Timber Rattlesnake Habitat
Rattlers are a species of venomous pit viper. They love steep slopes, open rocky areas, and abandoned quarries, all places where they enjoy soaking up the heat. But you can also come across them in the woods, alerted to their presence by their distinctive warning rattle.
“Timber rattlesnakes are generally found in deciduous forests in rugged terrain. In the summer, pregnant females seem to prefer open, rocky ledges where temperatures are higher, while the males and non-pregnant females seem to prefer cooler, thicker woods where the forest canopy is more closed. Dens are generally on open, steep, south-facing slopes with rock fissures or talus surrounded by hardwood forests.”
— DEC Timber Rattlesnake Fact Sheet
Timber rattlesnakes can grow to up to six feet long, and they can strike at a distance up to half their own body length. Mathematically, this means a three foot striking distance. Spiritually, it means stay at least 15 feet away.
However, rattlers rarely strike. There are no reports of deadly rattlesnake bites in the Catskills. Rattlesnakes tend to be docile. They do not want to waste venom, do not want to strike at non-prey, and will generally only do so when cornered or provoked.
Of course, people are rightly terrified of rattlesnakes.
Common advice says, “If you leave them alone, they’ll leave you alone.” They do rattle if you get too close. The sound is instantly recognizable, and unforgettable.
Advice: never put your hands or feet where you can’t see. Don’t reach up over ledges, or under them. Check the far side of fallen tree trunks before you step over them. Don’t flip over rocks, etc.
Do not touch a dead rattlesnake or copperhead as their nervous system remains active for quite a while and you can still be bitten and envenomated.
The Catskill Mountaineer has an extensive page of info on snakes in the area. Reddit has some good discussion of Catskills Timber Rattlers. And the DEC has a handy PDF guide to the Snakes of New York.
Where are the rattlesnakes?
Rattlers tend to start coming out of hibernation in late April and May, as the days warm up. (We have Copperheads here, too. They’re less common and generally less deadly, but don’t be an idiot.) Many people avoid rattler terrain May through November.
The hikes listed below are places where you’re most likely to come across rattlesnakes. From April onwards, you need to be aware of their potential presence pretty much anywhere. But these are some of the locations where rattlesnakes are known to be…