Is your kid fascinated with snakes? Plan a bucket-list trip to the Narcisse Snake Dens in Manitoba, Canada, where you'll find the world's largest concentration of harmless garter snakes. Located in Narcisse, on the prairies of Manitoba's interlake area about a 75-minute drive north of Winnipeg, the site offers the opportunity to see more snakes in one place than anywhere else in the world.
The Narcisse Snake Dens are a special place for reptile lovers. Manitoba's interlake region boasts, by far, the world's largest congregation of red-sided garter snakes. In the winter, temperatures can fall to 50 degrees below zero. As cold-blooded animals, the snakes are able to survive the unforgiving winter temperatures by living in fissures in the limestone bedrock that run five to eight feet below the frost line.
Since the number of den sites is limited, all snakes have to pile in together to the same dens, which is how tens of thousands of snakes end up in a giant entangled mass. The limestone at the surface warms in the spring sunlight and provides warmth in mating season. The conditions are so favorable that snakes will travel up to 16 miles to mate at Narcisse.
There's nowhere on earth where you can see so many snakes in one place. The harmless, yellow-striped snakes can be 18 inches to three feet long.
Best Times to Visit
The best times to visit the Narcisse Snake Dens is the spring and fall. Every spring, the dens come alive with tens of thousands of red-sided garter snakes as they slither to the surface from their winter dens.
Plan to visit between late April and the third week in May. Within a period of these few weeks, tens of thousands of red-sided garter snakes emerge from their winter dens for the mating season. The snakes disperse to nearby marshes for the summer.
In the fall, aim for an early September visit. The snakes return to their dens before spending the winter in the limestone bedrock fissures below the frozen ground.
What to Expect
The Narcisse Snake Dens are managed by Manitoba Conservation. Entry is free. There are four active snake dens at Narcisse. Each site has viewing platforms where you can watch the snakes in action. Guides, which include many college students studying park and wildlife management, are on hand to explain the snakes to visitors and help children catch and hold them.
The dens are connected by 3 kilometers (1.9 mi.) of self-guided interpretive trails, which are covered with crushed limestone. Be sure to wear comfortable, closed-toe shoes, sneakers, or hiking boots. Bring a camera and a pair of binoculars for optimal snake-viewing.