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Sidestepping Snakes at Split Rock

June 3rd, 2008 · 17 Comments · Adirondack Life

We moved here in 1994. That’s when I first started wandering around in the woods around here. Lot’s of things you hear about, read about, and talk about. Adirondack Rattlesnakes – it just sounds cool. Right? Who really believes that rattlesnakes could exist in a place that is nearly frozen 6-months of the year? You will.

Hey, did you know that the First Navy Jack features a Timber Rattlesnake? Heed it’s warning.


Even before that, Benjamin Franklin used the Timber Snake in one of our earliest and most famous political cartoons. (Ollie and Nick, this pic is for you.)

Join, or Die

It is a woodcut showing a snake severed into eighths, with each segment labeled with the initial of a British American colony or region. The cartoon appeared along with Franklin’s editorial about the “disunited state” of the colonies, and helped make his point about the importance of colonial unity. During that era, there was a superstition that a snake which had been cut into pieces would come back to life if the pieces were put together before sunset.

Split Rock Mountain Wild Forest

Split Rock Mountain on the “Adirondack Coast” of Lake Champlain is known as a place where the Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus Horridus) enjoys an almost perfect habitat. Everything I’ve read indicates that “rocky outcrops and open grassy areas with southerly exposures” – are the favored terrain of this snake. The Split Rock formation also has the deciduous forest and rodentia. It really is all about “location”.

View Larger MapThe Sighting My Map

The place is pretty easy to find. It’s on Lakeshore Rd, between Essex and Westport, NY.

Split Rock Mountain Wild Forest

Split Rock Mountain Wild Forest Trailhead Sign

Here’s the trailhead sign which really doesn’t tell you much. Hiking is pretty easy here, no huge elevation changes. I suppose if you were to do all the points-of-interest, it would be a full day’s worth of hiking. This last trip reveals much improvement. There’s a real sign-in box with map. In color. Pens and pencils! The trail also looks ideal for ATB.

We let my daughter do all the registrations now that she knows how to write. I help out when necessary.

I think the overlooks, Snake Den Harbor and Barn Rock, are better views than on the “North Rim”. It sort of reminds me of Big Sur. We aimed for Snake Den Harbor Overlook. That would be easy and allow us plenty of time for an early lunch.

Split Rock Mountain Wild Forest - Trail

As you can see, Spring in the Adirondacks means it’s time for vegetative growth. The foliage was thick and most of the ground was still covered by last Fall’s leaf litter. It was quite dark and gloomy. The black flies were out in healthy numbers. We dosed with Zof (locally made and all natural), but still made a minor contribution to the food chain. Preparation is everything when you want to enjoy nature.

This is where I was regaling the family with stories of rattlesnake encounters. At a certain point, they were all telling me that I was being too “dramatic”. My daughter was a little put off by the thought of seeing a poisonous snake, but we accused her of being a “wuss” so she pushed on. According to her, “rattlesnakes aren’t as bad as tree vipers”, and we all agreed that was probably true.


Bug - Curled Up

Bugs as usual were everywhere. We saw many different worms, caterpillars, beetles, and butterflies.

Red-spotted Newt

The Red-spotted Newt (Notophthalmus v. viridescens) were also everywhere and easily “spotted”. Very primordial-looking things.

Snake Den Harbor Overlook

Lunch at the Overlook was perfect. A breeze kept most of the flies away and we had the entire place to ourselves. We still had yet to encounter another person and the parking lot was empty when we arrived. Love that. What you should appreciate, 10 feet forward and the cliff drops many hundred feet almost straight down to the water.

After lunch we decided to detour down to Lewis Bay for a look-see. As we marched down the old tote-road, my son who was third in line was startled by a loud rattling right next to the trail. At this point, I was right next to the source of the sound – a 4+ foot long Timber Rattlesnake! Damn, how cool is that?

Snake in the Shadows

The good thing is that nobody was bitten. That thing was literally less than 2 feet off the trail. As you can see from the above picture, it was a dark and gloomy bit of trail. Only the size, noise, and black color gave it away. If this snake had the normal coloring, it would have been invisible to the eye. I’m not carrying any antivenin, nor would I even know how to administer it in the field. Much better to have the thrill of near-death, than actual death.

That\'s a Rattlesnake!

Zooming in helped some, but honestly, my hands were shaking a little. The flash brightened things up a little. I wish I had something in there for reference. At it’s thickest point, the snake was easily the size of my wrist. Timber rattlesnakes are known for their stocky appearance and this one illustrated that perfectly.

Using the flash

What a beauty this snake was! The rattle was entirely intact and featured 10 segments. My layman’s knowledge make that at least 4-6 years old, probably even older. These snakes are also more likely to be in black-phase as they mature. This snake showed no fear of us at all.

A Healthy Specimen

I’ve adjusted the fill and highlights to make the snake more visible. I’m about 6 feet away here and Mr. Snake is in a ready-to-strike position. I would have loved to stay longer, but my daughter’s legs were shaking, my son wanted to go home and play video games, and my wife was speculating that it might be a “mother-snake” and that I was oppressing it’s freedom in nature – academics are seemingly experts in everything. I guess I silenced her when I mentioned something about the “snake union”.

Ready to Strike

In the last picture, you can see that even though the snake is almost entirely black, some very subtle colors and patterning is still visible. It would make a very nice wallet or belt. After the BBQ.

Timber Rattlesnake - Black Phase


Split Rock Mountain Wild Forest Overlay

Split Rock Wild Forest- UMP

Timber Rattlesnake Fact Sheet

Westport New York-Vermont USGS Topographic Map – This is the official digital map from the USGS, courtesy of the Archive.
(Download tif 13.28 mb)

Split Rock – brief history

Vacation Day 2: Split Rock Mountain Wilderness Area

Day 8: Barn Rock (Split Rock Mountain Wilderness Area (again))

Split Rock Mountain, April 2008

Group Aims to Save Rattlesnakes in New York Park

Timber Rattlesnake, Tongue Mountain Range, NY

Joe Racette Demystifies Timber Rattlesnakes

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17 Comments so far ↓

  • City Mouse

    1. Yikes.
    2. Ick.

    Snakes are the one thing I just can’t do. (I knew there was a reason I bought a house in the swampy valley.)

  • TourPro

    The thing that I love is how this creature has found the perfect place to thrive. A simple existence in a complex environment.

    At this time of year, all of the Adirondacks is just churning with biological activity. I’ll bet there’s some interesting stuff in that swamp.

  • Rattlesnakes in New York?! at New York

    […] you must check out the post at Adirondack Base Camp for the story. The photos are really great– you can almost smell the pines and hear the crunchy leaves! […]

  • DougPhoto

    No snakes but a great hike.The trails are excellently marked and maintained. We followed the Snake Den Harbor Overlook to arrive at the a geocache site. Found cache in excellent condition. On our return walk we sidetracked on the trail leading to Lewis Clearing Bay. Well worth the trip.

  • kindle 2 accessories

    Great pics of the snakes and other critters. Just hope I don’t come across any of them when I’m hiking!

  • Lars Tong Strömberg

    Good story and great pictures.

    Checked out the “nobody was bit” link and this snake seems to be one to be careful with.

  • Greeneyezz


    Tourpro.. you have totally freaked me out here. I came by this when viewing your videos you had posted on
    I had NO idea there were venomous snakes there and frankly, am a bit horrified by this, especially reading your link to “I should be dead”. Actually, I’m more than just ‘a bit’ horrified.
    Like… it makes want to re-think wanting to hike in the ‘dacks again!
    How prevalent is that for someone to come across one there? Ugh!


  • TourPro

    I take it you don’t like snakes. Heh.

    What are your chances? Pretty good if you explore the Split Rock or the Tongue Mt Range. Otherwise, really slim. I wouldn’t worry too much about these guys, consider yourself lucky if you see one.

  • TourPro

    OK, yeah, that essay about getting bit is pretty “horrid”.

  • Greeneyezz

    Understatement, of the year! —->“I take it you don’t like snakes.Heh”
    I sooo hope you are correct regarding slim chances happening upon of of them outside of the Split Rock or the Tongue Mt Range, as I plan on staying as far away from that area as possible. 4 of the 5 friends I was with this past weekend had never climbed a mountain before and I *know* this would be their only time too if they thought they’d come across a snake.
    You can put me in the same category with your daughter… Being a Wuss isn’t all *that* bad!! And you can tell her I said that too! 🙂

    Btw – How are you still able to get the Application framework for your twitpics to still be displayed on your page?? I knew about 6 months ago they (twitpic) was planning on discontinuing it and mine stopped working about 3 1/2 week ago! 🙁 I’m not a happy camper… I can no longer have my twitpics displayed on my page like you still can.
    Do you know why you’re still able to do that?

    ~WussyZZ (And proud of it too!)

  • TourPro

    There is a certain logic to being scared of snakes. Better safe, than sorry.

    Best way to get over this fear is a planned hike, actually looking for fine specimens.

    Re: TwitPic, I’m using a plugin for WordPress which pulls the content via RSS….I think. That’s all I know.

  • zack

    ratle snakes smell

  • Kate

    Hello. I am writing an article about the Timber Rattlesnake for the website. I was wondering if I could use some of your pictures in the article and reference your encounter. Please let me know. Thanks!

  • TourPro

    @Kate…. Please do, happy to share.

  • Shine

    I’m scared of snakes…even if they’re not poisonous, I don’t like them.

  • Snakes at Split Rock | Essex on Lake Champlain

    […] Sidestepping Snakes at Split Rock […]

  • DAC

    Great story. I’ve hiked Snake Mountain in Vermont many times in hopes of sighting a rattler, but with no luck. Whenever I hiked in N.Y. I’ve always headed for the High Peaks, and have always accessed the areas along the shore of the lake by boat or dog sled. We always “partied” at Barn Rock as teenagers, and scared each other with stories of rattle snakes. Years later, after the Otter Creek and lake were covered with ice in winter, I would dog sled the few miles down the river from my home, and camp out overnight at Snake Den Harbor or Split Rock. If there was enough snow I’d make a snow cave. No snakes at that time of year, of course.
    Being from the Champlain Valley of Vermont it has been great having the Adirondacks so close.

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