you’re hiking in and wear the proper gear. Wearing long pants with loose fabric at the bottom and boots that cover your ankle will be the last line of defense for a snakebite. These will make it harder for the snake’s teeth to pierce your skin.

Moving a snake out of your path, even with a large stick, is a recipe for a bite. Even though you may mean the snake no harm, the snake will probably not see it that way. These reptiles are not malicious and don’t mean us any harm unless they are scared, threatened or provoked. In the end it is much safer for both you and the snake to leave each other alone.

Basic Snake Safety

Aside from leaving them alone, one important basic snake safety measure is knowing what to do when you get bitten. There are many myths and ineffective techniques like “sucking out the venom” that are described in movies. It is important to know what truly works when it can be the difference between keeping or losing a limb.

The first thing to do if you are bitten by a snake in the wild is to try to identify what species the snake is. If you are familiar with the snakes in your area, you may be able to recognize the snake is non-venomous. In the cases where you are unsure, it is always safer to assume the snake is venomous. If you cannot identify it, be sure to take a picture or try to remember what it looked like so you can describe it later on.

Snake venom differs by species, and knowing what species bit you can help with treatment. If you know that the snake is venomous or are unsure of its identity, you will need to seek immediate medical attention. In the meantime, it is important to stay calm and still with the wound below the level of your heart. Wash the wound with soap and warm water and cover the bite with clean dressings until emergency medical services arrive or you arrive at a hospital.

If you are bitten by a snake do not:
  • Try to capture the snake
  • Apply a tourniquet
  • Cut the wound
  • Suck out the venom
  • Apply ice or submerge wound in water
  • Drink alcohol
  • Drink caffeinated beverages

Summary

Knowing how to avoid snakes, what to do when you come across one, and what to do if you get bitten is extremely important when spending time outdoors. When you go out hiking, you are essentially entering a snake’s home and respecting their home and presence is the key to a successful, safe encounter.

 

About the Writer

Nigel Robert is a lifelong reptile lover and managing editor at More Reptiles, a reptile husbandry and advice publication. He has kept many reptile species from Leopard Geckos to Ball Pythons and his goal is to provide trustworthy and comprehensive advice to anyone who may encounter wild or pet reptiles.