How to keep snakes away when hiking? Snakes are just one of the many species that make the wild areas we love their home. Understanding these creatures and being able to deal with an encounter with one is an essential strategy to reduce human-wildlife conflict and keep everyone safe. Here are some tips on how to make your outdoor excursions snake-friendly.
Knowing what wildlife you may encounter outside is a critical step to being prepared, much like checking the weather or ensuring we have enough water. Your trek may take you through excellent snake habitat, and the snakes you come across might be poisonous or non-venomous. Rattlesnakes, copperheads, water moccasins, and coral snakes are all poisonous snake species in the United States. Color and head form are not reliable warning signs that a snake is venomous, as is commonly assumed.
Check with your state or national park ranger or local biologist to learn what kind of snakes you may come across – depending on the internet for identification may not be accurate. Having a decent field guide can come in quite handy. The Peterson Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians is a good choice for North America, with both eastern and western editions available. Having a regionally suitable field book is more beneficial than guessing what species your snake is!
Responding To A Snake On The Trail
Do Not: Stress Too Much
As per the US Department of Wildlife and Ecology, your chance of dying from a poisonous snake bite in the United States is virtually zero (1 in 50 million). In the United States, fewer than one person out of 37,500 suffers a poisonous snake bite. So exercise caution and learn what you can, but know that you are extremely unlikely to get hurt by a snake.
Do: Know Your Area. Where Do The Snakes Live, And Are They Really Dangerous?
There is only one poisonous snake in our region, the prairie rattlesnake. I have learned which parks are their favorites and have saved the most dangerous areas for hikes in the winter months. I also avoid hiking in areas that are heavily infested with snakes that are not easily seen. Fortunately, rattlesnakes do not go much higher than 9,000 feet in Colorado, so I can largely avoid them by going up high during the summer months.
Do: Wear Sturdy Boots And Consider Bringing Trekking Poles
I always wear my boots when hiking in a rattlesnake zone, and I require that my children do so as well. It is only a safeguard and height increase in the event of a rattlesnake encounter. Also, because trekking poles help me detect snakes more easily, I am more likely to utilize them than if I were walking alone.
Do Not: Approach Snakes
Rattlesnakes want to avoid you. Before you approach a rattlesnake, it may be able to hear your footsteps and move away before you get close. They are occasionally caught by surprise, though, and stay on or near the route.
If you notice or hear a snake, the best thing to do is stop, take stock of the situation, slowly back away while keeping an eye on the snake, and wait for it to go somewhere safe. It is a good idea to try and detour around the snake if there is one. Approach the snake rather than scare it away, and do not move it or attempt to deter it. Simply allow it to be, then let it go on its own.
Do Not: Let Snakes Keep You From Getting Out On The Trails
It is vital to remember that rattlesnakes are not attempting to harm you. They would prefer to slink away in the grass rather than lash out at you. Keep your eyes open, be cautious, keep your children close, and go hiking when they are active so you can see them, but do not let that deter you from getting outside and enjoying nature!!
How To Avoid Rattlesnakes
Rattlesnakes are naturally cautious, preferring to flee from people rather than harm them. If you approach too closely or coil defensively, they will rattle their rattles and display threatening behavior. Here are some suggestions for keeping rattlesnakes at bay while hiking:
- Reports Check All these apps like AllTrails and other local resources, like the Washington Trails Association, where hikers report recent rattlesnake encounters. Keeping up to date on these reports can help you stay more alert while also determining whether or not you should go on a different route.
- Watch Your Step: Keep an eye on the path in front of you. Keep your eyes open for any snakes while you are out walking. Stepping on logs or huge boulders instead than over them is a good idea if you come across any. A snake may be hidden right behind these things, or it might be resting beneath them.
- Avoid Listening to Music/Podcasts: Looking forward to hearing that new album or podcast on the road? You could want to save it for a later date (sorry!). Keep your ears open as much as you have to keep your eyes sharp since you need to listen for any possible snakes that may be out of sight.
- Choose Wide Trails: Selecting a large route with plenty of visibility allows you to feel safer and add an extra level of protection during your excursion. This is especially useful if you are going on a trip with children.
- Avoid Rocky Areas: Have you ever been on a trail and seen some areas with no obvious route/trail? Perhaps you should go back and try another path. You are walking into the dangerous ground by entering an area where there is not anything in front of you that you can see.
- Wear the Right Clothes: The ankles and lower legs are where the majority of snake bites occur, as well as the hands. Loose-fitting pants wear long, or gaiters if you are hiking on an overgrown path. These may not guarantee 100 percent protection against snakebites, but they may help to reduce the amount of venom that enters your system.
- Trekking Poles: Hiking poles helps you clear your route and keep an eye on any rattlers that may be lurking nearby by pushing back vegetation. You will also give some much-needed knee and joint support while you are at it!
- Hike during Fall and Winter: Snakes are typically less active throughout these seasons, although the timing varies depending on species and area. These are the months when they go into hibernation or brumation (when their physiological system slows down).