How to Avoid Snakes While Hiking

How to Avoid Snakes While Hiking

Although snakes can be scary, there is no reason that they should stop you from getting outdoors. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports, “Each year, an estimated 7,000–8,000 people are bitten by venomous snakes in the United States, and about 5 of those people die.” (CDC). 

While death by snake bites is extremely rare, it is still important to be aware of all potential threats in your environment so you can keep yourself and your family safe.

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Rattlesnake placed in a 5-gallon bucket with a snake hook for relocation out of a campsite by a park ranger

Be Prepared and Do Your Research About Local Snakes

Most serious incidences occur when hikers run into snakes unprepared. Having a basic understanding of the general nature of snakes and how to act around them can help keep you and your family safe, and the snakes will appreciate it too. It is also important to understand the species in the location you are hiking and how to identify them.

Which Snakes Are Venomous and How to Tell?

In the United States, there are four types of venomous snakes.  Make sure to research what kind of snakes you can expect in your area before you leave and how to identify them.  Consider bringing a printout or field guide so that you are able to look up information while hiking instead of trying to remember it. Remember, most snakes are non-venomous.

4 Types of venomous snakes in North America by Outdoor Hub. How to Avoid Snakes While Hiking.
Graphic Created by Outdoor Hub

How to Avoid Snake Bites While Hiking

The following are some tips you can use to make sure you and your family stay safe on your next adventure.

Watch Your Step

The most basic but most important tip is to pay attention to the trail ahead of you.  When you come upon large logs or rocks step on them as opposed to over so you don’t accidentally step on a snake sheltering on the other side.

Listen Closely

This is most important when hiking in an area with rattlesnakes  These are times when you need to take out the earbuds and save the music for later.

Avoid Rocky Areas

Snakes like to take shelter and cool off during hot days in crevices between rocks. The heat of the day is not a good time to do any rock scrambling in areas with snakes. In fact, it may be best to avoid it altogether.

Caution venomous snake sign in front of emergency room
Venomous Snake Sign

Stick to the Trail 

Snakes prefer quiet secluded areas, not popular trails. Not only will staying on the trail keep you away from snakes but it helps preserve our natural areas.

Dress Appropriately

When hiking in areas with snakes wear long pants (or gaiters like these), tall socks, and thick boots. This is not the time to wear your new hiking sandals or shorts.

Hike With Trekking Poles

Use a long stick or trekking poles like these to help push back tall grass while hiking. Pushing the grass away can help you locate any snakes before stepping.

Check Trail Reviews

Websites such as AllTrails include reviews of trails.  Check these reviews for signs of snakes in the area, and make sure to check the date the review was made.

rubber boa snake curled up in a hand out flat
A rare Rubber Boa snake held by a park ranger during a junior ranger demonstration

What to Do If You See A Snake?

If you encounter a snake while hiking, the best thing you can do is avoid it. Experts recommend staying at least 3 feet away.  If you accidentally walk closer, your best bet is to back away slowly.  Rather than getting close to identify the type of snake, take pictures from a distance using the zoom feature on your phone or camera.

Signs/Symptoms of a Snake Bite

While you might see a snake bite, it is possible to miss it. This is most common in high water when you may feel a bite but assume it was something other than a snake. Pay attention to the following snake bite signs.

Depending on the type of snake, the CDC lists the signs and symptoms of a snake bite as follows:

  • A pair of puncture marks at the wound
  • Redness and swelling around the bite
  • Severe pain at the site of the bite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Labored breathing (in extreme cases, breathing may stop altogether)
  • Disturbed vision
  • Increased salivation and sweating
  • Numbness or tingling around your face and/or limbs

What To do if You or Someone With You is Bitten by a Snake

Take a Picture

If you or someone you know is bitten, try to see and remember the color and shape of the snake, reference the picture you took, or take one if possible to do so safely. The picture can help with the treatment of the snake bite.

Stay Calm and Still

Keep the bitten person calm and still. This can slow down the spread of venom if the snake is venomous. If possible lay or sit the person down with the bite below the level of the heart.

Seek Medical Attention as Soon as Possible

Dial 911 immediately if you have cell service or use another emergency communication device (such as the Garmin inReach Mini).

Apply First Aid

Wash the wound with warm soapy water immediately. Then cover the bite with a clean, dry dressing.

Don’t Do These If Bitten by a Snake

Do Not Pick up the Snake or Try to Trap it

Trying to capture or kill snakes is the most common reason people are bitten.

Do Not Apply a Tourniquet

Restricting blood flow from a limb may do permanent damage. Instead remove any constricting clothing, watches, or jewelry in case of swelling.

Do Not Introduce Bacteria to the Wound

Cutting the wound or attempting to suck the venom out of the wound introduces bacteria that may lead to infection. Also, avoid any other opportunities for infection such as immersing the wound in water or applying ice.

Do Not Drink Alcohol or Caffeinated Beverages

Alcohol thins the blood and causes the venom to spread more rapidly while caffeinated beverages can increase your heart rate.

Safe Snake Interactions

If you would like to introduce your kiddos to snakes safely and help them learn more about these creatures search for opportunities provided by experts near you. Schools sometimes have special guests visit schools like our much loved Reptile Man here in Washington State. You might also bring your kiddos to visit your local zoo or this very cool venom lab. Search to find opportunities in your area.

Little Girl Holding A Snake
Little girl getting to safely interact with a snake at a school function
Park ranger holding a snake with two little ones watching
Little ones interacting with a snake safely with a park ranger

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© 2022, Tales of a Mountain Mama. All rights reserved. Republication, in part or entirety, requires a link back to this original post and permission from the author.


  • Anna is a proud Washingtonian living in the Cascade mountain range with her park ranger husband and their three kids. Their family is lucky enough to live in a ranger house in a state park and have lots of access to the outdoors year-round. Anna is expecting her fourth child in early March and is on a mission to find the best gear for the tiniest of explorers.

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