Even if you don’t have ophidiophobia (which is an extreme fear of snakes) or even if you aren’t even remotely scared of snakes, avoiding rattlesnakes on your hiking adventures should always be a priority. The reality is even if you don’t fear them, they’re venomous creatures and are extremely dangerous to encounter.

So, in other words, you should always respect them as they can turn around your day in a heartbeat. However, depending on where you are in the world, you may never really have the need of worrying about rattlesnakes.

Yet, if you hike in regions that can be prone to rattlesnake activity, this post can be extremely important to you. While we’re going to take a deep dive into this topic, let’s briefly mention some main ways how to avoid rattlesnakes while hiking:

  • Since most bites occur from handling or accidentally touching them, you should always avoid picking them up and should remain at a safe distance from them.
  • Be wary of your surroundings at all times and watch where you’re stepping and placing your hands.
  • Stay away from tall grass and heavy underbrush areas. Stick to the hiking trails.
  • Wear strong and sturdy shoes and also long pants for better protection.
  • Be wary near water as rattlesnakes can swim.
  • Carefully inspect any rocks or logs that you may want to sit on to rest from time to time.
  • Bonus – One way that’s probably not going to work is by laying rope down.

Following those simple steps is an excellent start of how to avoid rattlesnakes while hiking. With that said, there’s still an abundance of information to learn that can help you better understand how to handle the possibility of encountering one on your hike.

How dangerous are rattlesnakes?

If we’re creating a post devoted to avoiding these venomous creatures, then that must mean they’re fairly dangerous. Well, indeed, they are. For starters, they’re venomous. What this means is a bite from one can lead to tissue damage, bruising, and swelling. If untreated after several hours, rattlesnake venom can even be lethal.

Thankfully, antivenom drugs are very effective so being bitten by a rattlesnake doesn’t mean you’re going to die. In fact, according to the California Poison Control System, the odds of even being bitten by one are pretty low.

Where are they commonly located?

Helpful sign.
Photo by Brennan Meinke / Unsplash

This is critically important as the idea of how to avoid rattlesnakes while hiking is less of an issue if you hike in areas that rarely (or ever) have rattlesnake activity. And even though they’re found in nearly every part of the continental United States, they’re most common in the Southwest.

For example, if you were to hike in Michigan, the only chance of encountering one is if you ran into the eastern massasauga rattlesnake, which is extremely rare. South America, Central America, and Mexico, additionally, are homes to rattlesnakes.

Regarding the habitats they enjoy, they’ll live in a wide range of different ones. This can include deserts, swamps, forests, grasslands, and scrub brush. They’re also fairly good swimmers too.

Given that the venomous creatures are cold-blooded, they can’t regulate their body temperatures. What this means is that they have to rely on their surroundings for heat. In colder weather, because of this, they’re not going to be active.

So, if you were to hike to the peak of Mt. Everest, let’s just say that encountering a rattlesnake isn’t going to be one of the challenges you’ll face.

What’s their behavior like?

Clearly, this post is discussing how to avoid rattlesnakes while hiking. However, you still may SEE them while hiking and will then still need to avoid them. So, we figured it would be important to talk a little about their behavioral tendencies. Take a look at this:

  • When a rattlesnake senses a potential threat, it may silently escape or use camouflage to blend in with the surroundings.
  • If one decides to stand its ground, it will take a defensive pose and shake its rattle as a warning (though one may just go straight on the attack without rattling if suddenly startled). Though I’ve never personally heard the rattle of a rattlesnake, I’ve heard that it’s a truly bone-chilling sensation. It’s been described as the sound of a jet of water hitting a spinning fan. Of course, rattlesnakes can actually lose their rattles too.
  • One may go on the attack if startled, though this will be done from a coiled position.
  • Finally, rattlesnakes don’t seek people out. It’s not as if they’re hunting you while you’re in their domain.

Wait, what’s a rattlesnake doing on a trail, in the first place?

Photo by Duncan Sanchez / Unsplash

Just place a sign that says, “no rattlesnakes allowed,” and that will keep them off of your hiking trail. Wait, that’s not going to work? Joking aside, the reason you’ll spot them on trails from time to time goes back to the fact that they’re cold-blooded.

Because they can’t regulate their body temperatures, they’ll look for sunny spots (such as a bare sunny hiking trail) to warm their bodies up when the weather starts to get a little cooler (possibly at night). On the contrary, when it gets really hot, they’ll seek out sheltered places away from the sun.

Places such as under logs, rocks, heavy shrubs, or even woodpiles can be home to them during warmer temperatures. So, be wary of those spots if you’re hiking on a hot day in regions where rattlesnakes are active.

Regarding when they’re most active (even on trails), they can be out anytime but the morning and from dusk into the night are the most common times you’ll see them out and about.

How do you know for sure that you’re seeing a rattlesnake?

Photo by Joshua Hoehne / Unsplash

Okay, so let’s say you do stumble upon a snake that could be a rattler, how do you know for sure? The easiest way is to just go ahead and pick the snake up to look at it eye-to-eye. No, we’re just kidding, please DON’T do that.

Remember that keeping a safe distance away from rattlesnakes (or any poisonous snakes) is very important. However, there are some telling signs to look out for including:

  • A rattle at the end of the tail (though this can be lost)
  • A tapered neck and thick body
  • Large scales
  • A distinctive triangular-shaped head

Let’s be clear, though, if you aren’t sure if you’re looking at a rattlesnake during your hike, just stay away to be safe. No need to investigate further and end up regretting it because a hospital trip followed.

What should you do if you see a rattlesnake on a trail?

Clearly, the goal here is how to avoid rattlesnakes while hiking. If you do happen to see or encounter one, there are some critical tips to remember to avoid a potential disaster.

  • Rattlesnakes aren’t aggressive toward humans, so the best thing to do is back away if you see one close. Give them space to escape as if they sense you that’s most likely what they’re going to do.
  • DON’T attempt to try to push them off the trail with a stick and DON’T wave things at them as that could agitate them.
  • Shouting at them isn’t going to do any good as they don’t have external ears. However, they pick up vibrations very well. So, at a safe distance, if you see one that’s not moving on its own, you can try stomping your feet to give the rattler a signal.

Okay, but what happens if you actually get bit?

The hope is that you never have to deal with a rattlesnake bite. But let’s just say that you encounter one on the trails, and you happen to accidentally get bit. According to the Mayo Clinic, if you get bit by a venomous snake (including rattlesnakes) then you should “call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.”

The medical organization points out that there are steps to take while you’re waiting for medical help to arrive if you weren’t successful in how to avoid rattlesnakes while hiking. Those include:

  • Firstly, get out of the snake’s striking distance to avoid getting bit again.
  • Try to remain as calm and still as possible to slow the spread of the venom (which is going to be hard because your adrenaline will probably be sky high).
  • Remove any tight clothing and jewelry before you begin to swell.
  • Clean the wound with soap and water and then cover it with a dry and clean dressing.
  • Try to position yourself so that the bite is below (or at) the level of your heart.

The Mayo Clinic also makes mention of things that you shouldn’t do after getting bitten by a rattlesnake:

  • Don’t attempt to remove the venom by cutting the wound.
  • Don’t apply ice or use a tourniquet.
  • While you can try to remember the color and shape of the snake, you shouldn’t attempt to capture it. Bad idea.
  • Don’t drink either alcohol or caffeine as both can speed the body’s absorption of the venom.

And, lastly, the clinic also mentions some symptoms to look out for that could indicate you’ve indeed been bitten by a venomous snake. Being bitten by a nonvenomous snake typically results in pain and scratches at the site of the bite. Things are a little more serious with venom, though:

  • Severe burning pain at the site usually occurs within 15 to 30 minutes from a venomous bite.
  • This burning sensation can progress to both bruising and swelling at the wound (and then continuing up the arm or leg).
  • Labored breathing, a sense of weakness, nausea, and an odd taste in your mouth are other symptoms that you’ve been bitten by a venomous snake.

Of course, a dry bite is also possible from a rattlesnake where one bites without injecting venom. But, in general, you’re going to be able to tell if venom is in your system as you’ll be able to tell that something’s not right.

Final thoughts

Gee, did we throw enough information at you during this post? The reality is there’s a lot to learn when discussing how to avoid rattlesnakes while hiking. With that said, we’d say the most important things to take from this article would be the following:

  1. Most rattlesnake bites occur when people accidentally touch them or handle them. They’re not out there to terrorize humans, so just remain a safe distance away from them.
  2. Be wary of your surroundings out on the trails if rattlesnake activity is common in your area.
  3. While they can be active anytime, morning and from dusk into the night is when they’re the most active.
  4. The odds of being bitten by a rattlesnake are pretty low, and bites are rarely fatal.
  5. Depending on where you are in the world, you may never have to ever deal with them.

No one wants to deal with a rattlesnake bite during a hike, and we hope that you feel better prepared now after reading this post.