Snakes in Lake Hartwell: Is it Safe to Swim?

Written by Kyle Glatz
Updated: July 19, 2023
© Facing West Images/
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Lake Hartwell is a reservoir that stretches into both South Carolina and Georgia. The lake has a surface area of about 56,000 acres with over 900 miles of shoreline. Although the lake provides many benefits in terms of recreation, hydropower, and flood control, various potentially dangerous animals live along its banks. Discover the snakes in Lake Hartwell and find out whether or not it’s safe to swim in these waters!  

South Carolina has six different species of venomous snakes.

What Are Some of Venomous the Snakes in Lake Hartwell?

Lake Hartwell is known as one of the most snake-infested lakes in the United States. That does not mean you should expect to be constantly hounded by these reptiles when traveling to the area. After all, it is not as though the region experiences an overabundance of fatalities resulting from snakebites.

Still, being an area where snakes are common means that people must be aware of what types live in the area. South Carolina has about 38 species of snakes that live within its borders. Not all of them live near Lake Hartwell, though. Only 6 of the 38 species are venomous, and they include:

Meanwhile, Georgia is home to over 40 snakes, including seven different venomous ones. That includes all of the same ones as those found in South Carolina. However, Georgia is also home to the Florida cottonmouth (Agkistrodon conanti). That species of snake is not found in the range of Lake Hartwell, though.

Eastern copperhead snake
Eastern copperhead snakes are the most common venomous snake in Lake Hartwell.


The venomous snakes in the range of Lake Hartwell include:

  • Pygmy rattlesnake
  • Timber rattlesnake
  • Eastern copperhead

Coral snakes, eastern diamondback rattlesnakes, and cottonmouths typically do not come into the Lake Hartwell range. They live in the areas closer to the coast in the states where they are found.

Thus, visitors to the lake will not find the waters rife with semi-aquatic cottonmouth snakes. That does not necessarily mean that the water will be snake-free. Many snakes traverse bodies of water while looking for prey or food. So, it’s possible to encounter venomous and non-venomous snakes in the waters of Lake Hartwell.

What Are Non-Venomous Snakes in Lake Hartwell?

Northern Water Snake (nerodia sipedon)
Northern watersnakes are one of the most widespread watersnakes in North America.

©Steve Byland/

Over two dozen non-venomous snakes live around Lake Hartwell. While encountering one of these creatures may be frightening, they’re not likely to cause humans any significant harm. For example, common snakes in the region are:

Although these snakes are not venomous, they can be frightening to people. The northern watersnake is especially concerning because people often mistake it for the venomous cottonmouth. The snake does spend time hunting its food in freshwater, but it is not venomous.  

Is It Safe to Swim in Lake Hartwell?

Lake Hartwell, Georgia
Lake Hartwell is one of the most popular and largest lakes in the state of Georgia with a huge nine hundred and sixty-two mile-long shoreline

© Strickland Photography

Yes, it is safe to swim in Lake Hartwell as long as a person takes the proper precautions. The lake has miles of shorelines where people regularly swim, including Y Beach. People also engage in other recreation on and nearby the lake. Most areas of the lake do not have a lifeguard, so it’s important to practice good water safety while on the lake.

Still, people may encounter snakes in and around the water. Copperheads are the most common venomous snake in the area around Lake Hartwell. This species can deliver a medically significant bite to a human. Unfortunately, these snakes blend into their surroundings well, so many bites occur when people accidentally step on them.

Being aware of one’s surroundings can greatly reduce the likelihood of being bitten by one of these snakes. However, accidents can and do happen. Still, another way to reduce the chances of incurring a venomous bite from a snake is to simply leave a reptile alone should a person spot one. Many venomous snake bites happen because people pick up a snake without regard for its danger.

Some people may find it frightening to see snakes swimming in the water. After all, copperheads and rattlesnakes can swim in the water just as easily as northern watersnakes. People should remember that venomous snakes encountered in the water are traveling. They’re not in the water to hunt humans. By leaving them alone, a person will greatly reduce the chances of a negative encounter.

Despite being a snake-infested lake, few snake bites occur in and around Lake Hartwell. Most people from that area grow up with a healthy respect for snakes and know to either leave them alone, report them to an authority in appropriate areas, or simply leave the area.

Do Alligators Live in Lake Hartwell?

No, alligators do not live in Lake Hartwell.


Another common fear that people have about swimming in Lake Hartwell is that an alligator will attack them in the water. To be clear, alligators do not live in or near Lake Hartwell. That means visitors to this lake do not need to worry about a gator lurking beneath the water. A hoax in 2022 purported that an alligator was spotted in the lake, but that was not true.

For the most part, alligators on the East Coast of the United States stay near the coast. They do not pass the Fall Line in Georgia, a geological barrier that was once the Atlantic Ocean shoreline.

Looking at Lake Hartwell’s location on a map, it’s clear that the body of water is well past the Fall Line. In these regions, the winters are colder, less sunlight penetrates the area, and the habitat is not right for them. As a result, these fearsome reptiles are not found in this part of Georgia or South Carolina.

There are many kinds of snakes in Lake Hartwell. Some of them are venomous, but most of them are not. Furthermore, the chances of a venomous snake biting a person are low. They are relatively small animals that just want to be left to their own devices. They are not going to aggressively pursue a person to bite them.

Should a person encounter a venomous snake at Lake Hartwell, it is best to slowly, carefully leave the area. If a venomous snake bites a person, then the person needs to seek immediate medical attention. Following these guidelines will ensure that anyone that goes to Lake Hartwell can have a good time as long as they’re careful.

The Featured Image

Lake Hartwell Sunset
© Facing West Images/

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About the Author

I've been a freelance writer since 2013, and I've written in a variety of niches such as managed service providers, animals, and retail distribution. I graduated from Rowan University in 2014. When I'm not working, I enjoy playing video games, reading, and writing for fun.

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