Deliciously Ordinary | Lindsay Stockhecke
Enjoying the Shawnee National Forest requires awareness and respect for your surroundings, including snakes. In 2022 the state of Illinois received its first State Snake designation courtesy of the efforts of a Murphysboro native, Gentry Heiple. It just so happens that this ambitious eighth grader is also our son and very handy when visiting areas with heavy snake traffic, ie snake road. Prior to his well-researched approach to herpetology, we enjoyed hiking with minimal snake education. Fortunately, his love for these slithery friends has expanded our tolerance, understanding, and overall enjoyment of the outdoors.
Twice a year, in spring and fall at the edge of the county line, there is a snake migration to and from the limestone bluffs and the swamp of La Rue Pines. Each year the road is closed to vehicle traffic while allowing visitors to walk through and witness the event. Approximately a twenty-minute drive from Murphysboro Mainstreet, we stopped through the drive-through at Faye for a coffee along the way. I had read articles and seen images of the migration but, per usual, none of that did it justice. The road runs 2.5 miles along the 150-foot bluffs to your left and the Mississippi River Basin to your right. The day we visited the wildflowers were in full bloom and the weather was a mild 60 degrees.
During our walk, we didn’t see any snakes directly on the road but did see four total, two coiled baby cottonmouths (also sometimes referred to as water moccasins) and two water snakes, all slightly off trail and requiring some slow scanning. We encountered several other people, most of which described seeing around one to two snakes as well. The diversity in this area is abundant and impressive, to say the least. While exploring the outdoors it is always important to be mindful of the wildlife around but something about vising snake road during migration adds another element of awareness, keeping you more present than usual.
Some tips from Gentry when visiting:
None of the species on this trail are aggressive and will not strike from afar or chase you. They could display defensive behaviors when threatened such as bluff striking (striking with their mouths closed), gaping (still with their mouth wide open, which is cotton mouth exclusive behavior), and tail rattling. These behaviors should only be witnessed if they feel threatened, ie you are too close and you should back up and observe them from a safe distance.
The parking lot and trail are well-maintained and marked. Be sure to check out the other highly recommended trails at La Rue Pines while you’re in the area!