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Slimy Salamander, Stinkpot Turtle, and Various Other Reptiles and Amphibians, Illinois’ “Snake Road”

Eastern musk turtle or stinkpot. © cotinis / Flickr

For 60 days each spring, Service Road 345 in Southern Illinois’ Shawnee National Forest becomes Snake Road. The 2.5-mile gravel road separates local reptiles’ two habitats: One side is composed of dry, rocky bluffs and higher elevations, while the western side is wetlands.

Snakes generally winter in dens and crevices throughout the bluffs, and when the temperature begins to rise, they slither off for their LaRue Swamp summer home, where they’ll find lots of prey and warm sun.

How you can witness it: Anyone can hike Snake Road free of charge.

“For snake enthusiasts and those who appreciate the natural world, (this migration) is special,” says Daniel Grigson, executive director of The Sprout Experience. “In a normal location at a normal time, a walk down a forest road may produce one or two snakes, sometimes none at all.  During the migration, an average walk can produce 10 or more, and on a good day, you can see 50-plus snakes (or other reptiles). On a recent visit, one walk down the road produced six different snake species in two hours.”

Unauthorized handling or collecting the snakes and reptiles, many of which are threatened or endangered, is illegal, but if you’re anxious to get hands-on, the Sprout Experience uses youth volunteers to complete educational and research projects alongside the National Park Service, Grigson says.

If you miss the spring migration, don’t worry; the Forest Service closes the road from September to October also, as the reptiles mosey their way back to their winter dens.