How to Avoid Rattlesnakes When Hiking

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Summer is snake season! Just like humans, snakes want to soak up some rays and bask in the sun after a long winter. There have been a number of recent rattlesnake sightings in the East Bay hills and on the peninsula, that’s not a surprise since the entire state of California is prime snake territory. Don’t freak out! Follow these tips and avoid rattlesnakes and prevent a bite the next time you run into a rattlesnake while hiking.

1. Stay alert to avoid rattlesnakes.

Watch where you step, look before you sit, and pay attention to where you put your hands. Be extra careful when climbing over boulders or stepping over logs or other obstacles on the trail. Snakes often like to sun themselves on rocks and they can hide along the edge of a fence or log. Snakes blend in easily with dry brush and if you’re walking through tall grass you can easily step on a snake if you’re not careful. When stepping over large rocks or logs be sure to step on the log, and then look down, before stepping over the log.

2. Give a wide berth.

When attacking, a snake can launch itself 2-3 feet in a matter of seconds. Thanks to gravity, this distance can increase if you are downhill from the snake. Common to popular belief, rattlesnakes don’t like to attack. In fact, the rattlesnake wants to avoid you just as much as you want to avoid it. When a rattlesnake is mad, it will shake its tail to give a warning sound, that’s your signal to step back and get away! Listen to what a rattlesnake warning sounds like and see videos of rattlesnakes here.

3. Keep your dog leashes and on the trail.

Be vigilant when hiking with your dog. The best way to avoid rattlesnakes is to keep your curious dog on a leash and stay on the trail. Dogs are most often bit by rattlesnakes when running through tall grass or walking with their nose to the ground. If your dog gets bit by a snake try to take a picture of the snake or take note of the snake’s color and markings. Keep your dog calm and get to a vet right away.

4. Stay calm.

Despite the hype, rattlesnake bites are fairly uncommon. Rattlesnakes usually don’t attack unless they are intentionally provoked or threatened. Just last week, we were backpacking in the Ohlone Wilderness when we saw a rattlesnake while hiking. The snake was booking it down the middle of the trail, heading straight at us. We stepped to the side of the trail and the snake slithered by without a problem.

Snakes are an important part of the ecosystem and should be respected. If you do happen to get bit by a rattlesnake, you should alert your hiking partner or, if you’re hiking alone, try to find another person on the trail. Call 911 and make your way off of the trail. If you were bit on the arm or hand you should remove any rings or other jewelry and keep your hand below your heart.

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  • Apply a tourniquet. A tourniquet will do more harm than good. By reducing blood flow you are effectively allowing the venom to concentrate in a small area, resulting in tissue damage.
  • Lance the wound. This can introduce bacteria and cause infection.
  • Suck the venom out of the wound. Many snake bites contain only a small amount of venom. Your time is better spent trying to get to a medical center.
  • Exert yourself. Remain calm, if you are carrying a heavy pack ask your hiking partner to take the pack or help distribute the weight.

Want to learn more about these fascinating creatures? Stop by the Old Green Barn at the Sunol Regional Wilderness to learn about and view some local snakes. And if you want to do a bit of snake hunting, check out our trail finder to search for hikes in the East Bay hills.

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2 years ago

My dog got bit in the lower lip by a Timber Rattler. He was limp as a biscuit and unable to move within 5 minutes. My dog weighed 100 lbs at the time. Luckily I was around and was able to take a picture of the snake so the vet could identify which type of anti-venom to use. I got my dog to the vet within 20 minutes of the bite. I’m not sure my dog would have lived had it taken much longer. The vet said they were caring for another snake bit dog that had been in there… Read more »