Pilgrimage to Narcisse: World’s largest snake den

Pleassssed to meet you. (photo robin summerfield)
Pleassssed to meet you. (photos robin summerfield)


Vehicles lined both sides of the highway for at least a kilometre or more.

We eased our compact SUV through the squeeze of parked cars. People walked alongside on the pavement with strollers, coolers, kids and dogs in tow.

A ride on Thomas the Train? No.

A Wiggles concert? Nope.

Folk Festival? Not even.

No, we teaming masses had made this 90-minute pilgrimage north of Winnipeg to visit a den of snakes.

Indeed, we were visiting the world’s largest population of snakes. And we were about to watch their annual mating frenzy.

Narcisse, Manitoba is a wonder of the world.

Every Spring ten of thousands of red-sided garter snakes emerge from their winter hibernation and do what feels natural.

They’ve spent months underground in limestone cracks, caves and fissures waiting out the cold. They wake up, slither topside and spend two to three weeks trying to woo available females in a feverish mating dance. The males vastly outnumber the females, who are plumper than the fellas. The boys curl around a female, trying to capture her attention in a big slithering ball. (Once mating season is over everyone disperses to the nearby marshlands for summer and return to the dens in fall.)

It looks like a bad night at the (insert any dance-club name here).

The snakes are fascinating to watch and any aversion you may have had to the reptiles is cured swiftly. The sheer volume pretty much eliminates any lingering heebie jeebies.

Visitors are welcome to pick up the snakes but they must be gentle and not take them away from the den. Interpreters walk around the three-kilometre trail to answer questions.

Their are several dens on the site. Crushed limestone pathways criss-cross the fields, leading guests to the dens. For prime viewing, pick a warm, sunny day.

We chose the warmest day in a five-day stretch to make our run to the snakes. We weren’t alone. An estimated 8,000 people had the same plan one recent Sunday in mid May.

The frenzy in the dens mirrored the frenzy of snake seekers above jostling for the best view from platforms along the trail. Toddlers, teenagers, moms, dads, grandparents and folks of every description wandered the trails.

But it was all good.

People shared their snakes, handing them off to each other and helping the squeamish get comfortable.

And no one left without seeing the snakes, a whole lot of snakes.

PicMonkey Collage










Here’s a great website about the snakes; how to get to Narcisse; and what to expect. And check out Nature North’s site for additional intell on Manitoba snakes and other local creatures. 

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