LaRue Pine Hills Snake Road is the only road in the world that closes annually so snakes can migrate across, and that road is located in the Shawnee National Forest.
The road closes two times a year. During the closer-horseback, riders, cyclists, and motor vehicle drivers are not allowed to use the road. The road is open to foot traffic.
During the Spring Migration Closure (March 15 to May 15), snakes move from the bluffs to the swamp. And in the Fall Closure (September 1 to October 30), snakes will move from the swamp to the bluffs to hibernate.
I’d like to recommend the book Snake Road by Joshua Vossler. This book is an extensive field guide for everything Snake Road. Josh is a friend of mine, and I was with him during many of the encounters in the book. In fact, I remember the day he took the photo that is the book’s cover. It is worth adding to your library!
LaRue Pine Hills Snake Road allows visitors to see a diverse selection of snakes (venomous and non-venomous) just by walking down a 2.5-mile gravel road.
How to get to LaRue Pine Hills Snake Road
Getting to Snake Road is pretty easy. However, ensure you fuel up before you arrive, as there aren’t many gas stations for miles and miles. The closest gas stations are in Murphysboro, Jonesboro, Illinois, and Cape Girardeau, Missouri.
North Trailhead (More Parking Capacity)
The North Trailhead has the most parking spaces. The gravel road leading to it is a bit longer and has quite a few potholes. Please drive carefully to avoid hitting them too hard. Enjoy the Big Muddy River next to the road as Bald Eagles, and other native birds are often spotted along this road. Avoid this road during major flooding as it is a levee and could be breached.
There is enough room for about a dozen vehicles to park here. There are no restrooms or water available at this trailhead.
Check out this Google Maps page to see where this trailhead is located.
South Trailhead (Less Parking Capacity)
The South Trailhead is easier to get to as the road is shorter. Please drive carefully on this road as people do live along it. The road is gravel with some potholes present. The road may flood during heavy rain seasons in some areas.
There is enough room for about six vehicles for parking. However, it could be challenging to maneuver a vehicle around other cars during the busiest days.
Check out this Google Maps page to see where this trail is located.
Forest Road 345 – Snake Road Trail Directions
The main feature of LaRue Pine Hills Snake Road is Forest Service Road 345, otherwise known as Snake Road. This road starts where the gate is located at each trailhead. You’ll be hiking southward if you start at the north trailhead and hike northward at the south end.
The road is a point-to-point distance (no loops here), and it’s 2.5-miles. If you hike from the gate to gate and back, prepare for a 5 to 6-mile hike total. There are some hills but nothing major. The road is made up of gravel.
There are many user-made trails visible from the road. The Forest Service and Illinois Department of Natural Resources ask visitors to stay on the road. You risk getting bit by a venomous snake when you go off the road. You also risk harming a precious ecosystem that the critters in this area depend on for life.
There is plenty to see by staying on the road. I’ve seen rattlesnakes, cottonmouth, worm snakes, milk snakes, hognose, and mud snakes from being just on the road.
Wheelchairs and handicap transportation methods are welcome, but please watch out for the little snakes on the road.
ATVs or bicycles of any kind are not allowed.
What you’ll see at LaRue Pine Hills Snake Road
Snake Road is definitely a place to see snakes and an abundance of snakes, for that matter! But you can see other critters and things on the road as well.
Some people visit the road for wildflowers and plants.
Some people travel the road to see birds.
Snake Road is so diverse that there is something for everyone along this pretty gravel road.
Snakes of LaRue Pine Hills Snake Road
There are over 20 different species of snakes just at Snake Road!
Illinois’s three main venomous snakes are all located on this road, including copperhead, cottonmouth, and timber rattlesnake. You will likely see cottonmouth (water moccasins) more than any other snake while visiting the road.
Other snakes on this road include plain belly water snakes, ringneck snakes, DeKay’s brown snake, milk snake, mud snake, hognose snake, earth snake, rough green snake (my favorite!), the diamondback water snake, and more!
There are even rare snakes, such as the flathead snake.
Some claim that scarlet snakes also occur here, but one had not been recorded for over 50 years.
Other Wildlife and Birds
There are an astonishing number of birds around LaRue Pine Hills Snake Road. You can see bald eagles, owls, egrets, herons, ducks, and more. There are also many smaller birds, such as Indigo Bunting (my favorite!) and cardinals.
You might even see rare birds that are not often seen!
The road also features whitetail deer, bobcat, beaver, otter, squirrel, chipmunk, wood rat, armadillo, raccoon, opossum, and various reptiles and amphibians.
The road has plenty of wildlife! But to keep the wildlife there, you’re asked to ensure every critter has plenty of space to move or leave between you and it.
Plants and Flora
Each season carries different kinds of plants and flora at Snake Road.
There are even rare plants, flora, and wildflowers there. And the best part is, you can see all that right on the road.
Some of my favorites are copper iris and Miami Mist.
This area is also home to native pine trees (short-leaf pine), but non-native pine trees are also present.
Bluffs, Rock Formations, and Swampland
If you know me, then you know I like BLUFFAGE! Bluffage is my nickname for bluffs, and there are different kinds of bluffs at Snake Road. The prominent bluff is limestone, and some of it is over 100 feet tall. Some areas have sandstone, but those bluffs are more pronounced on the eastern side of the Shawnee National Forest.
It would be best if you never attempted climbing the limestone bluffs as they will crumble and break apart easily.
Some bluffs feature rock formations such as Preacher’s Eye, which can be found on Google Maps. This formation features a fantastic natural window on top of the bluffs. Sometimes, you can see snakes sunbathing in the window.
There are also many swamps in this area. Winters Pond is an artificial swamp pond that can be viewed from the north trailhead. There is some interpretive signage present. Otter pond is another swamp that can be considered by taking the short Forest Service Road south of the trailhead gate. The swamp is at the end of that road. Various swamps can be seen along the road as you walk it. Many cottonmouths and water snakes like to hang out by the swamps.
Before the Shawnee National Forest was established, the area was a combination of ghost towns and farms.
You might see remnants of old structures, buildings, and things left behind from those days.
This area is all second-growth forest. The only ancient thing is the bluffs, older than humans or any other living thing.
What signs from the past can you spot while hiking Snake Road?
The Rules of LaRue Pine Hills Snake Road
There are some crucial rules and unwritten rules of Snake Road. These are in place to allow us to see this extraordinary act of nature while protecting wildlife. These rules ensure that these critters stick around for many generations to come. Our responsibility is to preserve such a unique natural area as this one. Please know and abide by the rules and unwritten rules of LaRue Pine Hills Snake Road.
No Hooks, Tongs, or Grabbers
Don’t bring tools that are used to detain or touch snakes. It’s illegal. If you’re caught with them, whether in the act of touching a snake or not, you’ll likely be fined, and your equipment will be confiscated. You might be placed under arrest. You might be banned from the road. It isn’t worth it. Let wildlife be wild.
Hiking sticks and camera tripods are fine but don’t use them to touch wildlife!
No Collection Equipment – Collecting Anything is Prohibited
Don’t bring anything that can be used collect wildlife. People have tried it in the past, and they get caught. One person put venomous snakes in a backpack and was acquired by Law Enforcement. That wasn’t just irresponsible; it was idiotic as the venomous snakes could have bit him multiple times and created a grave cause of concern. Other people have collected for the illegal pet trade, significantly harming this country’s wildlife. Those shops should be exposed and avoided at all costs. If you know of these shops, please be public so that others don’t use their services.
You can bring a hiking backpack with you but don’t ever put anything in nature into it!
Do Not Block the Path of Wildlife
Blocking the path or restricting the movement of wildlife is considered harassment. It is illegal and prohibited on public land of any kind.
Do Not Handle Wildlife
Handling wildlife is prohibited and can result in a fine to even arrest. Sometimes trained persons can obtain a permit to handle some wildlife. Venomous wildlife handling permits are not given out.
Do Not Harass, Harm, or Kill Wildlife
Harassing, harming, or killing wildlife at Snake Road is illegal. This could land you in prison if you do it. And the snake lovers around you who see it happen might physically intervene. It would be stupid to do that on Snake Road.
Hunting seasons occur here for deer and birding species (and other game animals). Please see the Illinois Department of Natural Resources for more information. Hunting is not allowed during the closure or migration period. All hunters must have firearm identification cards and licenses/permits for game harvesting.
Try to Stay on the Trail
Please stay on the trail at all times. The designated trail includes the 2.5-mile Forest Service Road 345, the actual Snake Road, the forest service road located south of the south gate, and the swamp trail, which is situated along Snake Road, about a mile out back hike. The swamp trail doesn’t appear to be maintained anymore and has several trees across it, and it is often overgrown and hard to follow.
Please avoid all user-made trails. These trails harm the precious ecosystem these animals need to survive and thrive. It can also destroy rare flora and plants. We must do our best to Leave No Trace at Snake Road when visiting such a precious area as this one.
Foot Traffic Only – No Horses, Bicycles, or Vehicles
During the closure periods, only foot traffic is allowed. Handicap users can use wheelchairs and govern-speed handicap scooters. You can not use an ATV on this road during closures, even with a handicap permit (as that applies to hunting).
Bicyclists are prohibited from riding on this road during the closure. Please walk your bike on the road if you wish to pass through. As a cyclist, I urge you to abide by this rule, as cycling on the road will only give us a bad name and make people hate us. We already get enough hate as it is.
Motorcycles and vehicles are prohibited from driving on the road during closure periods.
Horses may not be ridden on the road during closure periods.
The Forest Service may open the road to emergency vehicles in a medical emergency or fire.
Moving Rocks and Logs
Please don’t stack rocks at Snake Road. Rock stacking (cairns) will only harm the precious ecosystems of wildlife. Rock stacking is not being a friend to wildlife.
Avoid moving rocks and logs to see wildlife under them.
However, if you do this, please make sure you put the rock or log back the way it originally was. By not doing this, you risk drying up the moisture in the ecosystem under the debris. This will likely kill anything that lives in the dirt under it. It is a terrible practice among wildlife watchers.
Don’t Collect Other Stuff
It is illegal to collect anything from LaRue Pine Hills Snake Road. That includes wildlife, plants, flora, downed trees, and even wild mushrooms.
After the closure period has ended, you may be able to request a permit from the Forest Service to cut up and take firewood from trees that are blocking the road.
Be Ethical About Information Sharing
Everyone deserves to see Snake Road. It is public land, and no public member is better than the other. I advocate the right for everyone to see the road and what it offers. I’m 100% against those who think people shouldn’t be allowed on the road.
However, I do believe we need to be more ethical about it.
Don’t get on social media and share the exact locations of snakes and other wildlife. I know you want people to see these animals, but if a mass amount of people arrive to see one animal, it could stress the animal out enough to die from it. The animal may throw up its food and die of starvation during hibernation. It likely happens a lot.
Other people may use social media to find locations to illegally collect, breed, and sell wildlife through the illegal pet trade. Some even collect for anti-venom.
Please make sure that you post photos, videos, and information online in an ethical manner. Ways of doing this may be to wait until the migration is complete before posting online or ensuring that you have cropped out any indication of where the location could be.
Join our LaRue Pine Hills Snake Road Facebook Group for more information, videos, and photos of what you can see on Snake Road. Do keep in mind that we moderate all posts. Sensitive location posts will not be approved.
How To Report Violations or Suspicious Activities
The only way to truly protect Snake Road’s wildlife and natural environment is to say something when we see something that doesn’t look right.
If you witness anything suspicious such as wildlife handling, hook possession, collecting, harm being committed, unusual behavior, use of motor vehicles during closure periods, or other suspicious behavior and activities – you should report it as soon as possible as long as you can safely do so.
Don’t put yourself in harm’s way!
Don’t feel you need to see if someone has a handling permit. It isn’t your responsibility to ask. Let law enforcement determine that for you.
Please call or text US Forest Service Law Enforcement anytime at 1-618-201-3364. You can remain anonymous if you want to! By reporting illegal or suspicious activities, you are helping to protect Snake Road and the wildlife that depend on that protection.
If you see people illegally handling or collecting wildlife on Snake Road on the internet, try to take a screenshot of the page and send it to that number above by text. That can lead to prosecution of illegal acts on Snake Road as well.
Remember – if you see something suspicious, say something!
Emergency Situations at LaRue Pine Hills Snake Road
In an emergency at Snake Road, it is vital to have a plan before it happens.
If a Snake Bites a Human…
Assume the snake is venomous no matter what!
Do not attempt to catch or kill the snake. You do not need to bring the snake with you for identification.
Keep the victim as calm as possible and bite below their heart to slow the spread of venom.
Clean the bite area and loosely cover it with a bandage if available. Do not compress the bite area!
Call 911 immediately.
If an allergic reaction occurs (usually shortly after the bite), an epi-pen or antihistamine may be a lifesaving decision.
Start chest compressions if you find a person not responding and not breathing that may have been bit. Chest compressions can save a life. It is recommended that you become CPR certified if you can.
This article is intended for information only and was not created to give you medical advice. Please see a licensed medical professional for medical and emergency medical advice.
Emergency Contact & Hospital Information
In the event of any emergency, dial 911.
The closest hospitals are in Anna or Murphysboro. Some of these facilities may carry anti-venom.
Dining, Lodging, and Sightseeing Around LaRue Pine Hills Snake Road
There are quite a few options for seeing other cool things near Snake Road and helping the local economy.
Dining and Gas Station Options
For dining in the area, check out Murphysboro, Carbondale, and Anna-Jonesboro areas. For gas, the closest and usually cheapest is in Murphysboro. Carbondale usually has the most diverse dining options. Bottoms Up Bar & Grill in Jacob, Illinois, is a local favorite in the Snake Road area.
Lodging Near LaRue Pine Hills Snake Road
There are quite a few lodging opportunities around Snake Road. Check out Rustic Hideaway Cabins for a scenic and private lodging experience. Check out Trail of Tears State Forest and Pine Hills Campground for camping. There are limited spots at Turkey Bayou where you can camp for free unless the Big Muddy is flooded because the campground will be underwater. Murphysboro and Carbondale also offer many hotel options.
Other Hiking Trails in the Area
There are many places to hike in this particular area. Check out all the things you can do at LaRue Pine Hills. We recommend hiking the Little Grand Canyon if you get a chance. It also has plenty of wildlife (and snakes) to view. Trail of Tears State Forest offers many hiking and picnicking opportunities, too.
Sightseeing Around the Area
There is a lot to see around the Snake Road area! Pine Hills Road is great for viewing fall colors. It is also great for gravel cycling if you like brutal hills. Check out Grand Tower to see the Mississippi River from Devil’s Backbone Park. Check Union County’s Visitor Website for more information on where to see some incredible things in the area.
And that sums up LaRue Pine Hills Snake Road. We hope this guide helps you with your visit to this incredible, one-of-a-kind, unique road you will not find anywhere else. Thanks for visiting, and be sure to share this guide with others who would enjoy it!
Watch the videos for this trail!
Below is a recent video that we filmed while enjoying this area.
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Thanks again for checking out another one of my articles and until next time, I’ll see you on the trail!
Founder, Hiking with Shawn
Howdy folks! My name is Shawn Gossman and I founded Hiking with Shawn. I’m an avid hiker, cyclist and outdoorsman here in the Shawnee National Forest. I was born and raised in Southern Illinois and never want to leave. Click here to learn more about Shawn Gossman