Caught on camera: Illinois’ Snake Road

Explore Illinois' Snake Road through the eyes of an avid hiker

Closed for a snake migration? Yup! The Heartland is home to a unique road that closes to vehicle traffic twice a year so that hundreds, if not thousands, of snakes and amphibians, can safely travel between their winter and summer habitats. We’re talking about southern Illinois’ Snake Road, a gravel path tucked within the hills of the Shawnee National Forest.

illinois' snake road
(Source: Shawn Gossman/YouTube Hiking with Shawn)

Heartland Weekend’s Nichole Cartmell met up with Shawn Gossman, a Youtuber that goes by Hiking with Shawn online.

“This is THE place to see snakes,” Gossman said.

She went for a hike with Shawn to understand why Illinois’ Snake Road is a destination for herp encounters.

Slithering with snakes

Let’s be honest here: when you are out hiking, you might see a snake or two along the way. Typically, though, you have to be looking off the beaten path.

Along Illinois’ Snake Road it is a completely different story!

Gossman says on an average day during migration, it is not unusual to see upwards of 10 or more!

You might catch them crossing the road, sunbathing on the side, hanging in a tree, or swimming through the swamp.

This is their home, and you’re just walking through it!

“A lot of people come here to see specific snakes,” Gossman said. “… If you love cotton mouth, and you love water snakes this is the place to come see them.”

Copperheads and Timber rattlesnakes are among the many other prized snakes you might catch a glimpse of here.

Gossman said he got lucky one day and saw three Timber rattlesnakes. More recently, he came across a mud snake.

In fact, this natural area is home about 66 percent of the amphibians and 59 percent of the reptiles known to occur in Illinois.

Plan Your Visit To Illinois Snake Road

Looking to visit Illinois’ Snake Road on your next weekend adventure?

Here are a few tips from Shawn:

  • Watch the weather. You will most likely have a better chance of seeing multiple snakes if the cooler nights and warmer days are in the forecast.
  • Talk to others. Shawn says you’ll find some of the nicest folks along Snake Road. In fact, he’s met with people from as far as London. Be sure to ask other hikers about their herp encounters.
  • Keep a safe distance. If you see a snake, you can get close, but let it be. Just enjoy the snakes in their natural habitat.
  • Don’t break the law. Unauthorized collecting and handling of any of these species is prohibited under federal and state law.

“This is a special place to me and it’s a special place I’d like to protect,” Gossman said. “They’re in the wild, this is their natural habitat, and let it stay natural.”

Meet Shawn

Rewind to 2016. Shawn Gossman started a YouTube channel as a way to share some of his favorite places to hike with friends and family.

He called it “Hiking With Shawn.”

“To me, when you’re stressed at work or you’ve been having a bad day and you get outside, you get into nature, into something that’s older than you and bigger than you, it’s just instant stress relief,” Gossman said.

He really started getting into hiking because of his encounters with passionate folks along Illinois’ Snake Road.

Little did he know, the channel would grow into much much more.

Now with more than 1,000 subscribers, he hopes to continue sharing all the ways you can enjoy Mother Nature in southern Illinois.

His best advice: if you haven’t been to Snake Road, you’re missing out.

CLICK HERE to follow Hiking With Shawn on YouTube.

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