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synchronous fireflies in the smokies

We won the lottery.  

Each year the Great Smoky Mountains National Park holds a lottery to distribute the required parking passes for the Synchronous Fireflies.

And in 2016, we were lucky enough to win a parking pass.

The Deets

Synchronous fireflies (Photinus carolinus) are one of at least 19 species of fireflies that live in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and one of only a few species in the world known to synchronize their flash patterns. This insects’ reproductive display occurs for a couple of weeks every year throughout its range (southern Appalachians), and is typically in late May or early June in the Elkmont area of the park.

During the peak firefly display period, the park organizes a shuttle service from Sugarlands Visitor Center to the Elkmont viewing area where a large population of synchronous fireflies occurs. Visitors who wish to view the fireflies must acquire a parking pass for the Sugarlands Visitor Center and ride a shuttle to the viewing area. The number of parking spaces is limited, as is the capacity of the shuttle system. During the 8-day shuttle operating period, the Elkmont area will be closed at night to all but the shuttle system and campers. Visit the park’s Synchronous Fireflies web page for additional information about the event.

The Recommendations

As we discuss in the video, here are our recommendations to make this adventure work for your family:

  • Enter the lottery early
  • Arrive at the parking area early
  • Bring a chair (or something to sit on…you’ll be waiting a while for the trolley and once at the Elkmont campground area)
  • Bring water.  You will get thirsty.
  • Bring a camera and a tripod.  If you want to catch some great photos, then you’ll need a camera that shoots well in low light.  And you’ll get the best results by using a tripod.
  • Bring snacks
  • Bring your family
  • Bring a large vehicle (limited to 6 people)

Light Show Etiquette
Flashlights disrupt the fireflies and impair people’s night vision. The light show is best when you:

• Cover your flashlight with red or blue cellophane.
• Use your flashlight only when walking to your viewing spot.
• Point your flashlight at the ground.
• Turn off your flashlight when you find your viewing spot.

You can also help protect the fireflies and their habitat:

• Do not catch the fireflies.
• Stay on the trail at all times.
• Pack out all of your garbage.


We got lucky this year and snagged some passes.  But even if you don’t win the firefly lottery, there’s fun to be had just getting out in nature, away from the lights and noise of your daily life, and enjoying the amazing world outside.  Adventure is in your backyard.  Our “backyard” just happens to be close to the most visited national park in the USA.

Here’s a post from Coupon Katie that gives you details on the event.