rattlesnake warning signA recent New York transplant named David wrote into Modern Hiker, asking about a problem he has with hiking … a scaly, rattly problem:

I love hiking but have a fear of snakes; not a great combination I know! I’ve recently discovered the paved road hike in Runyon Canyon. I know that there still may be snakes in this area, but somehow the paved wide walkway makes me feel better. Do you know if there are other hiking areas that have a paved (non snake friendly) road? I prefer to stay away from trails that are brushy and narrow, and I don’t mind a drive to get there.

Unfortunately, rattlesnakes are just one of those things hikers have to deal with, like our other local friends the mountain lion and, to a lesser degree, the tick. We’re going into the wilderness, so it’s their turf, not ours — but when dealing with rattlers there are a few helpful things to know:

1. The Western Pacific Rattlesnake, the most common rattler in our nearby trails, can be found anywhere – rural AND urban settings. That means even in Runyon, you might run into one.

2. Rattlesnakes generally don’t like hanging around people, so because Runyon is a well-trafficked area, your chances of seeing one there are probably pretty slim.

3. Rattlesnakes tend to hibernate during the cooler months in more northern areas. I don’t know if that’s true for Southern California – especially with the weather we’ve been having lately – but the only times I’ve seen them on the trail have been in the summer months.

You’re probably safe at Runyon, but by no means should you limit your L.A. hiking experience to that. If you just want to make sure your hiking path is always wide and clear, you may want to stick to hiking fire road trails for a while. Trails like Fryman Canyon (write up coming soon), Topanga Canyon State Park, Solstice Canyon, and Rocky Peak might be good places to stretch out your hiking boots a bit.

If you’re willing to venture into the Angeles National Forest, Iron Mountain, Josephine Peak, and Mount Mooney are all fire-road trails that will give you a wide range of snake-scanning vision, and some decent mountain feelings, too. I’d also recommend exploring the river areas in lower Santa Anita Canyon.

If you want a fire-road introduction to the high San Gabriels, Sunset Peak is a good place to start.

It also helps to be safe when you’re hiking — wear boots with high socks, watch where you’re walking, and hike with someone who can help you in case you do get bitten. For more info, be sure to check out the California Department of Fish and Game web site.

Oh, and don’t feel bad if you still scream like a little girl when you see one. We’ve all done it.

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