A snake encounter is the worst nightmare of many hikers. But snake bites are rare. As long as you keep your distance, the snake will not bother you. Snakes are only dangerous when provoked or surprised. Here’s what to do if you see a snake while hiking and what to do in case you get bitten.
What You'll Learn Today
- Are Snakes Afraid of Humans?
- Are Snakes Dangerous To Humans?
- Are Snakes Dangerous To Dogs?
- What To Do If You See a Snake While Hiking
- How To Avoid A Snake Attack
- What To Do If a Snake Bites You While Hiking?
- Should You Run Away From A Snake?
- Can You Walk Past A Snake?
- Do Hiking Boots Protect Against Snakes?
Are Snakes Afraid of Humans?
Snakes are very wary of humans and will often get out of your way long before you reach them.
Snakes can sense vibrations from your footsteps, which gives them plenty of warning to move to safety.
Unless you get too close to a snake, step on it, or put your hands close to it, it will not strike at you.
Even venomous snakes are usually harmless. As long as you leave it alone and go on your way, you don’t need to worry about the snake chasing or stalking you.
Even in rattlesnake country like Texas and Florida, you are safe from snakes while hiking as long as you follow some basic precautions and know what to do if you encounter a snake.
Are Snakes Dangerous To Humans?
Snakes are mostly harmless to humans. They rarely attack people, and even when they do, fatalities almost never happen.
According to the CDC, about 5 people die per year out of the 7,000-8,000 that are bitten by venomous snakes.
Part of the reason for the low fatalities is successful treatment with anti-venom therapy. Also, not every snake bite results in venom being injected in your body.
That said, snake bites can leave permanent injury including disability. So you should be careful to avoid snake bites whether you are at home or hiking outdoors.
Are Snakes Dangerous To Dogs?
If you often go hiking with your dog, take extra precautions to protect him from a snake bite.
Because dogs don’t have the same restraint humans have, and will often wander off into the bushes, they are at a higher risk of getting bitten.
Most dogs can survive a snake bite but you need to seek treatment as quickly as possible. Left untreated for several hours, a venomous snake bite can kill a dog.
Also, consider getting rattlesnake vaccine for your dog if you go hiking often or you have snakes around your home.
What To Do If You See a Snake While Hiking
You could hike in snake country for years and not come across a single snake, or see just a few.
Part of that is because snakes are wary of humans and will move out of the way as soon as they sense vibrations.
Another reason is that snakes generally don’t spend time in open areas where it’s easy to encounter one.
They spend most of their time in thick underbrush, under rocks and logs, and in water.
But sometimes you can come across a snake lounging on a rock or in the middle of the trail when it’s sunny. Other times, especially if you are a quiet walker, you can surprise a snake before it has time to scamper away.
You are more likely to encounter a snake when hiking tall grass, thick undergrowth or on rocks.
Whatever the situation, here’s what to do if you see a snake when hiking.
- Stay calm and don’t get any closer. The snake will not attack you unless you are too close. So don’t get any closer to get a better look or take a picture.
- Back away from the snake. Don’t make any sudden movements as the snake could see that as a threat. Just calmly walk backwards to create more distance between you and the snake.
- Wait for the snake to slither away before you continue. If the snake doesn’t move, either change paths or walk around it while giving it a wide berth.
- Do not try to scare or intimidate the snake away by shouting or throwing rocks. That will only enrage the snake and increase the risk of an attack. If you don’t bother the snake, it won’t bother you.
- Keep any kids or pets with you from getting too close to the snake as they can be bitten. If you are hiking in an area with snakes, leash your dog and make sure kids stay close to you.
How To Avoid A Snake Attack
Snakes really don’t want to attack you. So avoiding an attack is pretty easy – you just need to keep your distance from any snake you encounter.
But sometimes, you can get bitten by a snake you didn’t know was there. You have to watch out for the hidden snakes.
Here are some tips on how to avoid a snake bite when hiking.
- Let the snake know you are coming. Make noise with your feet when walking and use a stick to beat the ground. This warns snakes of your approach and lets you notice a snake before you get too close or step on it.
- Stick to marked trails and paths. Wide trails are especially safe since snakes are less likely to venture out onto open areas.
- If you have a dog or kids with you, make sure they stay close and on the trail. Wandering into the bushes takes them right into snake territory.
- Be careful around areas that are likely to harbor snakes such as near thickets, on/under rocks, and under logs. Stomp your feet or beat the ground with a stick before stepping on a log or rock to make sure there isn’t a snake lurking.
- If you come across a snake, avoid any sudden movements even when backing away or walking around it. Don’t run, just calmly walk away.
- Never place your hands or feet where you cannot see. This is important when walking or climbing on rocks and logs. Most people get bitten because they accidentally touched or stepped on a snake they did not see.
- If you are really afraid of coming across a snake, plan your hikes for the colder months. Snakes are less likely to come out when it’s cold.
- When hiking in a place with lots of snakes, protect your feet and legs by wearing long pants and ankle-high boots.
- Be aware of your environment. Don’t have earphones on when hiking, as you may not hear the warning rattle of a rattlesnake.
What To Do If a Snake Bites You While Hiking?
Most snake bites are not immediately fatal. You have a few hours to seek medical help.
Try to stay as calm as possible. Panicking gets your heart beating fast, which spreads venom faster through your body.
Lay down and keep the bitten limb from moving. Call 911 or park rangers for help or send someone to find help.
If you are alone in a place without cell phone service, walk slowly to a place with reception or until you find help. It’s better than waiting where no one will find you. Just make sure to take it slow and don’t exert yourself.
You can do some first aid while waiting for medical help. Do not suck on the wound or tie a tourniquet. These won’t help and can cause more injury.
Instead, use compression bandages or snake bite bandages. Tie the bandage over the wound and the entire limb to reduce the spread of venom.
Here’s a helpful first aid demonstration for snake bites from St. John WA.
Should You Run Away From A Snake?
If you come across a snake, do not run away.
For one, most snakes don’t chase people. Its defense is biting anyone who is within striking distance.
Running away from rattlesnakes and other types of snakes in the US is pointless. As long as you are not too close, you are safe.
Also, running can startle the snake or some other snake nearby, triggering an attack. When you encounter a snake, you want to be as gentle as possible. Don’t make any sudden movements.
Quietly back away or walk around the snake and you’ll be fine.
Can You Walk Past A Snake?
If there’s a snake in your path, the best option is to stay a safe distance away and wait to see if it’ll move.
You can stomp your feet or hit the ground with a stick to encourage the snake to move along.
If it doesn’t move, see if you can walk around it. Just make sure you always stay at least one snake body length away from it. This keeps you outside its striking range.
Be careful, though, when walking past a snake. If you have to walk through some bushes, you might encounter a hidden snake.
If the path is narrow or you don’t feel safe walking around the snake, the other option is to walk back or find another path.
Do Hiking Boots Protect Against Snakes?
Most snake bites occur on feet and legs.
Wearing a sturdy pair of ankle-high hiking boots when in snake country greatly reduces your chances of a snake bite.
A pair of long pants also provides good protection. Don’t hike through snake country in a pair of shorts.
Other protective items of clothing include thick socks, gaiters, and a pair of gloves. If you’re looking for more tips about animals you may encounter, here is our guide to cougars.