Snake Encounters on the Trail with Kids

On our most recent family backpacking adventure at Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve, my family had two encounters with snakes.  Prior to heading out on the trail, the ranger showed our family the difference between a rattlesnake and gopher snake at the visitor center.  My children were immediately terrified due to all the noise the rattlesnake was making, but they slowly came in closer to the cages for a better look.

Selfie with a Rattlesnake

Hiking with kids slows down everything so ALL my snake encounters have been with my children.  I never saw snakes before we had children, not because they weren't there but because we probably hiked right past them and never saw them.  All our past snake encounters have been at a safe distance and since our children were small, they were high in their carriers.  FYI, no one got hurt during our last encounter except that I aged about 10 years from the scare.

1st Encounter - Rattlesnake: What Happened?
A mile into our first backpacking trip of the year, as were reached the picnic area of the park we took a little spur trail that crossed into some empty horse corrals.  My 4 year old son is the designated  "gate opener", so he opened the gate so the family could walk in.  Not more than five feet passed the gate, was a rattlesnake protecting a squirrel that it had just killed but my husband nor I saw it.

The victim....

As my son ran to catch up to my husband (three feet away from the rattlesnake), he suddenly saw and heard the rattlesnake and immediately turn around and started running, crying and screaming.  It was a DEATH scream.

I immediately got tunnel vision and all I could only see was my little boy running from a coiled rattlesnake ready to strike.

I grabbed my son, almost fell over as I dragged him to a safe distance, while my husband tried to catch his balance and run away with about 70 lbs on his back.  My husband's pack was 43 lbs alone, but our daughter was in the carrier during the rattlesnake encounter which made him very off balance.

We quickly made it over to the asphalt and headed to the picnic tables for a long break.  We explained to the kids that they did a great job protecting themselves and that the rattlesnake was probably more scared of us.  Our son was a little more shaken up than my daughter....she actually said "The rattlesnake is so cute!".

Out of mere morbid curiosity, I went back (by myself on the asphalt) to the scene of the crime to see if I could see the rattlesnake but all I found was a dead squirrel waiting to be eaten by the rattlesnake.  My mind was playing tricks on me and all the sticks looked like snakes near the squirrel, so I went back to the picnic tables.

2nd Encounter - Gopher Snake: What Happened?
As we reached the second mile, my son walked towards the gate to open it and my husband calmly said, "Snake".  This time my son did not scream but stepped back quickly and I immediately identified it as a Gopher Snake, which my son said "Mommy THAT one is not a poisonous one!!" and smiled.

We watched it for a few minutes, talked about the Gopher Snake and waited patiently until it slithered away into the grass.  We congratulated the kids again for being calm and careful on our second snake encountered and continued on with our trek.

A Few Learning Points
Of course these aren't the only things to do to protect against snakes, but more of "What I Learned" from our double snake encounter:
  • Talk to your kids about snakes and other wildlife BEFORE heading outdoors.
  • Learn about the types of snakes that are in your area and teach your kids how to identify them as well.
  • If you have a "scary" snake experience, talk about the incident later when your kids are calm.
  • Hiking "Sandwich" Order: Adult - Children - Adult.  To protect children from snakes and other wildlife.
  • Check out "Snake Safety While Hiking" by Walk Simply, about hiking with kids and snake encounters. 

Please refer to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife "Rattlesnakes in California" for more information on protecting yourself and what to do if someone gets bitten.  Also please educate yourself about the snakes in your area.

Snakes are a part of nature both in the outdoors and our urban areas.  There is a fear factor in snakes but that fear is diminished as we learn that they are part of the Nature-s Cycle of Life.

Have you ever had a snake encounter with your kids?

Join in on the conversation by leaving a comment here! You can also join in on the conversations on Chasqui Mom's FacebookInstagram and Twitter that is updated daily with outdoor activities and other wonderful posts and links from #OutdoorFamilies!