Are there rattlesnakes in Yosemite?

Yosemite National Park is among the most well-known spots in America for hiking, camping, and more. But, if you’re not an experienced hiker, you may have to ask: Are there rattlesnakes in Yosemite?

Rattlesnakes are in Yosemite and like to hide out in the bush or tall grass. So they can be easily missed if you don’t know what to look for. Also, they enjoy warm weather, which means anytime between late March and November could result in potential encounters. Still, these aren’t as common as some think. 

Before hiking in Yosemite Park, educate yourself about snakes, precautions you can take, and tips on trying to spot them. It should help make your trip safer so you can enjoy all the wonderful things there are to see!

Are there poisonous snakes in Yosemite National Park?

Yosemite is a habitat for some unusual creatures, such as frogs, squirrels, bears, and deer. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is also home to some species of snakes.

Among the 13 snake species in the park, there is one poisonous creature you need to be aware of: rattlesnake. The Yosemite National Park is one of the natural habitats of the Northern Pacific Rattlesnake.

If you’re not familiar with rattlesnakes or any snake, here’s a quick guide on how to spot it:

  • Overall color – the Northern Pacific Rattlesnake’s color can range from dark brown to olive-brown. Some rattlesnakes, on the other hand, have a pale golden ground color or even black.
  • Belly color – it has a pale yellow belly with brown spots. Although it’s highly advised not to touch it to see its belly, it’s still better to know about it.
  • Head – it has a narrow neck, triangular head with vertical pupils.
  • Size – an adult rattlesnake can measure between two to four feet (24 – 48 inches). In some instances, the species can grow up to 64 inches.
  • Rattle – of course, a rattlesnake isn’t complete without their signature rattle at the tip of their tail. It produces a rattling sound, which is a telltale sign that one is nearby. Its rattle can vibrate 20-100 times per second. Even so, the rate changes depending on temperature. Warmer climates make these snakes rattle faster.
  • Habitat – this kind of snake is usually found in dry areas. Although this may be true, it tends to stray away from deserts. Instead, they prefer prairie grasslands, fertile valleys, rocky ridges, mountain meadows, caves, and forests.
  • Diet – they primarily feed on California ground squirrels.

Remember those pieces of information as some species almost look like the Northern Pacific Rattlesnake. For example, the gopher snake. This snake species imitates the rattler by broadening its jaw to look triangular. It also shakes its tail in leaves to imitate the rattling sound.

What months are rattlesnakes most active in Yosemite National Park?

When the warm weather comes, humans aren’t the only ones that come out to enjoy the sun’s beams. All sorts of animals come out from hibernation and take advantage of it as well!

The majority of rattlesnakes in Yosemite are active from March through August. They will often be hidden during the day but can most likely be seen at dawn or dusk.

Rattlesnakes like to sun themselves and hunt prey outside while it’s warm. It may seem logical, but there’s a different explanation as well. Rattlesnakes become more active when their food sources increase too! For example, rodents come out to eat seeds on drier days, or rabbits venture into open areas to forage.

What’s more, these slithering creatures are up and about due to extreme weather, for instance, drought. These snakes will come out of their hiding spot in search of a water source. Besides, rattlesnakes are active during mating season, which typically occurs during spring.

What should you do when you encounter a rattlesnake in Yosemite?

If you see or hear a rattlesnake in Yosemite National Park, it’s important to avoid harming them. The park has an ecological system that relies on rattlesnakes. Just be careful where you step!

Now, the likelihood of bumping into one is relatively low. Northern Pacific Rattlesnakes are often apprehensive of humans and will avoid contact if at all possible. When faced with a predator, it will either freeze in place to avoid drawing attention or flee. Likewise, they will often coil themselves, tail rattling its warning and head held high to observe you.

The venom they possess is for killing small prey animals. They do not want to waste it on a two-legged predator. If threatened or attacked by a human, these snakes can become aggressive. Remember, the venom animals can pack a punch, so stay clear! Even though you think you’re at a safe distance, think again. A snake that’s three feet long can have a 1.5 feet striking reach.

In the same way, the snake will give you a rattling sound if you’re invading their territory. This sound also suggests that it’s ready to strike. Be that as it may, most rattlesnakes don’t rattle before they strike.

What should you do if you are bitten by a rattlesnake while hiking in Yosemite?

The first thing you do is to keep calm. Rattlesnake bites are rarely fatal, and the snake won’t follow you if you walk away from it calmly. Although they’re venomous, some rattlesnake bites are what you call “dry bites.”

A dry snake bite is when the snake doesn’t release any venom into your bloodstream. You’ll only experience swelling and redness around the bite area. But, still check if you have any pain, swelling, and muscle twitching. Those are some of the indications that the bite contains venom.

Other symptoms include difficulty breathing and a rise in saliva and sweat production. If you’re allergic to snake bites, even if it’s non-venomous, you may experience anaphylactic shock.

Go to a hospital as soon as possible so that doctors can give you antivenom. But, if paramedics are still far, there are some stopgap measures you can take.

If you have access to water, wash the bite area with soap and water for at least five minutes or until help arrives to prevent infection. Always put the bite below heart level and do not move too much.

Keep your eyes open for any signs of a systemic reaction. Then, monitor yourself for swelling around the site of your injury, which could indicate internal bleeding (caused by ruptured cells). You can also encircle the swelling to see if it grows. Make sure to label it by time.

After all, the National Park Service has listed some behaviors that you should NOT do:

  • Do not put ice over the bite.
  • Do not cut the wound with a knife to avoid excessive bleeding and infection.
  • Never to suck the venom out like in the movies.

Are there other dangerous animals in Yosemite?

Aside from the Northern Pacific Rattlesnake, other animals pose a danger to humans. Here are some of them:

  1. Bear – the American Black Bear is the only species of bear that lives in Yosemite National Park. They have about 300 to 500 and are omnivores, eating berries, grasses, nuts, fishes, small animals, and insects. Encountering a bear in Yosemite is likely, but attacks are almost close to none because of their timid nature.
  2. Mountain Lion – the mountain lion, has increased sightings during the past decade. There are 5,000 lions throughout California. Yet, only a handful have been tagged and tracked inside Yosemite. They mostly hunt the Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep and sometimes Mountain Coyotes, rarely associated with humans. Encountering one is possible but unlikely due to its shy nature.
  3. Coyote – mountain coyotes, are the most prevalent type found in Yosemite. Their population is abundant, and the chance to encounter a pack is highly likely. They mostly hunt small to medium animals. Attacks from these animals are unlikely as they tend to fear humans, but on rare occasions, they stalk people.
  4. Deer – the Mule Deer is one of the most commonly seen large mammals in Yosemite. Their estimated population is said to bounce around 100,000 to 150,000 throughout California. It tends to get agitated when approached, and it has caused more deaths and injuries than bears, mountain lions, or coyotes.

Final Thoughts

Many people are worried about the risk of rattlesnakes in Yosemite, and if you’re one of them, do not fret. Although Northern Pacific Rattlesnakes are abundant in the park, they do not pose too much danger.

Rattlesnakes usually go out during dawn or dusk to catch the early rays of the sun. They are generally active from the start of spring up to the end of summer. So, as you plan to go on a hike or camp during those months, remember all safety precautions and watch your step.