Basic Snake Safety Tips Every Hiker and Camper Needs to Know

Every RVer needs to know the following snake safety tips to keep you, your family, and pets safe while camping and hiking

Do you know how many U.S. states have venomous snakes? And I’m talking about venomous snakes, not just snakes in general. 

If you don’t know, go ahead and take a guess. I can hear your thoughts churning… 

Okay, Alaska’s too cold, and several of the northern states are probably too cold, too. All southern states have snakes but do they all have venomous snakes?

I bet your guess is in the 30s range, right? Yeah, I’m sure there are more states with snakes but you asked about venomous snakes!

Well, unless you only eliminated four states from your list, you’d be wrong. 46 of the 50 United States have venomous snakes! (I’ll tell you which four at the end.)

That’s why, no matter where you’re traveling, you should be up on your snake safety. Venomous or not, you need to know how to avoid snakes and what to do if you encounter one. This knowledge can keep you, your kids, and your pets safe!

Texas is snake country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Types of venomous snakes in each state

Chances are, the first venomous snake you’d think to find in America is a rattlesnake—and for good reason. There are 32 different species of rattlesnakes in the U.S. but they’re not the only potential threat. 

(Note that I say potential threat because following snake safety protocol greatly reduces the risk of getting bit. And, let’s be honest, it’s usually us humans doing the threatening.)

Some rattlesnakes in the U.S. don’t have rattle in their name including sidewinders and massasaugas but they are still rattlesnakes.

Then there are the copperheads and cottonmouths (aka water moccasins). These snakes are pit vipers like rattlers but do not have a rattle at the end of their tail. Although, some are known to shake their tail like rattlesnakes!

Last, there are the coral snakes. These colorful snakes are most closely related to cobras and mambas and have very toxic venom. 

Coral snakes are more toxic than rattlesnakes; however, they’re less deadly. Why? For one, they’re less aggressive. More so, their fixed fangs and small mouths don’t make them very good biters. They are more inefficient at delivering venom and need to chew on their prey to deliver it effectively. 

Regardless of deadliness compared to rattlesnakes, coral snake bites can be extremely painful and if left medically unattended can still lead to cardiac arrest. 

Texas is snake country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What kinds of venomous snakes can you find in Canada?

Believe it or not, you can find THREE types of venomous snakes in Canada. But please don’t live in fear, thinking that you are going to be bitten. In general, snakes try to avoid any contact or interaction with people. 

Prairie Rattlesnake can be found in southern provinces of Canada (mostly southern Alberta and Saskatchewan) in open prairies, grasslands, semi-desert shrublands, and forested environments. Eastern Massasauga is found in the wet habitats in the Great Lakes area of Canada. Western Rattlesnake in southern British Columbia primarily in the semi-arid Okanagan Valley.

Basic snake safety tips you NEED to know

I’m going to share the snake safety basics every RVer needs to know in this first article of the series. Keep an eye out for more snake safety articles to come!

You’ll also want to read my articles on bear safety and ticks:

Texas is snake country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

TIP #1: Do your research EVERY time you go somewhere new

I came across this excellent resource that lists out the types of venomous snakes in each state (wildlifeinformer.com/venomous-snakes-in-each-state). You should review the list whenever you’re traveling into a new state and read up on each type of snake. 

For example, Arizona is home to 19 different species of venomous snakes with most of these species being rattlesnakes. Most of these species are found in desert areas but Rattlesnakes are also known to be frequent visitors to golf courses and can be found out on the green.

Texas is home to 15 different species/subspecies of venomous snakes making it one of the more biodiverse states for venomous snakes. Venomous snakes are common in rural areas and secluded habitats but can also be common near people’s houses hiding in brush piles, wood piles, and garages.

For as many species of reptiles found in Florida, there are surprisingly few species of venomous snakes found there. Of these species, the Cottonmouths and Copperheads are the most common. Because it gets so hot during the day in Florida, the best time to find them is during the evening when temperatures begin to cool down.

Familiarize yourself with where the snakes are most likely to be found, how aggressive they are, and what to do if you encounter one.

TIP #2: Check your campsite when you arrive

Because snakes are coldblooded, they are less active in cooler months. If you’re camping during snake season, it’s important to check your campsite for snakes when you first arrive. Snakes are likely to avoid you once they know you’re there but you chance sneaking up on one when you first arrive.

Keep your dogs and kids (and scared spouse) in the RV and safely peruse your campsite. If there are any logs, rock croppings, or heavy brush, try to peer from several feet away and use a long stick if need be. 

Remember, rattlesnakes have excellent camouflage! I have scanned across one before and had to take a double take to realize it was a snake. 

Move slowly and take sure steps so you can freeze in place if need be. 

Note: Unusually warm weather can start snake season early or prolong it longer.

Texas is snake country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

TIP #3: Freeze and slowly back away

If you do see a snake (ANY snake), freeze in place immediately. Sometimes it’s hard to tell a rattlesnake from, say, a gopher snake and a coral snake from a king snake. Some snakes even shake their tails to mimic a rattlesnake.

Non-venomous snakes have evolved to look like their venomous counterparts. Some of them do such a good job that we get desensitized to them. Oh, it’s just another gopher snake. Oh wait, no it’s not! 

Small rattlesnakes are particularly difficult to identify, especially babies. Their triangular heads may be less pronounced and they might only have a couple of little nubs on their rattle. But they still have venom in their fangs!

So, if you see ANY snake, freeze in place. Assess your position and slowly move away with sure-footed steps. If you’re curious, you can try to determine if it’s venomous or not once you’re at a safe distance.

If the snake is in your campsite, send someone to alert the campground manager while you keep an eye on the snake. The campground manager will likely be able to identify the snake and handle it accordingly.

If the snake is away from the campground, you’re in its campsite and need to leave!

Arizona is snake country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

TIP # 4: Keep your dogs on a leash

Dogs are more likely to get bit than humans because they want to run and jump and shove their noses into every nook and cranny of the outdoors. If they come across a snake, they’re not going to freeze and slowly back away.

As is the case in almost every camping and hiking scenario, it’s best to keep your dog on a leash. You need to be able to yank them away from the threat.

If your dog spots a snake, do not reach for your dog with your hands! You risk spooking the snake and getting bit yourself that way. Step back and pull back on the leash. 

If your dog attacks a snake, do not interfere with your hands! Do not reach in to try to pull your dog away. Try to pull your dog away from the end of the leash but be careful that your dog doesn’t fling the snake at you or bring it closer to you. 

Chances are, the attack will be over quickly. As soon as your dog drops the snake, drag your dog away from the end of the leash. If your dog is not leashed, call him away or try to get his attention by throwing a stick or small rocks away from the snake.

I know you love your dog but it’s better for your dog that you don’t get bit, too. So, do not interfere in the middle of an attack. You need to be able to take it to a vet immediately especially if it’s a venomous snake.

Approximately 80 percent of pets survive a snake bite if treated quickly, so a prompt response is essential. This involves recognizing the initial symptoms of a snake bite and immediately seeking care.

Although the intensity of snake bite symptoms will vary, watch out to see if your dog is exhibiting any of these signs:

Sudden weakness and collapse, followed by your pet getting up normally. This is a symptom characteristic of snake bites—though not the only thing that can cause this type of collapse.

  • Trembling, shaking, or twitching of muscles
  • Diarrhea and/or vomiting
  • Unsteadiness/weakness in hind legs
  • Excessive salivation, drooling, or frothing at the mouth
  • Bloody urine
  • Dilated pupils
  • Paralysis

If you suspect your pet has been bitten by a snake, seek veterinary attention immediately. Most pets will survive a snake bite if attended to immediately.

Texas is snake country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

TIP #5: Teach you childrens snake safety

It’s important to teach your children snake safety before you start any camping trip. Calmly explain to them that we don’t need to be scared of snakes but we do need to be careful around them. Explain to your children that snakes don’t want to bite you but they will if they think you’re going to hurt them. 

For young children, make them imagine what it’s like being a small snake looking up at their big human bodies. (Kids will like the idea that they’re big compared to snakes.) Then take them through what they would want a human to do if they were a scared little snake.

Freeze. Stay calm. Slowly back away. Go get an adult.

Have them practice by pretending a stick is a snake. You can test them a couple of times during the trip, too. Toss the snake stick in the middle of the campsite and see if they respond correctly. Retrain them as needed.

States with NO venomous snakes

So, what are the four states that do not have any species of venomous snakes, you ask? They are:

  • Alaska
  • Hawaii
  • Maine
  • Rhode Island

More in-depth tips

Today, we’ve covered the 5 basic snake safety tips every RVer needs to know. I have more snake safety articles coming your way that will list out the Dos and Don’ts and give you even more in-depth tips. 

Worth Pondering…

Even if a snake is not poisonous, it should pretend to be venomous.

—Chanakya