Synchronous fireflies in the Smokies: What you need to know [2022]

Synchronous fireflies

Thousands of visitors gather near the Elkmont Campground to observe the naturally occurring phenomenon of synchronous fireflies (photo by shaiith/stock.adobe.com)

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Officials with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park have announced the annual synchronous firefly viewing opportunity for 2022.

The event will run from Friday, June 3 through Friday, June 10.

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 Tuesday, May 3 at 10 am

Scroll to the end of this article for details on how to apply.

What are synchronous fireflies?

Photinus carolinus is a firefly species that flashes synchronously.

This species synchronizes its light patterns. Furthermore, only a couple of species in North America do this.

According to the National Park Service, scientists believe that the males flash so the female can respond to “one of her kind”.

The result is a fascinating nature light show.

Read Also: When do lightning bugs come out? How long do they stay out? [with map]

Why do fireflies flash in sync?

The light pattern of the fireflies is 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.

a firefly on a blade of grass
A firefly rests on a blade of grass (photo by anko70/shutterstock.com)

What is the synchronous firefly event?

Every year, from late May to early June, thousands of visitors gather near the Elkmont Campground to observe these unique fireflies.

Park officials limit access to reduce traffic congestion.

This provides a safe viewing experience for visitors that minimizes disturbance to the fireflies during the peak mating period. 

These fireflies take one to two years to mature from larvae. In fact, they live as adults for only 21 days.

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 13, 2022.

Each pass provides admission for parking at Elkmont for one passenger vehicle with a maximum of seven occupants.

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 also the ability to safely accommodate a large number of viewers.

Synchronized Fireflies in Elkmont
The synchronized fireflies in Elkmont in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (photo by Alisha Bube/shutterstock.com)

How much does the synchronous firefly event cost?

The lottery system uses a randomized computer drawing to select applicants. A $1 fee applies.

Successful applicants will receive 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. For example, this includes on-site portable restrooms, supplies and nightly personnel costs for managing the viewing event. 

Parking passes are non-refundable and non-transferable. And also, passes are only valid for the date issued.

There is a limit of one lottery application per household per season. Lottery winners will be notified by e-mail by May 13.

fireflies in a forest
Vehicles are limited during the synchronous firefly event to safely accommodate a large number of viewers (photo by tagu/shutterstock.com)

When will Elkmont have restricted access?

During the viewing period, officials limit access to Elkmont after 4 pm to passenger vehicles with a parking pass, registered campers staying at the Elkmont Campground, or backcountry campers with a valid permit.

In addition, officials do not allow visitors to walk or ride bicycles on the Elkmont entrance road or Jakes Creek Road after 4 pm.

Overnight parking will not be permitted without a proper permit at …

  • Little River Trailhead
  • Jakes Creek Trailhead
  • Appalachian Clubhouse

How do I apply for the viewing lottery?

To apply, go to www.recreation.gov. Visitors may also call 1-877-444-6777.

However, park officials encourage the use of the online process

Have you ever attended this event? Let us know in the comments!

Disclaimer: While we do our best to bring you the most up-to-date information, attractions or prices mentioned in this article may vary by season and are subject to change. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any mentioned business, and have not been reviewed or endorsed these entities. Contact us at [email protected] for questions or comments.

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