Hiking in Rattlesnake Country: How to Identify and What to Do When Encountering a Snake

Rattlesnakes are a common feature in the western United States. Hikers could potentially come across one while on the trail, so knowing what to do can be important to prevent injury.

How to Identify a Rattlesnake

The Western Diamondback rattlesnake is part of the pit viper family of snakes. This comes from the holes on the triangular head of the snake, which allows it to detect the heat of prey. The other obvious sign of a rattlesnake is their distinctive rattle, which can be visible on the tail, and heard when one approaches a snake. The venom produced by the Western Diamondback can cause swelling, pain, bleeding, edema, and tissue necrosis.

How to Prepare to Hike in Rattlesnake Country

If planning to hike in an area that has rattlesnakes, think of what to bring ahead of time. Wear leather hiking boots instead of sneakers, sandals, or lightweight hiking shoes. The heavier boot leather can help protect a hiker against snakebite above the ankle. Wearing long pants can also add protection.

Research the trail, by either visiting the website or reading the trail guide to determine how prevalent the snakes are. The trailhead kiosk at the parking lot could also provide additional information about rattlesnakes in the area.

Tips for When Encountering Rattlesnakes on the Trail

While on the trail, keep these ideas in mind when encountering a rattlesnake:

  • During the middle of the day, a snake may be out in a sunny spot for heat. Keep an eye on the trail ahead for any sight of rattlesnakes. Be mindful of not just the trail path, but also either side of a trail.
  • If a snake is spotted far enough ahead, stop. Give the snake some time to move away from the area.
  • Do not harass a snake, either by trying to move it with a stick or trekking poles or by throwing rocks at it to get the snake to move away.
  • If the snake coils itself up and shakes its rattle, be especially cautious. This is a sign that the snake is agitated and prepared to strike.
  • If bitten by a rattlesnake, get to an emergency room as soon as possible to receive an anti-venom shot. Do not try to cut the wound open or suck on the wound to drain out the venom, as this causes more harm than good. It is also unsafe for the transfer of bodily fluids.

Hiking with Pets and Children in Rattlesnake Country

Keep the pets and kids safe while on the trail. Pets should be kept close by so that they do not run off at first sight of an animal. Many trails require that pets such as dogs be leashed anyways. Children should also walk close to their parents to avoid stumbling across a snake.

Hiking in rattlesnake country doesn’t have to be a scary experience. With some preparation and common sense, it is possible to enjoy a trail despite the presence of snakes.

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