Meet a Hellbender

Snorkel With A Hellbender In A Mountain River

In the frigid depths of the water, a revolting beast staggers among dark hiding places — the hellbender! Searching for a crawfish, toad, or snake to prey upon, the river monster is a professional at waiting for the right time to strike. If you're looking for things to do in Western North Carolina, this is an experience you won't want to miss.

Snot-otters, water dogs, mud-dogs and devil-dogs are all nicknames for this creature. This intimidating moniker is suited to the large salamanders that inhabit the creeks and streams of our mountains. And while a hellbender may look intimidating, they are not venomous and their slime is not poisonous.

a hellbender crawling on the bottom of a river

A face only a mother could love?

Hellbenders are massive for amphibians; in fact, they are the largest species of salamander on the North American continent, reaching up to five pounds and 29 inches long. Fixed in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the best time to watch their gauntlet match is in late August to late September, a time when their reproduction spikes. Above the water, visitors can observe the leaves transition from a vibrant green to bold yellows, reds, and oranges.

During breeding season, males have been known to fight aggressively over the best breeding rocks. Peering down below from a clear snorkel mask, you may even watch them clamp their jaws down on one another, scuffle along the river bottom, and continue their aggressions until one is deemed “the Den Master.”

No need to fret over the possibility of becoming prey to a river beast — humans are not on their menu. The elusive salamanders have many predators, themselves, and they typically feed on crawfish, bugs, and other hellbenders. If you’re brave enough to go looking for these frightening-looking critters, our recommended guide will provide a wetsuit, mask and neoprene gloves (mountain water is cold). We recommend closed-toe water shoes. After all, you wouldn’t want to find out what happens when you step on a testy amphibian, would you?

Know Before You Go: Hellbender 101

This thrill seeking adventure is located about 1 hour south west of Asheville, NC and makes for a great day trip if you're staying in the western NC area. Bring your personal snorkel, otherwise you can purchase equipment for $25 to $50. Mountain water is cold. Don’t forget a towel to dry off.

Thrill-o-Meter:  8/10
Ages: This is a great all-ages activity!
Where: Rosman, NC
Where: Summer and fall
Cost: About $100 per person

Guide: Oxbow River Snorkeling

Looking for more thrill seeking adventures?

Biplane rides along the Outer Banks



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