The Great Smoky Mountains near Gatlinburg, Tenn. draws hundreds of people out into its woods every summer. In the pitch black of night, they sit in silence and wait.
Early June is the peak time for the phenomenon that draws visitors from all parts of the country. Visitors are taken from the parking lot in vintage-style trolleys to a remote campground in the forest. Once they arrive, they are instructed to pick a spot, get comfortable and simply wait.
So what are they waiting for? It’s a stunning light show, but not like anything you’ve seen before. Every June, a species of synchronous fireflies that call the park home light up the forest with a breathtaking, flashing yellow glow.
Had the incredible good luck to experience the synchronous fireflies in the Smokies last night. For a few days every year, for just a few hours a night, the bugs blink in unison while mating. The picture doesn't even really do it justice. It's totally surreal to be out in the pitch black woods, surrounded by hundreds of tiny yellow lights blinking in unison. Definitely a bucket list item.
So what causes this amazing natural occurrence? The synchronous fireflies are one of at least 19 species that call the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Elkmont home.
In early June, when visitors flock to the forest, the fireflies are engaging in their mating ritual. The male species flash their glow on and off at the same time simply to attract females. The creatures only live as adults for about 21 days, so finding a mate is crucial for their survival.
The result of this natural mating call is an amazing sight that draws visitors of all ages year after year. If you want to see this wonder for yourself, you’ll have to plan ahead. Parking passes must be bought from the National Park Service, and they usually sell out quickly.
If you do get a pass and make it out to Elkmont, there’s a few tips you’ll want to keep in mind. Get there early, make sure you have a comfortable place to sit, and cover your flashlight with colored cellophane so you won’t ruin the show for others if you have to move around the area. Visitors aren’t allowed to catch fireflies at the park in order to preserve the species and light show for years to come.
Due to the growing number of crowds each year, the National Park Service has put a lottery into place for parking passes. 1,800 entrants will be chosen to gain access to a parking spot and a shuttle to the viewing area. Winners will be charged a $2.75 reservation fee.
The lottery begins on Friday, April 28 at 12 p.m. ET and ends Monday, May 1 at 8 p.m. ET.
The travel and preparations for this once in a lifetime sight are definitely worth the wait. To find out more about the annual event, visit the National Park Service’s website.