The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to many amazing natural phenomenon and animal species; one of the most spectacular of which is the synchronous Elkmont fireflies. Every summer tens-of-thousands of fireflies light up the night sky with a breathtaking performance. The fireflies, which normally glow in individual twinkles, synchronize. They light up all at once and produce incredible sweeping bursts of light that is truly a once-in-a-lifetime thing to see.
Why are the fireflies synchronous?
Fireflies normally glow as part of their mating process. The male fireflies emit a glow while in the air to attract the females on the ground who respond with a fainter glow. The Elkmont Fireflies (Photinus Carolinus) perform this ritual in a synchronous manner. No one knows why they synchronize, and they are only this species that do so. Although synchronous fireflies can be seen in a few other locations, Elkmont has the largest and most spectacular display.
When can you see fireflies in the GSMNP?
The best time to see the synchronous fireflies at Elkmont is late spring to early summer, generally the third week of May to the third week of June. The firefly mating season lasts only two weeks and the National Park predicts their dates before releasing the lottery. The fireflies come out at dusk and the first synchronous display begins generally around 9:30 P.M.
How can you see synchronous fireflies at Elkmont?
The only way to see the fireflies at Elkmont is to enter a lottery run by the National Park Service at recreation.gov. The lottery opens on different dates in April every year, but the past two years it has opened on April 24th. The lottery costs one dollar to enter and winners will be charged $24 (per vehicle) for a pass. The pass allows you to park at the Sugarland Visitor Center from which you will be able to take the trolley to the Elkmont Campground. The trolley costs an extra $2 per person. Note that this is a high demand event, only 111 advance parking passes (first-come, first-serve) are awarded per evening the viewing is available.
What to expect.
The National Park requires that all flashlights be covered with red or blue cellophane and be used only to get to and returning from your viewing cite. Return shuttles do not begin until 9:30 P.M. and the entire event will last between three to six hours, so eating before you embark is encouraged. Bug spray and a blanket to sit on are also recommended. When there is a bright moon the fireflies might come out later and will not show at all on nights below 50˚ Fahrenheit.
Are there other places to see synchronous fireflies?
Although there is no guarantee of seeing a performance like that in Elkmont there are other locations in the park where synchronous fireflies are seen every year. The best places to see the fireflies are in Cades Cove near the Abrams Falls trailhead, Greenbrier up the Porter’s Creek trail, the Chimney Tops Trail, and the Rainbow Falls parking lot.
Here at the Blue Mountain Mist we love all things related to the Smoky Mountain National Park, that is why we have named our rooms after the different areas of the mountains. Elkmont, being the part of the park where Norman’s dad grew up, holds a special place in our hearts. Our Elkmont room is a king room on the main floor decorated in rich carved woods and colonial blues.