Nobody wants to find a snake in their tent…let alone anywhere near their campsite!
While snakes can be fascinating to observe from a distance, being surprised by one that gets too close can be a frightening (and potentially dangerous) experience.
Remember, you’re in their home—not the other way around.
That said, there are some things you can do to minimize your chances of running into a snake while camping.
Types of snakes to be aware of
Some people just don’t like snakes, which is perfectly normal—and understandable.
Many species of snakes are harmless and don’t have any venom, but you still might not want them around your campsite.
Some species, however, are venomous and pose a threat to humans.
The most common venomous snakes in North America are rattlesnakes, copperheads, and water moccasins.
It’s important to know which species are common in the area you’ll be camping in and learn how to identify them before you set out on your trip.
|Large, triangular head, rattles on tail
|Throughout North America
|Distinctive hourglass pattern on body
|Eastern United States
|Dark, olive-green colour, thick body
|Southeastern United States
How snakes behave
Snakes are generally timid and will try their best to avoid humans.
They’re most active during the day in the spring and fall, and at night during the summer.
Snakes will typically only attack if they feel threatened or cornered.
When camping, it’s important to be aware of your surroundings and avoid areas where snakes may be hiding.
Here are some tips:
- Avoid camping near rock piles or outcrops, heavy brush, or water sources, as these are prime hiding spots for snakes.
- Keep your campsite clean and free of food scraps, as this can attract rodents, which in turn can attract snakes.
- Wear long pants and boots when hiking or exploring the area, as this can help protect you from snake bites.
How to prevent snakes from slithering around your campsite
There’s never any guarantee that you won’t encounter a snake while camping, but there are steps you can take to make it less likely.
Here are some ways to minimize your chances of seeing a snake at your campsite.
Pick your campsite wisely
If possible, pick a campsite in a relatively flat or open area with no nearby cover—such as rocks, brush, or logs—that could provide a hiding spot for snakes.
An open area with few hiding places may make your campsite less attractive to snakes.
If you do have to camp near brush or trees, make sure tents are securely pitched away from them.
Avoid camping near water sources
Snakes love to spend time around lakes, rivers, and streams—so it’s best to avoid setting up camp in these areas if possible.
If you must camp near a water source, be sure to check for snakes before entering the water.
Carefully clear the campsite area
If there’s noticeable debris at or around your campsite, such as piles of leaves, rocks, and logs, it’s a good idea to do your best to clear it away.
Snakes like to hide in these areas, so keeping them clear will decrease the chances of snakes entering your campsite.
However, you’ll need to be careful in case a snake is already hiding in the debris.
You might want to use a long stick or a shovel to clear away debris while keeping your distance.
Keep your campsite tidy
Snakes are attracted to campsites with lots of debris and food scraps, so it’s important to store food and trash properly.
Make sure to clean up any food scraps that happen to fall on the ground as soon as possible.
We suggest storing food in sealed containers, keeping trash bags or cans closed/sealed at all times, and keeping these items in your vehicle or bear locker when not in use.
Seal or close off any open areas of your campsite
As with any camping trip, it’s important to check your tent and gear for holes and tears before you set out.
Even with gear that’s in good condition, you’ll still need to be conscious of any small openings in your tent or camper to prevent snakes from entering.
Make sure your tent or camper is zipped up at all times, and keep all gear and clothing packed away in their respective bags or packs until you need them.
Use natural snake repellents
There are several things you can do that act as natural repellents to help keep snakes away from your campsite.
Some examples include planting marigolds or garlic around your campsite, using essential oils such as cinnamon or cloves, and spreading mothballs around the perimeter of your campsite.
However, it’s important to note that these repellents may not be effective for all types of snakes.
They’re also generally not recommended to use at campsites because their scents can attract other animals—including bears.
If you’re not in bear country and are willing to take the risk with attracting other animals, you may want to try them—but do so with caution.
Chemical repellents can also be effective in keeping snakes away from your campsite, but you shouldn’t use them at a campsite because they can be harmful to wildlife and the environment.
What to do if you find a snake at your campsite
Coming across a snake can be a surprising and even scary experience, but it’s important to stay calm and take the right steps to stay safe.
Keep your distance
The most important thing to do when you see a snake is to stay calm, keep your distance, and give it plenty of space.
Don’t try to touch or handle the snake, as this can provoke it and increase the risk of a bite.
Slowly back away from the snake, giving it plenty of space to move away.
Aim to stay at least 6 to 10 feet away from any snake you come across.
They don’t want anything to do with us, so they’ll usually leave if given the chance.
Observe the snake from a distance
If you want to watch the snake for a little while, try to get far enough away that you can still see it but not close enough for it to feel threatened.
This will give you an opportunity to identify the species of snake and understand its behavior better.
If you can’t identify the species, it’s best to assume that the snake is venomous and take appropriate precautions.
If you don’t feel comfortable watching it, then just leave it alone and head back to your campsite.
Allow the snake to move on
It’s never a good idea to interfere with wildlife.
Snakes will generally slither away as long as they’re given enough space.
If you’re worried about it showing up again, then take the necessary steps to snake-proof your campsite and make sure you store food properly.
What if a snake is too close for comfort?
It’s extremely rare for this to happen, but if a snake has found its way inside your tent or gear, it’s important to assess the situation before making any quick decisions about what to do next.
If you can identify the species of the snake, this will tell you whether it’s safe or not to interfere.
Also, if the snake doesn’t look like it’s stuck, then you probably won’t have to do anything but be patient and wait for it to leave on its own.
For instance, if you can identify the snake as a harmless garter snake that’s simply resting beside your pack, you don’t (and shouldn’t) need to take any steps to remove it,
If, on the other hand, a potentially venomous snake has gotten trapped inside your tent or other piece of gear, you should keep a safe distance from the area and seek help from park staff or a wildlife expert.
Don’t attempt to handle or kill the snake yourself.
What if a snake bites you?
Snakes only bite when they feel threatened, so it’s relatively rare, but it does happen.
If a snake is venomous and bites you, seek medical attention immediately.
Don’t try to suck out the venom or use a tourniquet, as these methods are ineffective and can actually make the situation worse.
Instead, stay calm and call for help.
If you can identify the species of snake that bit you, this information will be useful in providing the right medical treatment.
Elise is an experienced backcountry canoe tripper and winter camper from Ontario, Canada. She loves cooking up a storm over the campfire, taking in all the backcountry views, and enjoying a piña colada or two while relaxing at camp. She’s also certified in Whitewater Rescue (WWR) I & II and Wilderness First Aid (WFA).