You don’t have to wait until July to see the sky light up with an inspiring spectacle. Like Independence Day fireworks, this show is sure to inspire oohs and aahs all around. The synchronous fireflies are set to swarm and light up the Great Smoky Mountains, a forest area that straddles the border between North Carolina and Tennessee, from late May through early June.
During these dates, tens of thousands of fireflies will gather and flash in sync, a dazzling outdoor display that turns the forest into a psychedelic natural party. People describe it as like watching falling stars and fireworks in unison.
Elkmont Campground in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, just outside of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, is home to the largest population of synchronous fireflies in the Western Hemisphere and makes for a prime viewing spot.
Where To See Synchronous Fireflies
Each year, the park’s scientists determine when the light show will peak, but because the fireflies are so popular, Great Smoky Mountains National Park holds a lottery to limit the number of visitors in the viewing area to see the fireflies firsthand at that time.
This year’s event will take place June 3-10. Only 100 vehicles per day will be allowed to the special viewing area in the national park, with a total of 800 tickets distributed. Up to seven people can ride in each vehicle.
To enter this year’s lottery, go to the lottery’s site at Recreation.gov. There’s a $1 entry fee, and if you win, you’ll automatically be charged a $24 reservation fee and awarded parking passes.
Is it worth it? Check out this video of the fireflies posted to YouTube by the Great Smoky Mountains Association, and just imagine seeing this in real life. The lightning bugs may be small, but all together, they produce a true showstopper.
If you don’t win this year’s firefly lottery at the Elkhart viewing area, don’t worry. It isn’t the only viewing spot for the swarming synchronous fireflies. You can venture to the backend of Cades Cove (near the Abrams Falls trailhead) or view them at Cataloochee Valley.
Wherever you choose to enjoy the show, remember to turn off flashlights and other lighted electronic devices so you don’t disrupt them. Then, sit back and prepare to be awestruck.
Nature In Sync
Even with the best camera, it’s fairly difficult to capture these little guys in a photograph or video, so you may just have to capture this sight in your mind’s eye. The synchronous fireflies’ flashing patterns are nearly impossible to photograph — that’s why you have to be there in person.
There are many species of fireflies in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Each species has its own characteristic flash pattern, but synchronous fireflies are the only ones in America that can synchronize their light show. Their specific pattern includes five to eight quick bursts of light followed by a five-second period of complete darkness.
The light bursts are fleeting, and the fireflies’ adult lifespans are almost as quick. They take up to two years to mature from larvae, and then their adult lifespans are only about 21 days.
The light show is all part of the fireflies’ mating display, which usually occurs during a two-week period in May through June.
That’s a pretty incredible natural phenomenon to witness with your own eyes and reason enough to trek out to the Great Smoky Mountains.