Here’s a subject that should grab your attention: venomous snakes on hiking trails in Pennsylvania.

If you’ve never encountered one, keep hiking. Spend enough time in Penn’s woods and the inevitable will occur. I’ve never made the effort to keep track of the number of timber rattlesnakes that have actually crossed my path, but there have been lots of ‘em.

The most I’ve spotted at one time is five, all bunched together as if trying to stay warm. This was on a rock outcropping down in southern Pennsylvania on the Mid State Trail near Everett. My hiking buddy Roger Maurais was especially enthralled with this sighting because he’s a native of Maine and there are are no rattlers in Maine.

There are only three venomous snakes native to Pennsylvania: timber rattlesnake, copperhead and eastern massasauga (found only in extreme western Pennsylvania). The other four found in the U.S. are western diamondback, cottonmouth (water moccasin), coral snake and prairie rattlesnake.

I did have an encounter with a cottonmouth several years ago. My buddy and I were fishing for largemouth bass down in the brackish water of South Carolina’s Intracoastal Waterway. My friend wanted to take a photo of a water moccasin swimming near our fishing boat.

The snake was close to the transom, so said friend scrambled to the back of the boat, only to be met face-to-face by the critter who was trying to enter next to the outboard motor. Didn’t take long for my buddy to scramble back to the bow. The snake swam away and his picture was never taken.

How should you react if you encounter a rattler or copperhead when hiking? Stay away. Do not try to get a reaction from the serpent by toying with it. Although its striking distance is about two-thirds its length, if agitated it may be aggressive enough to attack.

Just leave it alone. It is no more interested in dealing with you than you are with it.

If you should be unfortunate enough to be bitten, the best antidote may be a set of car keys. In other words, get to your vehicle and visit the nearest hospital. Here’s advice from the PA Fish and Boat Commission:


  1. Calm and reassure the victim, and keep the victim immobile.
  2. Call 911 or the Penn State Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222.
  3. You may apply a light constricting band above the bite area (be able to insert a finger under the band). Do not release the band unless it becomes too tight from swelling.
  4. Move the victim to a medical facility without delay.
  5. A tetanus shot may also be required.


  1. Don’t use ice, cold packs or sprays.
  2. Don’t incise and suction unless directed by a physician.
  3. Don’t use a tourniquet.
  4. Don’t give alcohol or any drugs.
  5. Don’t wait to see if symptoms develop.

Be careful where you step.

Happy trails.

Daryl Warren has been a serious hiker for many years.