Courtesy of National Park Service
Snakes in the Grand Canyon?

 Have you seen any?

Coming up the Nankoweap Trail on a very hot day in August, and very very thirsty, I went to where Jerry Gephart and I had cached a big bottle of water behind a huge boulder, out of the sun. To my dismay and complete surprise, wrapped around my 1.5 liter water bottle was a Rattlesnake! He was as shocked as I was! And we both ran for our lives!


Do you have any Grand Canyon Rattlesnake pictures - or a rattlesnake story? Send me one and I'll post it here!

Have you seen any?

On April 21, 2001 on the Lava Falls Route I saw my first Rattlesnake of the year, a Great Basin Rattler. A real beauty, light brown with dark well defined splotches, about 18 inches long! She never even rattled, just calmly moved away out of the path of my big Solomon hiking boot. I was too excited to get a picture!

Canyon John saw a small diamondback at the Toroweap / Lave Falls Overlook.  
About 20 yards back from the edge. September  27, 2000

Scott C. Dorman from Tabor City, North Carolina writes: During the summer of 1991, after spending the week at Clear Creek, myself and my hiking partner had just broken through to the plateau from Clear Creek Canyon, when we spotted a very PINK and very loud rattler. It was around 2 to 2 1\2 foot in length and seemed very slender compared to the Eastern Diamond Backs and Timber rattlers I am familiar with. After rattling for about ten seconds, he cleared the path and slithered under some rocks. We did snap a picture but he was under the rocks and when developed you can’t even see him in the dark.

Here are some photos of these fascinating creatures!

John SIechta - It was July 7, 1992 and I was on a backpacking trip in the Grand Canyon with my kids.   That day we had set up camp in Indian Gardens and taken an evening hike along the Tonto Trail west of IG.   We came upon a couple of guys who were backcountry camping and they told us they'd had to dig a new hole for water because there was a rattler where they had first looked, in a nearby water hole that was marked with a cairn.   We asked if we could look at the snake and they reluctantly said OK.   I don't think they wanted us to disturb it but they were polite enough not to object.  Well, we looked under the rock that had covered the hole and, yes we disturbed it. Here are the photos I took of it in its hole and of it departing the area while my daughter photographed it. I don't think those guys were very happy with us for "shooing" the rattler out of its hole, but it probably would have left soon to go out to hunt anyway. 




snake2.jpg (33655 bytes)
This rattlesnake photo  was taken at 3000' near the confluence of Nankoweap and the Colorado River, April 1998.  The encounter occurred around noon, about mid '70's for a temperature, the snake did not rattle and was a big one, appeared to be over 4 feet long, and I believe it's a Grand Canyon Rattler. 

Canyon Rattler photo by Dean Boeckman
gcrattler2.jpg (32042 bytes)
Jeff Truby and Len Becker saw this beauty at Deer Creek, at 4PM, on 9/21/2002.  The snake was on the trail, rattled, then slowly proceeded to the brush, where he coiled. Jeff almost stepped on him!

Rattler Photo by Len Becker


John Howard saw this Rattlesnake and took the photo.

This last May, 2004 trip we saw two rattlesnakes:  The pink colored (Hopi?) one pictured to the left we encountered at dusk hiking up Forster Canyon. Luckily, my camera had a flash. I'd estimate it was about 40 inches long. It buzzed at us for a minute or so before sliding off. The very next evening, hiking from our camp across from Deer Creek Falls, we encountered another rattlesnake. It was near an overhang that looked like an Anasazi site. This rattler was more brown, definitely not the pinkish variety we saw the evening before.

Leslie Robertson spotted this snake in October 2004
Murray Levine says, "At about 3,500' at around 0930 the one in the photo which I estimated at 4' was slithering ever so slowly across the trail. After not seeing anything resembling a rattle on its tail I took a photo."

A Gopher snake resembles a rattlesnake in every way except, he has no rattle, and is not poisonous! Gopher Snake photo taken by Murray Levine

Nikolle Brown reports:

Gopher Snakes are 'common' in the Canyon (my records/database and published info) and given they do resemble a rattlesnake in patterns, they will many times (in defense) also perform a display of raising and shaking their tail, imitating a rattlesnake.

Also, I have come across (personal experience) rattlers in the canyon that have rattled while moving (thank goodness).  The coiling aspect just gives them more distance to strike.

You can reach Nikolle at



Gary Barnes snapped this photo on the Bright Angel Trail between the River resthouse and the Devil Corkscrew switchbacks in August 2003.

"Snake was in a hurry to get across the trail and luckily I got his photo as he made his escape."










I made this picture on June 4, 2006 while hiking from the north rim to the south rim.  It was made between the pump station and Cottonwood at about 9:00 AM.  It appeared to be approximately 36-40 inches long. 

Randall Morton
Boaz, Alabama 



The second photo of the little one was made right past Cottonwood on the same day, June 04, 2006.  It was only about 18 inches long.  Two rattlers on the same day, pretty awesome.

Randall Morton
Boaz, Alabama 








Allison Sullivan-

Found him around 8:00 am Sept 28th, 2008 in the group camp site at Bright Angel Camp Ground… nearly stepped on the little fellow!


About May 01, 2009

Photo taken on our hike down the Tanner Trail, over and out Grandview. 
This picture was taken climbing out of Hance Creek on the way up to Horseshoe Mesa.

Barry Clegg

About May 01, 2009

Speckled Rattlesnake (Crotalus mitchelli)
Grand Canyon pink at the bottom of the Lava Falls trail. 
Tom McDonald
About May 01, 2009
Speckled Rattlesnake (Crotalus mitchelli) at the bottom of the Lava Falls trail. 
Tom McDonald

I believe this is a Grand Canyon rattlesnake, and may be the same exact snake that Jeff Truby and Lynn Becker saw at Deer Creek in 2004. Looks very similar to the photo they took.
We were on our second day camping at Deer Creek on May 6th, 2009 when he came right into camp around 4:00 pm next to a big cottonwood. My friend almost stepped right on him. He got up under on of our Therm-A-Rest mattress sitting out.   We gently lifted it and shooed him on his way down to the creek. 
Cameron Vest
Salem, VA

I wanted to share this photograph of a Grand Canyon rattler (maybe a pink?) that my 8 year old son's foot brushed against - and that my eagle eyed wife saw at the last moment and steered him clear.

This snake was found exactly 200 paces to the right -- as you faced the Thunder River Trail sign post -- from the trailhead on the North Rim.

This is at the 6,200 feet level in a very dry area of the park--actually inside the Kaibab Natl Forest I think. Right on the rim.

This snake rattled only when I took the flash and was there -- 12 hours later-- in the same position. We thought that odd.

Jerry O'Brien

Sept 2, 2009
Speckled Rattlesnake (Crotalus mitchelli) near
Prospect Point (Hualapai Reservation) Western Grand Canyon.
Hiking in the backcountry up a dry wash and there he was.

Mike McComb

November 02, 2008
Sorry it's not in perfect focus. This is a 30+" Grand Canyon Rattlesnake seen in Upper Kwagunt Hollow below Sowat's Point about a quarter mile past the Cottonwoods. This big boy did not even stir when a party member leaned his elbow on the rock right above him. 

James Tooman

Many rattlesnakes are seen at Cottonwood Camp on the North Kaibab Trail.

It appeared on the rock shown in the group campsite at Cottonwood campground when we awoke the morning of September 30, 2010. It seemed right at home and did not move as we had breakfast and broke camp.

from Richard Walsh Orinda, CA
September 30, 2010


Since reptiles are well suited to desert environments they are found in all the life zones in the Grand Canyon. They must try to  avoid the heat of the summer days, and in the summertime are only active in the  morning or early evening or even nocturnal. In the winter most species hibernate. Reptiles are uncommon on the Kaibab Plateau-it's just too cold for them!

Rattlesnakes are rarely seen by visitors. I have seen as many as three on one hike, in the Supai area of the Great Thumb, most on most hikes I don't see any. On one hot summer day, I found one wrapped around a water bottle I had left for the hike out. Don't forget, almost all bites occur while attempting to handle or harass a snake. They are very retiring, and will run for the nearest rabbit brush or boulder when they observe your presence. Word is they can strike out 1/2 their body length. That would be about 1 or 2 feet for most Canyon rattlers.

Grand Canyon Snakes include:

How to act around the rattlesnake!

Most snakebites in humans are the result of a snake defending itself when it feels threatened. I have rarely seen a rattlesnake that didn't try to get away from me as fast as it could. Chances are, with your big pack the snake will hear you coming and move out of the way to a rabbit brush or a big rock. They may sense ground vibrations better than sound.

When you do unexpectedly confront a snake, stay calm, back away, and don't threaten it. Most of the time I've jumped back about 5 feet from the shock!

Don't walk barefoot around camp, especially after dark. During the hot summers snakes will be most active at night and will defend themselves if stepped on or if you walk too close and they sense danger. Boots and long pants are an excellent defense against a bite.

Snakes hide under rocks, logs, and brush to protect themselves from sun or cold. Be very careful  about moving rocks or reaching into anywhere a snake might hide. A snake might think your actions are aggressive and defend itself. There may be more than one snake in the same place and, taken by surprise, they may strike without warning. Furthermore snakes will be more likely to bite your unprotected hand rather than a leg or foot protected by clothing. Climbers need to be extra careful in the Canyon during warm weather. Snakes like to sun themselves on ledges. I once came face to face with a Pink Rattler while off route above Lava Falls. He would of struck me right on the nose or face if I was in range!

 Snakes and the Bites!

Here is some general Rattlesnake information.
Venomous snakes in the U.S. all belong to one of two families, Crotalids, pit vipers; and Elapids, coral snake.

Crotalids include the numerous species of rattlesnakes and will be discussed here.

Crotalids have the most efficient injection mechanism of any snake. They are equipped with long hollow fangs and a system to inject venom through those fangs. They have the ability to inject large volumes of venom quickly. Crotalid fangs can fold back into the mouth; lack of visible fangs does not necessarily mean an unarmed snake. Most crotalids have venom that is less toxic than that of coral snakes. Crotalids, however, are the more dangerous group because  they are more likely to bite a human, they can inject venom much more efficiently, and they are usually larger and have more venom to use.

Snake's Venom

Snake venom usually contains two types of poison: hemolytic toxins which attack the walls of blood vessels and neurotoxins which attack the nerves.

Hemolytic toxin attacks blood vessel walls, allows serum to escape into the surrounding tissues, and causes clotting within the vessels. The result is severe swelling, pain, and discoloration at the site of the bite. In the few cases where hemolytic toxins cause death, the actual cause is likely to be shock. The effects of hemolytic toxin are immediate and primarily localized. Symptoms will be obvious.

Neurotoxins produce much less obvious immediate symptoms, at times fooling the victim into believing envenomation has not occurred. But systemic symptoms can appear later. Neurotoxins produce much less local reaction than do hemolytic toxins. On the other hand, they can affect nerves quite removed from the site of the bite. In extreme cases they can cause
respiratory arrest, although this is uncommon with the bites from most North American snakes. However, respiratory distress without actual arrest may to occur in neurotoxin victims. Less severe symptoms from neurotoxins include tingling or prickly feelings and eyelid paralysis.

All snake venom probably has some of each kind of toxin. But, most pit vipers have a higher fraction of hemolytic toxin, and elapids have more neurotoxin. The Mojave rattlesnake, a pit viper, is an exception. The potency of venom will vary, with species, with time of year and with geographic area.

The typical snake mouth is no cleaner than a human's. So, they tend to induce microbial contamination into bites. Although it is common for a snake to bite without injecting venom, microbial contaminants will always be present and should always be treated. Such contamination seems to be much less of a problem in bites by nonvenomous snakes, perhaps because their bites do not penetrate so deeply.

Diamondbacks, rare in the Canyon, are potentially deadly. Both the eastern and western versions are huge, the western species compensating for its slightly smaller size with a more potent venom. MFM lists the eastern diamondback as an aggressive snake and claims it is responsible for more human deaths than any other U.S. snake. Others dispute this. Some say it is not particularly aggressive and quotes some numbers which indicate that it is unlikely to lead in killing people.

The Mojave rattler is dangerous in spite of its size. This little rascal is armed with a very potent venom, high in neurotoxins. Pain and other local responses to the bite may be mild, but the systemic response may be marked. Initial reaction is usually mild with severe symptoms coming 12 to 16 hours after the bite. The early symptoms could easily fool one into believing there was no problem. By the time severe symptoms appeared the best time for treatment would have passed.

Envenomated bites from either the diamondback or the Mojave rattler are serious, possibly even deadly. Do your level best to evacuate the victim quickly to medical facilities as soon as possible.

For more information please contact:

Antivenin Index in Tucson AZ 520-626-6016
Oklahoma City Zoo 405-424-3344
Rocky Mountain Poison Center 303-629-1123
New York City Snakebite Emergency Center 718-430-6494

Treatment of a Bite

Please don't panic! Snakebites should be treated carefully and conservatively. Don't jump in with knives, tourniquets, ice, or compression bandages. There is no need to try to suck out the venom by mouth. Carrying out any of these extreme procedures has the potential to do far more harm than good.  Victims should be given only the appropriate treatment and then be rapidly evacuated to medical facilities.


The Venomous Reptiles of Arizona from Arizona Game and Fish
The Journal of Herpetology
A Field Guide to the Grand Canyon by Steven R. Whiney
A Natural History guide to the Grand Canyon by Jeremy Schmidt

The activities described in this web site are potentially dangerous. Canyoneering, rock climbing, and mountaineering involve unavoidable risks including the risk of serious bodily injury and death. All forms of wilderness recreation have a higher level of risk than most ordinary activities. The owner and publisher of this web site do not assume any responsibility or liability for your safety. Those who use this information, and those who venture onto mountainous terrain, do so at their own risk. Disclaimer

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