The Most Snake-Infested Lakes in Minnesota

Written by Chanel Coetzee
Updated: August 9, 2023
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Key Points

  • There are there types of water snakes found in Minnesota
  • The common garter snake is the most sighted water snake in Minnesota
  • The four most snake-infested lakes in Minnesota are Lake Pepin, Red Lake, Otter Tail Lake, Lake of the Woods
There are three species of water snakes found in Minnesota lakes.
There are three species of water snakes found in Minnesota lakes.

Water snakes are a staple of American wetlands and occur primarily in marshes and bodies of water throughout the central and eastern United States. So, if you are ever hiking, kayaking, or swimming anywhere in this half of the U.S., there’s a possibility you might come across one of these aquatic serpents. Therefore, if you are planning a trip to Minnesota and want to spend your days by the water, it’s important to know which lakes are infested with snakes. And how to best handle your encounter.

Watersnakes Found in Minnesota Lakes

The only fully aquatic water snakes are sea snakes. However, there are several semi-aquatic snakes in the U.S., three of which occur in Minnesota. Water snakes are members of the Colubridae family, which is the most diverse snake family. True watersnakes are in the genus Nerodia, but garter snakes in the Thamnophis genus are semi-aquatic too! While the different species of water snakes vary widely, they have some common features, like protective overlapping scales, stream-lined bodies for swimming, and medium to large in size (usually between 3 to 5 feet long). The three species of water snakes found in Minnesota are the northern water snake, plains garter snake, and common garter snake.

Northern Water Snake

The northern water snake is medium in length and thick, with dark marks and bands on a lighter body. They are primarily diurnal and often occur in vegetation or are seen swimming in the water. These snakes usually measure between 2 to 3 feet long and come in several color variations. However, they are typically gray or brown with dark brown or red bands near the neck, spots on their sides, patches on their backs, and ringed tails.

The northern water snake is medium in length and thick, with dark marks and bands on a lighter body.

The northern water snake is medium in length and thick, with dark marks and bands on a lighter body.

©Philip Yabut/Shutterstock.com

Plains Garter Snake

The plains garter snake can grow to 3 feet long and occur throughout Minnesota. These snakes are either brown or black, with orange or yellow colored stripes down their bodies and one down each side, which are easily distinguishable from the color of their bellies. It is mostly black between the stripes, but some may be checkered with red, brown, green, or yellowish colors. The plains garter snake is an incredible swimmer and feeds on various amphibians and fish. While they are not venomous, these snakes may bite when handled. Additionally, when threatened, they will defecate and release a foul odor.

A plains garter snake, back with horizontal stripes ( one of each, visible) of orange and red running the length of its body, slithering through long grass

The plains garter snake is an incredible swimmer and feeds on various amphibians and fish.

©Alyssa Metro/Shutterstock.com

Common Garter Snake

The common garter snake is one of Minnesota’s most commonly sighted water snakes. They occur throughout the state and like to inhabit suburban and rural areas along lakes, rivers, hilltops, and in some regions, backyards. Common garter snakes in eastern Minnesota tend to be more yellow than red, and their bellies are gray or cream with no visible pattern. Furthermore, they have narrow black stripes on the edges of their scales, and some have red under their tails.

A common garter snake slithering in grass

Common garter snakes in eastern Minnesota tend to be more yellow than red, and their bellies are gray or cream with no visible pattern.

©iStock.com/Wildnerdpix

Most Snake-Infested Lakes in Minnesota

While these three species of water snakes occur throughout the state, there are four snake-infested lakes in Minnesota you need to be aware of:

1. Lake Pepin

Mississippi River & Lake Pepin Scenic

Two of the three species of water snakes occur in Lake Pepin, the common garter snake, and the northern water snake.

©John Brueske/Shutterstock.com

Lake Pepin houses two of the three species of water snakes, the common garter snake, and the northern water snake. This lake is the largest lake on the Mississippi River, so naturally, it is diverse in flora and fauna. It acts as an essential water filter that reduces pollution and sediment flowing downstream. Furthermore, this lake has historical and cultural significance, as it has provided water to humans for over 12,000 years. Additionally, Lake Pepin has been an incredible inspiration to famous visual artists and authors and the thousands of tourists that visit each year.

This lake is one of the Midwest’s best-known natural playgrounds, with several sporting and recreational activities to keep visitors entertained. Towns that occur along Lake Pepin include:

  • Reads Landing
  • Maiden Rock
  • Stockholm
  • Lake City

2. Red Lake

Upper Red Lake, Minnesota - Ice Fishing in Minnesota

Red Lake is home to the common garter snake and plains garter snake, making it one of the most snake-infested lakes in Minnesota.

©Dan Thornberg/Shutterstock.com

This lake is home to the common garter snake and plains garter snake, making it one of the most snake-infested lakes in Minnesota. Red Lake is situated in Beltrami County, northern Minnesota, and it’s the largest natural freshwater lake in the state. A peninsula separates Red Lake into two sections. The two sections are known as the Upper and Lower Red Lake, and the community of Ponemah sits on the peninsula.

Lower Red Lake has a rich history and lies entirely within the Red Lake Indian Reservation. While tourists descend to Red Lake by the thousands in summer, it is also a popular ice fishing destination in the winter. Unfortunately, a serious accident occurred on the lake in 2022 when 200 people were lying on an ice sheet on Upper Red Lake when it ruptured. They were isolated on an ice bank 90 feet from contiguous ice, but luckily, they were rescued.

Fish species present in Red Lake include:

3. Otter Tail Lake

Otter Tail Lake in Minnesota

Otter Tail Lake is home to the common garter snake and the plains garter snake.

©Bloodshedder / CC BY-SA 2.5 – License

This Lake is home to the common garter snake and the plains garter snake. Otter Tail Lake is situated in the west-central part of the state, and it is one of the largest lakes in Minnesota. It covers an area of around 14,000 acres, with a maximum depth of 120 feet. The lake derives its name from the otter, an animal commonly found in the area. Otter Tail Lake is notorious for boating, fishing, and other water sports. Additionally, several species of fish inhabit the lake, including:

Anglers from all around Minnesota descend on Otter Tail Lake throughout the year for its various fishing tournaments.

But it’s not just the lake that attracts tourists to this place; the surrounding area is popular for outdoor activities, like biking, hiking, and camping. Furthermore, there are multiple campgrounds and parks near the lake, including the Otter Tail County Park, which provides a beach for swimming, picnic areas, and boat ramps. Additionally, several towns and communities surround the lake that offers shopping, dining, and other activities. The most popular town around the lake is Ottertail, located on the lake’s eastern shore.

4. Lake of the Woods

Lake of the Woods Minnesota

The common garter snake is the only water snake to inhabit the Lake of the Woods.

©iStock.com/milendm

The common garter snake is the only water snake to inhabit the Lake of the Woods, which is an enormous body of water spanning over 68 miles long. This lake borders Minnesota and the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Manitoba. Lake of the Woods has the longest lake shoreline in the world, over 25,000 miles! The eastern part of the lake is dotted with more than 14,000 islands, which are home to an abundance of wildlife, including bald eagles, moose, and bears. However, the western part of the lake is mostly open water. Fishing is very popular on this lake; it has even earned the name “walleye capital of the world.” Other fish species that occur in this lake include smallmouth bass, northern pike, lake sturgeon, sauger, perch, muskie, and crappie.

Summary of the Most Snake-Infested Lakes in Minnesota

RiverSnakes
1Lake PepinThe common garter snake, and the northern water snake
2Red LakeThe common garter snake and plains garter snake
3Otter Tail LakeThe common garter snake and the plains garter snake
4Lake of the WoodsThe common garter snake

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Tony Webster / CC BY-SA 2.0 – License / Original


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About the Author

Chanel Coetzee is a writer at A-Z Animals, primarily focusing on big cats, dogs, and travel. Chanel has been writing and researching about animals for over 10 years. She has also worked closely with big cats like lions, cheetahs, leopards, and tigers at a rescue and rehabilitation center in South Africa since 2009. As a resident of Cape Town, South Africa, Chanel enjoys beach walks with her Stafford bull terrier and traveling off the beaten path.

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