Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials have announced this year’s annual synchronous firefly viewing opportunity for 2021.
This year, the event will run from Tuesday, June 1 through Tuesday, June 8.
The public may apply for the limited viewing opportunity by entering a lottery for a vehicle pass through www.recreation.gov.
The lottery for this event is open now and closes Monday, May 3 at 11:59 pm.
What is the synchronous firefly viewing opportunity?
Every year in late May to early June, thousands of visitors gather near the popular Elkmont Campground to observe the naturally occurring phenomenon of Photinus carolinus.
This is a firefly species that flashes synchronously.
Since 2006, access to the Elkmont area has been limited during the eight days of predicted peak activity in order to reduce traffic congestion.
This provides a safe viewing experience for visitors that minimizes disturbance to the fireflies during the peak mating period.
Last year, this event was streamed online.
“I’m pleased that we’re able to once again offer an opportunity for visitors to experience synchronous fireflies at Elkmont in a safe manner,” said Superintendent Cassius Cash.
“Last year, we canceled the viewing opportunity due to concerns about using shuttle operations … our staff worked hard to develop a new operational plan that allows limited parking for passenger vehicles directly at the site for 2021.”
Synchronous fireflies (Photinus carolinus, also known as “Lightning Bugs”) are one of at least 19 species of fireflies that live in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
They are the only species in America whose individuals can synchronize their flashing light patterns.
These fireflies take one to two years to mature from larvae and live as adults for only 21 days.
Why do fireflies flash in sync?
The fireflies’ light pattern displays are part of a mating ritual.
Each species of firefly has its own characteristic flash pattern and color hue that helps males and females recognize each other.
The male fireflies fly and flash to attract the normally stationary females, which respond with their own flash.
How does the lottery process work?
A total of 800 vehicle passes (100 passes per night) will be issued through the lottery process for this event.
Results of the lottery will be available by Friday, May 7, 2021.
Each pass provides admission for parking at Elkmont for one passenger vehicle with a maximum of seven occupants.
During the application process, lottery applicants may enter two possible dates to participate in the viewing opportunity.
The number of passes issued each day is based on parking capacity and the ability to safely accommodate a large number of viewers.
How much does the synchronous firefly event cost?
The lottery system uses a randomized computer drawing to select applications. All lottery applicants will be charged a $1 application fee.
Successful applicants will automatically be awarded parking passes. A $24 reservation fee will be charged to the same credit or debit card used for the application fee.
The $24 fee covers the cost of awarding the passes, on-site portable restrooms, supplies and nightly personnel costs for managing the viewing event.
Parking passes are non-refundable, non-transferable and good only for the date issued.
There is a limit of one lottery application per household per season. All lottery applicants will be notified by e-mail by May 7 if they were “successful” and awarded a parking pass.
When will Elkmont have restricted access?
During the viewing period, access to Elkmont is restricted after 4 pm to passenger vehicles with a parking pass, registered campers staying at the Elkmont Campground, or backcountry campers with a valid permit.
Visitors are not allowed to walk or ride bicycles on the Elkmont entrance road or Jakes Creek Road after 4 pm due to safety concerns.
Overnight parking at at the following locations will not be permitted without a valid proper permit:
- Little River Trailhead
- Jakes Creek Trailhead
- Appalachian Clubhouse
How do I apply for the viewing lottery?
Click here to apply for the lottery for this event. Visitors may also call 1-877-444-6777 to enter the lottery, but park officials encourage the use of the online process.
For more information about the synchronous fireflies, please visit the park website.
Have you ever attended this event? Let us know in the comments.