Tips for Hiking in Rattlesnake Country

Every year hikers and outdoor adventurers are rushed to hospitals due to snake bites. Rattlesnakes are venomous and can be found across the Western U.S. Rattlesnakes are native to Colorado, Utah, Arizona, California and neighboring states and they can also be found east of the Mississippi River. Before you head out on the hiking trails, make sure you know how to identify rattlesnakes, what to do to avoid them and how to handle a rattlesnake bite.

rattlesnakes Photo by David Jones


How to Avoid Rattlesnake Confrontations

Rattlesnakes are predators that play an important part to the balance of natural ecosystems. It's important that you know how to protect yourself, your children and pets from rattlesnake attacks. Here is what you need to know to avoid rattlesnake bites:

  • Know the risks-  Research your area and see if rattlesnakes are present. Many trailheads will have signs warning you about rattlesnakes. Familiarize yourself with the risks in your area before hitting the trail.

  • Avoid their desireable habitats - Rattlesnakes like to be around rocks where they can hide in the cracks. However, they also like to sun themselves and sometime a dirt trail free of tall grasses is a desireable place for them to be.

  • Keep your dog on a leash - Loose dogs can unknowingly startle a rattlesnake or try to attack them. Keep your dog safe by staying on the trail.

  • Educate children - Teach children to stay close to adults and to immediately report any snake sightings.

  • Wear protection - Wear hiking boots or shoes. Leave the sandals at home when hiking in snake territory. Wear long pants or gaiters for additional protection from snake bites.

  • Slowly back away - The best thing to do is slowly back away from a rattle snake. They can't hear so noices won't scare them but they can sense movement. Many people's first reaction is to kill the rattlesnake, but rattlesnakes play an important role in keeping the population of its prey in check. Do not mess with the natural ecosystem.

  • Know how to identify a rattlesnake - If you or someone in your group is bitten by a snake it is important to know if it was a poisonous rattlesnake or not. Rattlesnakes have a diamond-shaped head, are heavy-bodied, have a 'pit' located between it's eyes (for sensing movement). They are usually brown and tan patchwork but there are multiple coloration possibilities for rattlesnakes. Be sure to know what rattlesnakes in your area may look like. Do not rely on hearing a rattle. Rattles can fall off or be silent.

Rattlesnakes Photo by Brent Myers

What to do After a Rattlesnake Bite

  • Remain Calm - Getting excited will only help spread the venom throughout your system.

  • Keep the infected area below your heart - Again, try to slow the spread of the venom in your system.

  • Seek medical attention - Get to a doctor as soon as possible.

Do not attempt to suck out the venom. Do not cut open the wound. Do not apply ice to the bite.

Andy Hawbaker
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Andy Hawbaker
Andy is a hiker, backpacker, snowboarder and outdoor fanatic. When he isn't exploring the Rocky Mountains, burning marshmallows or scratching his dog behind the ear, he shares his experiences here on the Sierra Trading Post Blog.
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