The synchronous fireflies are an amazing natural spectacle, lighting up the Great Smoky Mountains National Park each year. The fireflies are so now popular that the National Parks Service has a lottery reservation system to try to see it.
The 2024 Firefly Season
Elkmont Campground is one of the best viewing spots, and the event is so popular now that you have to register through a lottery on Recreation.gov to manage attendance. Elkmont campground is located just 20 minutes south of Gatlinburg.
You select two preferred dates and will be notified if you’re successful. A $1.00 application fee applies, with a $24.00 charge for successful applicants.
Important Dates for 2024
- Late April: Announcement of viewing dates and opening of the vehicle pass lottery.
- Early-May: Lottery closes.
- Mid-May: Notification of lottery results.
- June: The firefly viewing takes place, with exact dates to be determined.
About The Fireflies
Fireflies, or lightning bugs, spend most of their life in larval form, feasting on snails and worms. Adult fireflies live for 3-4 weeks, often without feeding. Their flashing patterns, varying in color from greenish-yellow to blue or white, are unique to each species and play a role in mating rituals.
The Phenomenon of Synchrony
The synchronous fireflies (Photinus carolinus) in the park have synchronized flashing patterns—a series of 5-8 flashes followed by an 8-second pause. Synchrony ensures that female fireflies can recognize males of their species, which is crucial in a habitat where there’s also predatory firefly species.
When to Witness the Display
The mating season, lasting 2-3 weeks, varies annually based on weather conditions. Peak activity has ranged from late May to mid-June. This can changed based on rain and temperature, with the best viewing on misty evenings or when the temperature is above 50º Fahrenheit.
- Use red cellophane-covered flashlights or red light filters.
- Keep flashlights pointed at the ground.
- Turn off flashlights once in your viewing spot.
- Avoid capturing fireflies, stay on trails, and pack out trash.
Prepare for a Magical Experience
The synchronous firefly event in the Great Smoky Mountains offers a unique and unforgettable natural display!