Poisonous Snakes on the Appalachian Trail

Poisonous Snakes on the Appalachian TrailThe Appalachian Trail remains the most famous of the long distance trekking trails in America. Stretching roughly 2,175 miles, the trail runs from Northern Georgia all the way to Maine, with a new spur stretching into Northern and Central Alabama. That broad swathe of territory carries the trail through multiple climates and habitats in the Eastern United States, and hikers may cross paths with no fewer than three different poisonous snakes. While bites are rare, in an emergency it is useful to be able to identify these poisonous serpents and the larger varieties of non-poisonous snakes on the trail.

The Copperhead

The copperhead (pictured above) is an ambush predator that is between 20 and 36 inches long. While the snake would prefer to leave the area rather than have an encounter with a human, they often tend to freeze instead of retreating. Also, their color pattern makes them very hard to see on beds of dried leaves or on the reddish clay common on southern parts of the trail. This can lead to close encounters and bites. That habit makes the copperhead the most dangerous poisonous snake likely to be found on the Appalachian Trail. However, their bites inject a small amount of weak venom relative to the other two snakes on this list and fatalities from copperhead bites are extremely rare. They are mostly found in the drier, rockier parts of the trial, and are particularly abundant in those parts between Georgia and New York, although copperheads have been found as far north as Massachusetts.

Eastern Timber Rattlesnake

Eastern Timber Rattlesnake

These rattlesnakes grow to be very large snakes indeed, and are normally between 3 and 5 feet long. They are found everywhere along the Appalachian Trail. While the venom is of only moderate strength, the snake's sheer size allows it to put a lot of venom into a single bite, making it very dangerous. However, these snakes prefer to use their rattle to give plenty of warning when they feel threatened, and generally seek to avoid humans. This combination makes them easy to encounter, but hard to get bitten by if the snake is left alone.



The cottonmouth, or water moccasin, is generally between 3 and 5 feet in length. Some individuals can reach up to 6 feet long. They are semi-aquatic and encountered by hikers on the Appalachian Trail very infrequently. In fact, the snake's habitat rarely includes the high ridge lines of the Trail, and if a trekker is likely to encounter one it will be because the trekker has come down on a spur running off the main Trail somewhere in Georgia. The snake is virtually unknown outside of the Southern reaches of the trail. Like the timber rattlesnake, the cottonmouth is very large and can put a lot of venom into a bite. It is prone to making a highly aggressive display when it is irritated, and snakes of this species have been known to attack much larger animals rather than flee.

Article Written By Edwin Thomas

Edwin Thomas has been writing since 1997. His work has appeared in various online publications, including The Black Table, Proboxing-Fans and others. A travel blogger, editor and writer, Thomas has traveled from Argentina to Vietnam in pursuit of stories. He holds a Master of Arts in international affairs from American University.

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