Part of what makes the Great Smoky Mountains National Park so magical is the unbridled access it provides to miles of untamed wilderness. This allows you to explore rugged trails, get up close and personal with nature, and bask in a rustic experience you’ll only find here in the Smokies.
Unfortunately, though, sometimes nature can bite back. The same wild ways that make the Smoky Mountains a premier destination for outdoor activities also come with a few possible threats.
In fact just last week, a 53-year-old man was bitten by a venomous snake in a public bathroom near the Cades Cove campground, according to news reports. Though snake bites are very rare in the Smoky Mountains, this incident is proof that they can and do occur. Thankfully the injured man was airlifted to a medical center in nearby Knoxville for treatment and has since made a full recovery.
We can use his ordeal as an opportunity for learning about the natural wonders you’ll find in the Great Smoky Mountains. Here’s what you need to know about poisonous snake in the Smokies.
Four Fast Facts About Poisonous Snakes in the Great Smoky Mountains
1. Out of the 23 species of snakes you’ll find in the Smokies, only two are poisonous or venomous: The Northern Copperhead and Timber Rattlesnake. This means that if you spot a snake on your hike or nature walk, chances are very good that it won’t hurt you. You can learn more about the snakes in the park here: Reptiles in the Great Smoky Mountains.
2. The two poisonous snakes you’ll find if the Smokies are easy to identify. As a general rule, all venomous snakes have triangular-shaped heads with vertical eye slits. Their non-venomous cousins have rounder heads with round pupils. The snake’s habitat can also help you make a positive ID: Generally speaking, timber rattlesnakes prefer rocky outcrops and hillsides and copperheads are often found hiding in crevices of rocks along stream banks. Both snakes can also be found around man-made structures, like stone buildings and fences. It’s also important to know about the snakes’ coloring: Copperheads, as their name suggests, come in a copper hue; timber rattlers are usually brown but can vary from oranges to black depending on season and the individual’s molting.
3. There’s never been a fatality from a snakebite recorded in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Ever. Because so few of the park’s snakes are venomous, the chances of running into a poisonous variety are very rare. And, just as in the case of the recent victim, help is available and full recoveries are possible. If you’re bitten by a snake and you suspect it was venomous, it’s important to get to help immediately and stay calm. Don’t try to suck the venom out yourself or catch or kill the snake. According to statistics from REI, an outdoor supplies outfitter, your worst-case scenario chance of dying from a snake bite in the wilderness is about 1 in 10 million.
4. Should you run into a snake in the Smokies, remember to keep a hands-off approach. Exploring the wilderness of the Great Smoky Mountains comes with inherent risks and your safety is your responsibility. Not only is feeding, touching, teasing or handling wildlife strictly prohibited in the national park, but your safety could depend on it!
Have you ever had a run-in with a snake in the Great Smoky Mountains? Share your stories and thoughts at the PigeonForge.com Facebook page!