6 Snakes You Might Encounter While Hiking the Appalachian Trail

The Appalachian Trail spans over 2,100 miles of beautiful wilderness, but with it comes wildlife. The trail itself is home to a wide variety of creatures including snakes. Here’s what to look for and how to respond.

Before you go hiking, it is important to know what snakes you are likely to see, what they look like and how to safely navigate an encounter.

If you’re thinking of taking the Appalachian Trail, this article will prepare you for the snakes you might encounter along the way. Although not all of the snakes you might see are poisonous, some are.

So read on to understand what you’re looking for on the trail and how to handle a slippery situation.

Appalachian Trail: 6 Snakes You Might Encounter

1. Copper head

(Photo/Nigel Robert)

The Eastern Copperhead can be found on the East Coast in states like Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia. As you progress north on the Appalachian Trail, you can even contact the Northern Copperhead in states like New York.

This snake is copper brown in color with distinct brown “Hershey’s kiss” patterns on its sides. If encountered, it will often freeze and rely on its camouflage to remain invisible when threatened.

This can be a problem, as Copperheads are one of two types of poisonous snakes on the Appalachian Trail. Keep a close eye on where you step to avoid these snakes.

If you encounter one on the trail, back away slowly and make sure you are at least 6-10 feet from the snake at all times.

2. Gartersnakes

Gartersnakes

Along the trail, it is very easy to come across gartersnakes. These snakes are identified by a brown, green, or gray body color with a yellow or cream stripe down the middle of their backs and a checkered pattern on their sides.

These snakes are common along the East Coast, especially in states like Virginia. It is a docile species considered technically venomous, but are not dangerous for humans.

If you encounter this species on the trail, you can leave it alone or, if you feel more comfortable handling snakes, gently push it out of your way.

3. Eastern Ratsnake

Eastern Ratsnake
(Photo/Nigel Robert)

These large snakes can range from 3.5 to 7 feet in length and are also known as western rat snakes or black rat snakes. They are normally black in color with a white or cream belly.

They are non-venomous; however, they have been known to issue a rude command and vibrate their tails to mimic rattlesnakes when threatened.

You can see this snake along the trail in states like Georgia.

If you happen to come across this species, it will be best to leave them alone. Although they are not dangerous, their bite can pack a punch and the stinky musk can cling to your clothes.

4. Oriental Pork Nose

Eastern Flat Nose

The Eastern Hognose is a fascinating species that you’ll likely encounter along the trail in North Carolina, Georgia, and even as far north as New Hampshire.

They come in a variety of colors like gray, orange, and brown, and they can be plain or patterned. The only consistent identifying feature is their upturned nose which gave them their name.

These snakes can grow up to 3 feet long. They cup their heads like a cobra and play dead when threatened. This is another species that is technically venomous but not dangerous for humans.

If you encounter an Eastern Hognose on the Appalachian Trail, you should leave it alone, so as not to stress the snake. But you don’t have to worry about your safety.

5. Collared Snake

ring neck
(Photo/Nigel Robert)

These small snakes are usually brown, olive, black or even blue-gray in color with a yellow, red or orange neck and belly.

They are usually no taller than 15 inches and between the Eastern and southern speciesis found in all East Coast states.

These snakes are small, docile and can easily be picked up and moved if necessary. They are non-venomous and pose no threat to humans.

They rarely even bite when handled, so if you leave these snakes alone on the trail, they won’t bother you.

6. Rattlesnakes

Rattlesnakes

The second poisonous snake you may encounter on the trail is the rattlesnake. More specifically, there is four types of rattlesnakes who inhabit areas near the Appalachian Trail.

Timber rattlesnakes can be found along the entire eastern seaboard, while pygmy rattlesnakes and eastern diamondbacks can be seen in North Carolina and Georgia. Finally, the Eastern Massasauga can be seen as far north as New York.

These snakes have different colors and patterns but can be identified by the characteristic rattle on their tail. They wag their tail and produce a loud clicking noise when threatened.

Because they are poisonous, they should always be left alone when seen on the trail. Try waiting for them to leave the area or move to a safe distance instead of trying to move them.

FAQs

Are there poisonous snakes on the Appalachian Trail?

There are only two types of venomous snakes you may encounter on the Appalachian Trail and about six species in total: eastern and northern copper, timber rattlesnake, eastern diamondback, pygmy rattlesnake and the eastern massasauga.

When should I walk to avoid snakes?

If you want to avoid snakes, the best thing to do is to walk when it’s cold. Snakes are generally less active during the cold fall and winter months.

Because snakes need to warm their bodies from the sun, they will be more active during warmer times of the year. So if you want to avoid snakes on the trail, get out when it’s cold.

What to do if you encounter a snake on a trail?

If you’re hiking the Appalachian Trail and come across a snake, the safest thing you can do is leave it alone. There is always a chance that you will encounter a dangerous species on the trail.

If you are unsure of your identification abilities, always treat the snake as poisonous and leave it alone. If you find a snake, stop and slowly back away until you are at least 6-10 feet from the snake. Once at a safe distance, you can wait for the snake to go away or find a way around it safely.

Conclusion

The snakes that inhabit the Appalachian Trail shouldn’t put you off hiking it yourself. Although there are poisonous species that can be found, there are also many harmless species. Knowing which snakes are common and what to do if you find one is the first step to a fun and safe hike.


Nigel Robert is a reptile lover, biologist and wildlife consultant. He has kept many species of reptiles, including leopard geckos and ball pythons, and has had hundreds of wildlife encounters. Its aim is to provide reliable and comprehensive advice to anyone likely to encounter wild or domestic reptiles.

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