The 6 Most Snake-Infested Lakes in Kentucky

Written by Katarina Betterton
Updated: September 5, 2023
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Kentucky boasts an array of picturesque lakes that hold both aesthetic charm and ecological significance. These water bodies play a pivotal role in sustaining the delicate balance of the local ecosystem. From Lake Barkley to Green River Lake, each expanse offers a unique habitat for diverse flora and fauna, including the enigmatic snake population.

While public opinion often leaves much to be desired on the subject of snakes — particularly water snakes that frequent lakes, rivers, and ponds — they remain an integral part of the ecosystem. 

Discover the factors that attract snakes to lakesides, familiarize yourself with the snake species prevalent in Kentucky’s lake regions, and equip yourself with valuable insights to responsibly coexist with these fascinating creatures while enjoying the splendors of Kentucky’s remarkable lakes. 

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Understanding Snake Species in Kentucky

Western cottonmouth snake isolated

Western cottonmouths are one of four venomous snakes in Kentucky.

©Ryan M. Bolton/Shutterstock.com

Did you know that Kentucky is near the top of the list for states with the highest number of snake species? While Texas and Florida still beat it by a wide margin, there’s a good chance you’ll encounter a snake while exploring Kentucky’s wilderness.

Kentucky is home to many snake species; in fact, the number of species slithering around in Kentucky reaches over 30 different types! Twenty-eight of those species are non-venomous, but four are venomous and need to be handled or encountered with caution.

The venomous species of snakes in Kentucky are the copperhead, western cottonmouth, timber rattlesnake, and western pygmy rattlesnake. The cottonmouth remains the only venomous water snake that inhabits Kentucky lakes.  

During your jaunts to Kentucky lakes, however, you shouldn’t encounter these striking species. Instead, you’ll probably run into a few water snakes and have the off-chance encounter with a cottonmouth. The water snakes found most often in Kentucky include:

  • The common watersnake.
  • The queen snake.
  • The plain-bellied watersnake.
  • The diamond-backed watersnake.
  • Eastern garter snake.
  • Western cottonmouth.
  • Eastern ribbon snake.

Overall, Kentucky’s water snake population thrives around rivers, lakes, and ponds. If you plan to spend time during the warm months hanging by the lake, you should know the types of snakes to watch out for, what they look for in a habitat, and how to stay safe in an unexpected snake encounter.

Factors Attracting Snakes to Lakes

Kentucky Lake, Hillman Ferry Campground

Kentucky lakes provide camouflage, food sources, and ideal habitats.

©Land Between the Lakes KY/TN / Flickr – License

Like any animal on earth, snakes need water to survive. The lakes in Kentucky provide a sustaining life force snakes thrive on. It also holds its prey. In reality, several factors attract snakes to lakes:

  • Vegetation provides camouflage. The shrubbery, tall grasses, and even lily pads of a lake foster a cozy habitat for snakes. While solitary creatures, snakes will search out a habitat that offers an accessible route to reliable food — food like the birds and animals using the lake as a life source as well.
  • Water snakes have a natural water habitat. Water snakes, by definition, are aquatic (or semi-aquatic) creatures. Because they want to spend their lives on the water, it makes sense they’d make a home in or around a lake.
  • No forced migration. With the natural turn of the seasons, snakes aren’t forced to find water elsewhere if they’re on a lakebed. They stay put, allowing both water and food to also stay right outside their “front door.”
  • Temperature control. In the winter, snakes can emerge from their nests to sun themselves on a rock and get warm. In the summer, they can dip in the lake or hide in the shade to stay cool. A lakeside has it all for a snake’s body temperature.
  • Food sources. As mentioned earlier, snakes feed on small animals that often frequent lakes. This includes frogs, rats, mice, dead fish, birds, eggs, and other small snakes.

In addition, snakes can weather summer storms on lakes. They can hide in bushes, grassy areas, trees, or even under the water for some time. And, with the exception of other, larger snakes, many predators won’t find snakes hiding on lakesides easily. This camouflage serves a dual purpose: it allows snakes to sneak up on prey and stay hidden from predators. 

Finally, mother snakes — especially garter snakes — will have nests close to the water so their young can drink and hunt small fish.

While not the most snake-infested lake, Rough River is home to a large amount of the common water snake.

The 6 Most Snake-Infested Lakes in Kentucky

Discover the six most snake-infested lakes in Kentucky — and the snakes in them.

Lake Barkley

Lake Barkley

Located between the Land of the Lakes, Lake Barkley is home to seven different snake species.

©iStock.com/PhotosbyMerry

Lake Barkley State Park, where Lake Barkley is located, offers residents of Kentucky dozens of activities to do every season. Located near Land Between The Lakes, this lodge boasts scenic views of the forest, lakes, rolling hills, and more. Among the water sports you can perform on the lake are swimming, fishing and boating in the marina, and paddling.

With such a list of amusing activities, it’s the place to be for both humans and snakes. Biologists, researchers, and activists have identified seven different snake populations at Lake Barkley — which is why it tops the charts of the most snake-infested lakes in Kentucky.

While at Lake Barkley, you may encounter:

  • Northern watersnake (Nerodia sipedon).
  • Eastern garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis).
  • Northern copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix mokasen).
  • Eastern cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus).
  • Black rat snake (Pantherophis obsoletus).
  • Western Kentucky rat snake (Pantherophis obsoletus lindheimeri).
  • Timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus).

In 2021, someone encountered a large timber rattlesnake — one of the few venomous varieties of snakes in Kentucky. 

Kentucky Lake

Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, Kentucky Lake

As a close neighbor to Lake Barkley, Kentucky Lake has several nonvenomous and venomous snakes in its water.

©Piotr Kalinowski Photos/Shutterstock.com

On the other side of the Land Between The Lakes is Kentucky Lake! Because it neighbors Lake Barkley, this lake also has a thriving snake population. But first, make sure you get to plan and enjoy the beauty this lake has to offer. You can’t miss watching the sun set over the water on the rocky natural pier or the fishing opportunities. Pleasure boaters can find more than enough to do on Kentucky Lake, including cruising, wave running, sailing, skiing, and more.

Like Lake Barkley, the most common and harmless snakes to find in the lake are the northern water snake and the eastern garter snake.

As for venomous snakes, keep your eyes peeled for cottonmouths and rattlesnakes. There may not have been a viral report of a timber rattlesnake in Kentucky Lake recently, but that doesn’t mean they’re not lurking below the surface.

Lake Cumberland

Lake Cumberland, Kentucky.

Visitors will find four different snake species while swimming in Lake Cumberland, Kentucky.

©TcHampel/Shutterstock.com

Over 50,000 sprawling acres in the center of Kentucky make up the Lake Cumberland State Park and Resort. Visitors to Lake Cumberland have their pick of nearly any outdoor and water activity they can think of, including birding, boating, swimming, and more. Even if you didn’t pack for every activity offered, you can always visit the Park’s Environmental Recreation Conservation Headquarters (PERCH) to see some interactive nature displays or pick up recreational items for camping, swimming, hiking, and fishing.

Snakes most commonly found in Lake Cumberland include:

  • Northern watersnake (Nerodia sipedon).
  • Eastern garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis).
  • Black rat snake (Pantherophis obsoletus).
  • Timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus).

Lake Cumberland’s calm waters, shady shorelines, and massive body of water make it a comfortable and fertile environment for snake habitats.

Rough River Lake

Sunset at Rough River Dam State Park, KY

Common water snakes are mistaken for water moccasins a lot at Rough River Lake.

©Patrick Jennings/Shutterstock.com

If you’re a regional angler, you’ve probably already been to Rough River Lake — or made plans to go. This state park and resort offers 5,000 acres of water to explore and fish. It’s also convenient to major metropolitan areas in the state.

During visitor season, the most active parts of the state park are the river activities like fishing, swimming, and boating. Within those warm summer months, snakes that live in or near the Rough River Lake will come out of hibernation to enjoy the sun. 

While not the most snake-infested lake, Rough River is home to a large amount of the common water snake. Many who frequent the lake often mistake them for water moccasins (also known as cottonmouths) but it’s simply not the case. Some visitors, however, have claimed that the common water snakes they have encountered are more aggressive than usual water snakes. Instead of fleeing at the sign of others, some have coiled or tried to protect themselves from the humans they see as a threat.

Barren River Lake

In south-central Kentucky, Barren River Lake is host to three different snake species.

©Ichabod / Creative Commons – License

For the most part, this state park and resort is meant for fishing, hiking, and dining. The lodge has lake-facing balconies to enjoy the scenery while boating brings anglers from across the state to enjoy catfish, bluegill, bass, and crappie.

Visitors are welcome to swim, but the beach does have a vibrant snake population to watch for. Like Rough River, the closeby Barren River Lake has a plethora of non-venomous snakes to speak of. Again, these snakes should mostly be harmless to you and your family as long as you give them space and don’t threaten them or try to pick them up.

Among the other snake species you might find in Barren River Lake are:

  • Black rat snake.
  • Timber rattlesnake.
  • Eastern corn snakes.

Because black rat snakes are skilled climbers, make sure you watch your step and hold if you choose to climb trees nearby to the lake.

Green River Lake

Sunrise over Green River Lake Kentucky

Keep your eyes peeled for timber rattlesnakes at Green River Lake.

©Tonya Staab/Shutterstock.com

Finally, Green River Lake rounds out the list of the most snake-infested lakes in Kentucky.

The fishing on Green River Lake is one of the best in the state — making it a destination for both eager anglers and hungry snakes. Some of the fish you can catch on Green River Lake include white fish, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, Kentucky bass, bluegills, crappies, and muskies. 

Also bringing snakes to the edges of the Green River Lake is the state park’s bird population. These resident and migratory breeding songbirds — as well as other waterfowl — arrive between April and stay through summer. 

With such a buffet, it’s no wonder snakes make Green River Lake their home. The larger game this lake provides brings rattlesnakes like the timber rattlesnake out to play between the end of spring and early summer. While some of the bites from rattlesnakes are “dry bites” — meaning they don’t expel venom, these bites still hurt and need medical attention. During the months they’re out and about, rattlesnakes can roam the park any time of day or night.

Slimy Friends Slithering Through Lakes in Kentucky

Though a bit frightening if they’re an unexpected visitor to your relaxing afternoon, these snakes remain vital to the ecosystem of Kentucky’s lakes. As predators of small animals and fish, they conduct population control of the small game. As prey, they feed larger birds and mammals. The circle of life continues with their existence, and keeps Kentucky’s lakes as teeming with wildlife as ever!

The next time you’re floating down Green River Lake or swimming in Lake Barkley and see a slithering friend, take a second to breathe and smile — he’s helping the ecosystem thrive!

Summary of the 6 Most Snake-Infested Lakes in Kentucky

NumberSnake-Infested LakeLocation
1Lake BarkleyLivingston County, Lyon County, and Trigg County
2Kentucky LakeSouthern part of the state in Marshall, Calloway, Livingston, Lyon, and Trigg counties
3Lake CumberlandSoutheast in Wayne, Russell, Pulaski, Clinton, McCreary, Laurel, and Whitley counties
4southeast of Bowling Green, KentuckySouth Central in Breckinridge, Hardin, and Grayson counties
5Barren River LakeSoutheast of Bowling Green, Kentucky
6Green River LakeCampbellsville

The photo featured at the top of this post is © KF2017/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

Katarina is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on dogs, travel, and unique aspects about towns, cities, and countries in the world. Katarina has been writing professionally for eight years. She secured two Bachelors degrees — in PR and Advertising — in 2017 from Rowan University and is currently working toward a Master's degree in creative writing. Katarina also volunteers for her local animal shelter and plans vacations across the globe for her friend group. A resident of Ohio, Katarina enjoys writing fiction novels, gardening, and working to train her three dogs to speak using "talk" buttons.

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