Each summer in the Smoky Mountains, there's a stunning light show that has nothing to do with fireworks. This incredible natural phenomenon is the work of the Elkmont fireflies, synchronous fireflies that reside within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Also known as "photinus carolinus", these lightning bugs flash in sync as a mating ritual.
To experience this extraordinary work of nature this summer, you'll need to plan in advance. About 800 to 1,000 people descend on the Smoky Mountains each year for the two-week window when these Tennessee fireflies flow in sync.
What Are They?
The Elkmont fireflies are one of 19 species of fireflies in the Smoky Mountains. The male lightning bugs use their flashing pattern to attract females during the mating season.
Where to See Them:
The Sugarlands Visitor Center near Gatlinburg, Tennessee offers a perfect viewing opportunity. Located within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the visitor center provides parking passes via a lottery system. Due to high demand, not everyone will be selected. The lottery for vehicle passes typically opens every April. This year, the lottery for vehicle passes will open on Friday, April 24 and will close on Tuesday, April 28.
(Ed. note: Great Smoky Mountains National Park is currently closed through Monday, April 6 support federal, state, and local efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19.)
Lottery applicants will be notified if they'll be awarded a parking pass by May 7. Lottery winners will be charged a $20 reservation fee to help cover the cost of supplies and park personnel.
The Cataloochee Valley Tour in Waynesville, North Carolina, offers a nighttime hike within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to a secret location that promises a spectacular view. Just remember to turn off your flashlight once you get to your viewing area.
When to See Them:
The fireflies put on their show for two weeks in late May and early June.
What to Bring:
You'll need to bring viewing supplies which include:
- red or blue cellophane to place over the bulb of your flashlight so as not to ruin the fireflies' glow
- a folding chair or blanket
- food and non-alcoholic drinks
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