What To Do If You See A Snake While Hiking? (Complete Answer)
If the snake won’t move off the trail, it’s safest to wait it out or turn back. If you can avoid it at a safe distance, don’t try to step over it. If the snake decides to escape you, keep an eye on it.
They can glide quickly when they are motivated. If you see a snake, don’t approach it. The best way to avoid being bitten by a rattlesnake is to stay out of its way and away from its habitat.
Table of Contents
How do you keep snakes away from hiking?
Hike with a pole or staff. If you come across a snake suddenly, this can be helpful. Stay on the trails that have been established. If you are hiking in a remote area, you may not be able to find a trail that is easy to follow.
In this case, it is best to stay on the main trail and follow it until you get to the end of the trail. It is also a good idea to keep an eye out for other hikers who may be following the same trail as you, so that they can warn you if they spot a snake.
Will a snake chase you?
The snakes bite because of two reasons, one is to subdue the prey and the other is to defend themselves. The first reason is the most common reason for a snake to bite a human. A snake will bite if it feels threatened by the human or if its prey is about to attack it. It is important to note that snakes do not always bite when they feel threatened.
For example, if you are walking in the woods and a rattlesnake comes up to you and bites you on the arm, you will not be bitten. If you have been bitten by a venomous snake, the bite will be very painful and you may need to seek medical attention.
Can snakes bite through hiking boots?
Most snake teeth are too small to penetrate either, and these are tough materials, so the bite shouldn’t actually damage anything. It is recommended that the boots rise at least 2 inches above the ankle.
If you’re going to wear boots, make sure they’re made of a material that won’t scratch your skin, like leather or suede. If you don’t want to spend a lot of money on a pair, you can always buy a cheap pair of boots from a thrift store or online.
How do you scare a snake away?
Natural repellents including sulfur, clove and cinnamon oil, and vinegar may help repel snakes. If you have seen snakes in the past, place these substances around the perimeter of your property. If you suspect a snake is in your yard, call your local animal control agency. You can also call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at 1-888-404-FWCC (8477) or visit their website at www.floridafishandwildlife.org.
Can snakes bite through hiking pants?
If the path is overgrown or you are bushwhacking off- trail, it is a good idea to wear long, loose-fitting pants or gaiters. These items won’t completely protect you from snake bite, but they can reduce the chances of getting bitten by a snake.
If you do get bitten, the first thing you need to do is get to a hospital as soon as possible. You may be able to save your life if you get medical attention right away.
What to do if bitten by a snake while hiking alone?
If you’re not sure about the type of snake that bit you, you can call the emergency department. You might have to hike out to the nearest phone or campground to call for help if you are alone in the wilderness.
Should you run zig zag from a snake?
The snake doesn’t care what kind of pattern you run in. You can run in a “s” pattern, you can zig-zag, or you can do “i’m up, he sees me, i’m down” all the way home. If you want to run a pattern that looks like a snake, then you need to make sure that you’re running in the direction of the snake’s head.
If you don’t do this, the pattern will look like it’s running away from you, which is not a good thing. The snake will see you as a threat, and will try to bite you. This is why it is so important to keep your snake on a leash, so that it can’t get away.
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What to do if you see a snake on a trail: expert tips to help keep your flesh fang-free
A few years ago, I was in the first few minutes of a run along Mesa Trail in Boulder, Colorado, and I was startled by the sight of a massive snake lying motionless just off the trail.
Surprisingly, my unleashed dog had run past it without seeing or sensing it, but the moment I saw the snake, no more than three feet from the tip of my trail running shoes, I jumped back. As I scurried to leash my dog, the snake started to coil up, raise its head and rattle its tail. Yup, it was a crotalus viridis, otherwise known as a prarie or western rattlesnake (opens in new tab) .
Even though they’re only aggressive in defense, rattlesnakes are one of the more dangerous and threatening critters you can encounter out on a trail.
I backed away slowly with my dog, who was still oblivious to the danger just a few strides away. The snake continued to coil into a position in which I knew it could powerfully lunge and strike if it was so inclined. I didn’t want any part of that, so I continued to back away and was physically and mentally relieved when I was about 20 feet (6.5 yards) away and could continue on my run.
But did I do the right thing? And do you know what to do if you see a snake on a trail?
What to do if you see a snake on a trail: the expert advice
I asked rattlesnake expert Mary Ann Bonnell, the visitor services manager for Jefferson County Open Space near Denver, what to do if you see a snake on a trail.
“I always assume I’m dealing with an athletically gifted snake, so I give them three to four feet,” she told me. “I always want to err on the side of caution.”
If you encounter a snake while hiking or running on a trail, it’s best to back away and wait for it to move away on its own — especially if it’s a venomous serpent like a rattlesnake. If you can identify the type of snake, that can help you understand how dangerous it might be. Some snakes — like common garter snakes and milk snakes — are completely harmless. However, other snakes, like a bullsnake or gopher snake, are also harmless but are the same size, shape and color as their more dangerous rattlesnake cousins and some even hiss and shake to mimic the actions of rattlesnakes (opens in new tab) .
And that’s why, no matter what type of snake you think is in front of you, the best thing to do is back away slowly, says Dan O’Connell, a North American snake expert from Arlington, Texas. Do not throw rocks or prod it with a stick, because that will make it angry and want to strike, he says. And when a rattlesnake is agitated, he adds that’s when it can strike the farthest and release the most venom.
To avoid being bitten by a snake, Bonnell recommends wearing high-top hiking boots and long hiking pants when hiking in rattlesnake habitat because the most common place for a rattlesnake to strike is the inner ankle area. As a rule of thumb, Bonnell said the strike distance of a rattlesnake is two-thirds of the length of its body. Prairie rattlesnakes are usually 3 to 4 feet long (about 1-1.25 meters), which means the best course of action is to put a distance of at least a few large steps between you and the snake as soon as you see it.
What to do if you see a snake on a trail: the odds and consequences of being bitten by a snake bite while hiking
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, of the 7,000 to 8,000 people bitten by snakes in the U.S. every year, only about five result in fatalities. Rattlesnakes, water moccasins and copperhead snakes are responsible for the overwhelming majority of venomous snake bites in the U.S. While there are fewer snake species found throughout Europe, there are venomous snakes such as adders in the UK (opens in new tab) and a variety of vipers (opens in new tab) throughout central, eastern and southern Europe.
Every region of North American and Europe has different species of snakes with different habits based on the weather. In Colorado, for example, rattlesnakes typically venture out onto the trails in the springtime after cold morning temperatures and occasional April snow showers have dissipated.
Fortunately, the venomous snake species in North American and Europe very rarely pose fatal threats to humans, which means there is absolutely no need to be aggressive with a snake on the trail, venomous or not. Moving around the snake, even if in the middle of the trail, is always your best option.
No matter where you are or what type of snake you encounter, it’s important to realize that most snake bites occur when people try to move or kill a snake, O’Connell says. The closer you get, the more likely you are to suffer a bite.
“Most snake bites occur when a snake is handled or accidentally touched by someone walking or climbing,” he says. “When in doubt, try to stay away from any snake you encounter.”
Although most snakes are not aggressive and will slither away at the first hint of human presence, people should still take precautions to lessen the chance of being bitten – particularly in wooded areas around lakes or ponds.
What to do if you see a snake while hiking: ways to mitigate the risk of being bitten
Here are some tips to help reduce the risk of incurring a venomous snake bite:
- Use the buddy system when walking or running on trails near wooded areas.
- Do not step or put your hands where you cannot see.
- Wear over-the-ankle boots, thick hiking socks and long loose pants, especially when venturing off of heavily used trails.
- Consider buying a pair of snake gaiters for hiking.
- Tap ahead of you with trekking poles before entering an area where you can’t see your feet. Snakes will try to avoid you if given enough warning.
- When possible, step on logs and rocks, never over them as you may surprise a sheltering snake.
- Avoid walking through dense brush or blackberry thickets.
- Be careful when stepping over a doorstep. Snakes like to crawl along the edge of buildings where they are protected on one side.
- Avoid wandering around in the dark. If you are out at night, always use a flashlight, because most snakes are active on warm nights.
- Never try to pick up a snake, even if it appears to be dead. Not only do some snakes lie flat and motionless, a snake’s reflexes can still cause the snake to strike up to an hour after it has died.
- If you see a snake on the trail, give it the right of way. Do not attempt to kill the snake, just move out of the snake’s way.
- If you hike often, consider buying a snake bite kit – available from hiking supply stores. Do not use older snake bite kits, such as those containing razor blades and suction bulbs, as these have been proven to be ineffective.
What to do if you see a snake on a trail: give them a wide berth, back away, and don’t try to pick it up (Image credit: Tammy Kelleher (Getty))
What to do if you see a snake on a trail: what to do if you are bitten by a snake
Despite taking all safety precautions, the threat posed by snakes can never be completely eliminated, so it is a good idea to have a plan for what to do in the event that you, your child, or a buddy is bitten by a snake.
When it comes to treating a venomous snake bite, the most important thing to do is get to a medical facility as quickly as possible. Call the local land agency manager or park ranger office.
While waiting for help, you might call the National Poison Control Center at (800-222-1222) and administer the following first aid measures:
Snakes on a Trail: What to Do About Snakes While Hiking
When I’m hiking on a trail it’s not uncommon for me to hear something slither away. Its usually in that moment I realize that I just hiked right past a snake and never saw it. Yeah, snakes are hard to see when you’re on hiking trail trail, but they’re there and if you aren’t careful to avoid a bite, they can make your hiking trip a lot less enjoyable.
Snakes generally will avoid humans on hiking trails, since you generally scare them more than they scare you. But, sometimes snakes aren’t avoidable and if they feel threatened by you then they may bite. Most snakes aren’t venomous, but there are 4 types of venomous snakes to watch out for when hiking in the United States.
Although most of your encounters with snakes while hiking will be uneventuful, in the instance a bite occurs you’ll want to be prepared. Let’s look into all the important facets about snakes to be aware of when hiking, and how to stay safe hiking in an area with snakes.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links and I may receive commission for purchases made through links in these post. All links are to products I highly recommend and have verified.
Which Snakes are Dangerous?
Most snakes aren’t dangerous. Yes, they have teeth and may bite you, but since most snakes are not venomous those bites won’t cause you any harm (outside of a little pain where the bite occurs). So, most snake bites aren’t dangerous at all.
However, there are four types of snakes in the United States that are venomous, and these snakes are dangerous to encounter while hiking. If you’re bitten by one of these snakes then it can cause serious injury, and even death, if the bite is left untreated. So, you’ll want to watch out for these snakes.
Let’s go through each of these four types of snakes so you know where these snakes are and what to look out for while hiking.
When most people think of rattlesnakes, an image of a desert pops in their mind. Now, while rattlesnakes do live in the desert, they also live everywhere else too. Rattlesnakes are found in 48 states in America – all of them except Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, and Delaware. So, if you’re hiking in the United States then you’ll want to be aware of rattlesnakes.
The defining characteristics of a rattlesnake is its rattle, which it generally won’t use unless it’s threatened. And because of the fact rattlesnakes like to stay hidden just off the trail or under a rock, you probably won’t see the snake until you hear the rattle.
An agitated rattlesnake will likely hold its ground and you aren’t going to scare it away. The best approach will be to get away from it, and we describe a bit more how to do that below.
Rattlesnakes do carry venom that can severely injure you, but very rarely kill you. And not every rattlesnake bite contains venom (sometimes they conserve it for future bites). But, it’s best to avoid a bite altogether if possible.
There are multiple rattlesnake subspecies found in the United States. All look similar, but not identical, so look up pictures of the exact species near you before heading out.
Cottonmouth Snakes or Water Moccasins
Cottonmouth Snakes, also known as water moccasins, are likely the most aggressive snakes you’ll find in the wild. They are found mainly in the Southeastern United States, but can go as far north as southern Illinois or Indiana. As you can infer from their name, they’re typically found near water or aquatic environments.
Even though they are aggressive, they’re not going to attack unless they feel threatened. But, should they feel threatened they will stand their ground and even pursue what made them feel that way.
In addition to their aggression, they have two other defensive mechanisms. One is a musky odor they release, and the second is to vibrate their tails. The vibrations somewhat sounds like a rattle, but not entirely. They just like to make sure you’re aware of their danger through sight, sound, and smell.
Cotton mouth venom can be deadly to humans, so if you are bitten you’ll need to seek treatment immediately.
There are three subspecies of cotton mount snakes to look out for, which all have very different markings and colorings. Each live in varying locations, so look up the ones near you before heading out on a hike.
Copperheads are probably the least aggressive snakes on this list. Instead of fleeing or fighting, they tend to freeze in place when they’re threatened. This makes them incredibly dangerous for hikers because we often don’t see them until after we’ve stepped on them and gotten bit.
But, while dangerous, copperhead venom is the least dangerous out of the four types listed here. Now, don’t get me wrong – you still need to get treated should you be bitten. But it’s rarely, if ever, fatal to humans, although it will cause some local tissue damage if left untreated for too long.
Copperheads are found farther north, and are located in Southern New England through Texas. Although they can live in multiple habitats they generally prefer forested areas over other types of environments.
There are 5 subspecies of copperheads, but all contain similar distinctive markings.
Coral snakes present the biggest dichotomy of all of the snakes here. They have by-far the most dangerous venom (it can kill you), but they’re pretty reclusive snakes and aren’t aggressive at all.
They’re like a dog with a big bite and no bark. Coral snakes typically like to hangout underground or under rotting logs and rarely ever come out in the open. It’s incredibly rare for a hiker to ever spot a coral snake in their entire lifetime of hiking.
Coral snakes are found in the southernmost parts of the United States across Arizona, Texas, and up to North Carolina. You won’t see them farther north than that.
There are a few mimic coral snakes that look VERY similar, but aren’t dangerous at all. The key to remembering it is Red on Yellow, Kill a Fellow and Red on Black, a friend of Jack. But, if you prefer you can follow my method of just never touching a wild snake no matter what it looks like. Up to you!
There are many subtypes of coral snakes that can be dangerous. Be sure to look up the ones near you before heading out on a hike.
How Can I Avoid Snakes While Hiking?
Avoiding snakes isn’t always possible while hiking, but if you are aware of where they like to hang out you can reduce your chances of encountering one.
- Stay on the trails and avoid hiking in brush or in other vegetation
- If it’s colder weather, snakes will likely be out in the middle of the day sunbathing. Considering hiking early mornings or later evenings to avoid them
- If it’s hotter weather, snakes will likely be out in the cool mornings or evenings. Hike in the middle of the day to avoid them.
- Be extra careful near bodies of water as some snakes prefer to hide around these areas
Outside of choosing the right trail conditions, making noise while hiking is always a great to prevent a snake encounter. The noise from your steps is a way to alert a snake to your presence before you surprise it. Don’t be afraid to stomp a little while hiking so snakes know you’re there and can avoid you.
What Do I Do if I See a Snake While Hiking?
By the time you see a snake while hiking, you’re probably already a little to close for comfort. Snakes are elusive creatures and so you don’t typically see them until you’re right up on them.
- Stay calm (yes, take a breath first)
- Back away slowly while stomping (the vibrations from the stomping let the snake know you’re getting farther away)
- Continue backing away until you and the snake feel and look more calm
- Wait until the snake leaves the trail. If you can turn around and go a different way, do so, but if that’s not possible hangout until it leaves
- After it leaves the trail, wait some more. Sometimes they do not go deep off the trail and are just off to the side where they can’t be seen but can still bite.
- When you feel ready to approach do so slowly by stomping loudly, so the snake knows where you are.
Following these steps will hopefully keep you bite free by making the snake feel safer and more aware of your location as you retreat and try to leave the area.
What You Can Wear to Stop a Snake from Biting You
If you’ll be hiking in an area with a lot of snakes, and are worried about a bite, you may wonder if there’s anything you can wear to prevent a snake biting you.
Questions like can hiking boots prevent snake bites are very common among hikers wanting to find better ways of protecting themselves while hiking.
Hiking boots generally won’t protect you from a snake bite, as many snakes can bite through them and penetrate your skin. Some snakes with weaker bites may not be able to penetrate a particularly thick hiking boot, but hiking boots cannot be considered snake-bite proof under most circumstances.
Only snake boots can prevent snakes bites as they are made specifically for that purpose. Most people don’t find these boots particularly comfortable to hike in, so they’re not great choices to prevent a snake bite while hiking.
But, it’s generally a good practice to wear long pants and thick boots while hiking, which can help reduce the impact of a bite, even if it won’t completely prevent it altogether.
What to Do if You are Bitten by a Snake While Hiking
The steps of what to do if you’ve been bitten by a snake depend on what type of snake and if it’s venomous. If you’re bitten by a non-venomous snake then the best thing to do is to step away from the snake and wash the wound with soap/water. You can keep an eye on the bite and seek medical attention if you start to develop concerning symptoms.
If you were bitten by a venomous snake (or you aren’t sure what type of snake bit you), then you’ll need to react a lot more seriously and quickly. If you’ve been bitten by a venomous snake, follow these steps:
- Get away from the snake quickly
- Remove any tight clothing near the bite. Swelling may occur and tight clothing will only make this worse.
- Stay calm. An elevated heart rate will only spread venom faster.
- Keep the bite area below chest-level to prevent venom from spreading faster.
- Make your way to a medical facility immediately. Call ahead to make sure they have anti-venom available for you.
- If it’ll take more than 1 hour to get to a facility, you can tie a constricting band above the bite to slow down venom movement.
Never try to suck out the venom (that only makes it worse). You’ll also want to avoid any over-the-counter medication that can cause the blood to thin (and make the venom spread faster). Just to be safe, avoid medicaid all together until you’ve been seen by a professional.
If you are able to receive anti-venom in a 2-hour period, then you will likely survive the bite. So, do your best to receive prompt medical attention and stay as calm as possible while getting there, in order to give yourself the best shot of surviving the bite unscathed.
Hopefully you’ve found all the information you need about what to do if you encounter a snake while hiking. Overall, most snakes aren’t a cause for concern, but if you do happen to encounter one that is more dangerous, then you’ll want to be extra cautious to avoid a bite, and be prepared for what to do should a bite occur.
If you want more hiking recommendations please check out our hiking tips page, or check out any of the articles below.
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