Now is the perfect time to visit ‘Snake Road’


There are more than a few streets and roads in these United States named “Snake Road.”

Most “Snake Roads” are so named because of their physical appearance from above — they have the crooked bends and curves of a serpent.

But there is at least one “Snake Road” so named because the real deal — live snakes — cross that road in large numbers during specific times of the year.

In fact, there are sometimes so many snakes crossing this road that it is closed to vehicular traffic for extended periods twice a year.

I am referring to Forest Service Road # 345, located in Union County in Southern Illinois, near the Mississippi River.   

Since 1972, the US Forest Service has had a policy of closing this road to vehicular traffic from March 15 to May 15, and again from September 1 to October 30, so as to protect the reptiles and amphibians who routinely cross this road as they migrate between rock-strewn bluffs on the east side of the road and the La Rue Swamp on the west side of the road.  

While vehicles are prohibited between those dates, humans on foot are welcome any time.

The portion of Snake Road that is periodically closed is approximately two-and-a-half miles long and is a gravel, one-lane road.   

Enclosed with this article are pictures of the road and the surrounding bluffs, swamp and woods.

As you can see, visibility on this road and the sides of the road is pretty good — an important consideration for anyone who wants to go there to look for snakes.

And there are plenty of snakes — actually more than 35 species — including the cottonmouth water moccasin, timber rattlesnake and copperhead.

It is said that on a sunny, spring day you might see as many as 20 or 30 snakes crossing the road as you walk its length.

One Snake Road enthusiast, for example, said he counted over 70 snakes — mostly cottonmouths — in a single day.   

And Scott Ballard, a herpetologist with the IDNR, during an interview with a local TV station, said he identified more than 500 individual cottonmouths during his study of the area over an extended period of time.

The ultimate purpose of periodically closing Snake Road as for vehicles is obviously for the protection of the reptiles and amphibians.

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As long as you are there simply to walk on the road and educate yourself and your family as to what these critters look like “in the wild,” that is acceptable.

But legally you cannot attempt to catch these animals and, in fact, while on Snake Road, you are not allowed to have in your possession snake hooks, bags, plastic containers or any other objects that conceivably could be used to capture one of these animals.

If you are a bit unnerved by the idea of encountering a snake up close on Snake Road, my suggestion is that you first check it out on YouTube or on Facebook. There is even a Facebook page specially for folks who really enjoy this natural treasure.   

That will give you a better idea of what to expect, but having the opportunity for you and your family to see these creatures in their natural habitat would seem to be a unique and educational experience, one that ought to be done sooner or later.

It is readily apparent from these YouTube videos that humans are not on the “to do” list for these snakes, who are simply trying to get from their winter home to their summer home and vise versa.

The LaRue Pine Hills Research Natural Area, which includes Snake Road and consists of almost five square miles, is an interesting and picturesque area in its own right, aside from what might be happening on Snake Road itself.

There are hiking trails on the bluffs overlooking the area and two wilderness areas (Bald Knob and Clear Springs) nearby that if you love exploring natural areas close to home, this trip should be considered.

The LaRue Pine Hills Research Natural Area is located about a half-hour north of Cape Girardeau, Missouri, in Illinois about nine miles north of Wolf Lake on Illinois State Route 3.  

More specifically, to get from Route 3 to Snake Road, you need to turn east on the Big Muddy Levee Road, located on the south side of the Big Muddy River bridge over Route 3, drive approximately three miles east on the levee road, which, by the way, is a rough gravel road, to a T intersection at the base of a large rock bluff.  

Turn left (south) at that intersection and the parking area and entrance to the road can be seen a short distance further south.

The parking area is not big and when things get busy on nice spring days, my guess is that parking becomes an issue. 

It might be best to visit during the week if you can do so. 

There is a separate entrance and access to Snake Road at its south end, just east of La Rue.

I did not check that entrance out but wanted to note for you that there is a second way to access Snake Road.

For obvious reasons, don’t bring the family dog.

(Bill Hoagland can be reached at

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