Discover 12 Snakes Slithering Around the Grand Canyon

Written by Rick Chillot
Updated: July 14, 2023
© Wisanu Boonrawd/
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The snakes residing in Grand Canyon National Park shouldn’t dissuade you from visiting this 1,218,375-acre wonder. From the awe-inspiring views at the rim of the canyon to the turbulent Colorado River below, the Grand Canyon is endlessly beautiful and fascinating.

Snakes and other reptiles play an important role in the Grand Canyon’s complex ecosystem. Some are prey for other animals, some help control the insect and rodent population. A visit to this natural wonder is an opportunity to encounter some amazing and unique wildlife, snakes included.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the prominent snake species that call the Grand Canyon home.

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Infographic of 12 Snakes Found in the Grand Canyon
Five rattlesnake species are among the snakes inhabiting the Grand Canyon.

Gopher Snakes Pretend to Be Dangerous

Sonoran Gopher Snake, Pituophis catenifer affinis
The Sonoran gopher snake has black bands on its tail that makes it appear like a rattlesnake’s tail.

©Matt Jeppson/

The canyon hosts two subspecies of this snake type, the Sonoran gopher snake (Pituophis catenifer affinis) and the Great Basin gopher snake (Pituophis catenifer deserticola). They’re nonvenomous snakes, but they want you to think otherwise. Gopher snakes have black bands on their tails that look like a rattlesnake’s rattle. They even vibrate their tail when threatened, imitating rattlesnake behavior. Gopher snakes can reach a length of 92 inches, making them the longest snakes in the Grand Canyon.

Close-up view of a great basin gopher snake (Pituophis catenifer deserticola).
The Great Basin gopher snake is nonvenomous but can act like the venomous rattlesnake when threatened.

©Michael Benard/

Rattlesnakes Are Well Represented

Considering the high number of venomous snake species in Arizona — heck, the state reptile is the Arizona ridge-rosed rattlesnake — it makes sense that multiple rattlesnake species call the Grand Canyon home. Scary as they are, these snakes generally try to escape or hide when they feel threatened. With no other option, they famously rattle their tales to create a rattling, buzzing noise that warns away potential threats. This enables them to conserve their powerful venom for hunting. Rattlesnakes are pit vipers, meaning they hunt using two specialized organs on the sides of their head that can detect the body heat of their prey.

Grand Canyon Rattlesnake

The Grand Canyon rattlesnake, Crotalus oreganus abyssus, exists only in the Grand Canyon, and nowhere else in the world. This snake’s pale pink color helps it blend into its surroundings.

Grand Canyon Pink Rattlesnake
The Grand Canyon rattlesnake is a subspecies found nowhere else in the world.

©Creeping Things/

Great Basin Rattlesnake

The Great Basin rattlesnake, Crotalus oreganus lutosus, prefers to live on the rim of the canyon, specifically the North Rim. Both the great basin and Grand Canyon rattlers are considered subspecies of the western rattlesnake.

Great Basin Rattlesnake
Great Basin rattlesnakes are only between two and four feet long so they aren’t that large comparatively.

©Matt Jeppson/

Black-Tailed Rattlesnake

The black-tailed rattlesnake, Crotalus molossus, has a distinctive black patch on its tail, though you’re better off not getting close enough to see it.

A Black-tailed Rattlesnake, Crotalus molossus, striking at a prey or a threat
Black-tailed rattlesnakes are venomous pit vipers.

©Joe McDonald/

Prairie Rattlesnake

The prairie rattlesnake, Crotalus viridisi, is another species that seems to keep to the rim of the canyon.

Prairie Rattlesnake
The prairie rattlesnake is usually found in the western part of the Grand Canyon Park.

©Nathan A Shepard/

Speckled Rattlesnake

The speckled rattlesnake, Crotalus Pyrrhus, is mostly sighted in the western part of the park.

A Speckled Rattlesnake
The speckled rattlesnake’s colors help it to blend into the rocks of the Grand Canyon.

©Dario Sabljak/

Other Snakes You Might Meet in the Grand Canyon


The kingsnakes category includes common kingsnakes and California kingsnakes. These nonvenomous snakes have a distinct red, white, and black banded pattern that’s hard to miss.

Arizona Mountain Kingsnake
Kingsnakes are among the Grand Canyon’s most colorful snakes.

©Rusty Dodson/

Western Terrestrial Garter Snake

The western terrestrial garter snake (Thamnophis elegans) is a wide-ranging garter snake that dwells as far east as Oklahoma. This small snake typically has a greyish-green back, a yellow belly, and body-length yellow stripes running along its sides.

Western Terrestrial Garter Snake - Thamnophis elegans
The western terrestrial garter snake takes on defensive posturing when threatened.


Ring-Necked Snake

The ring-necked snake (Diadophis punctatus), true to the name, has a distinct band around its neck. You can also recognize it by the bright yellow, red, or orange coloration on its belly. Ring-necked snakes release a pungent, sticky secretion when handled, so hands off! Of course, it’s never okay to approach or touch wildlife in any case.

Ring-necked snake
Small and colorful, the ring-necked snake is nocturnal and non-venomous.


Striped Whipsnake

The striped whipsnake (Masticophis taeniatus) is an alert, fast-moving snake may be just a blur as it slithers away from you. But these snakes grow as long as 72 inches, so you might get a look at the striking, cream-colored stripes that run the length of its black or brown body.

Desert Striped Whipsnake
Striped whipsnakes can grow as long as 72 inches.

©Randy Bjorklund/

Red Racer

The red racer (Coluber flagellum piceus) is another fast-moving snake. It is a good climber, though it prefers to live in open areas. It’s not venomous but can become aggressive if it feels threatened. The racer’s color is more light brown, pink, or reddish than truly red.

A red racer snake in the desert with its head raised
Red racers are fast-moving and can measure up to 5.5 feet long.

©Jason Mintzer/

Snake Safety:

Keep a distance from any wildlife you encounter. Ideally, stay at least 50 feet from reptiles, birds, and small mammals, and 100 feet away from larger animals.

Don’t bother the snakes. A snake can strike faster than you think, and reach for nearly half its body length. Most snakes will retreat if they have the opportunity. Give them room: take two giant steps back from any snake you see. Do not try to handle a snake that you think is dead.

Don’t step into places that you can’t see. Don’t pick up rocks or logs.

Wear boots and long pants to prevent snake bites. Stay on paths and avoid the tall grass.

Just so you know: rattlesnakes can swim.

Summary of 12 Snakes Slithering Around the Grand Canyon

Here’s a recap of the dozen snakes we took a look at that make their home in the Grand Canyon.

NumberSnake SpeciesDanger Level
1Sonoran Gopher SnakeNonvenomous but pretends to be otherwise
2Great Basin Gopher SnakeNonvenomous but pretends to be otherwise
3Grand Canyon RattlesnakeVenomous
4Great Basin RattlesnakeVenomous
5Black-Tailed RattlesnakeVenomous
6Prairie RattlesnakeVenomous
7Speckled RattlesnakeVenomous
9Western Terrestrial Garter SnakeMildly venomous saliva
10Ring-Necked SnakeWeak venom in saliva
11Striped WhipsnakeNonvenomous
12Red RacerNonvenomous but aggressive

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About the Author

Rick Chillot is a freelance writer and editor who's worked in all kinds of print and digital formats, including books, magazines, newspapers, blogs, and graphic novels. He abandoned his pursuit of a biology career when nature refused to cooperate.

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