Every year, a very special and magical thing happens in the Great Smoky Mountains. Nineteen species of fireflies that live in The Smokies come together and show off their lights — to the delight of onlookers. These fireflies are the only species in our country that can synchronize their flashing light patterns, which are part of their mating ritual.
The males swoop and light while the females remain stationery, flashing a “yes” in return to their efforts, Some produce greenish lights while others may flash a blue hue. The outcome is a an awe-inspiring display.
Though there’s no exact science for pinpointing the exact time or day when the synchronous fireflies will do their dance, it’s usually somewhere between late May to mid-June and it lasts for about two weeks. Scientists believe it depends on temperature and moisture in the soil.
About the Synchronous Fireflies
Thought it’s been studied intensely, scientist aren’t exactly sure why the fireflies do their synchronized lighting. They believe it could be that the a male wants to be the first to light it up! Or, the males could be flashing in unison in order to “show” the females who the biggest and brightest “star” of the pack is. The female then gets to compare who she thinks the best guy is.
Or, maybe they’re all just showing off.
Whatever the case, thousands of people show up to watch and there are those who wait in anticipation for the phenomenon to be announced as to when it will happen.
This year the lottery period is expected to begin mid-April and will be available to purchase from Recreation.gov after the lottery winners are notified on May 7th. The dates of this spectacular event typically occur late-May to mid-June.
Get in on the Light Show
This world-famous natural occurrence has become so popular that the national park has a lottery system for all visitors who want to see it at the Elkmont Campground. The lottery opened in late April and results will be revealed on May 10. It costs one dollar to enter the lottery and winner(s) are picked by a random computer drawing.
The benefit of the lottery ticket winner(s) is that they get to “snag” a campsite and walk to the area. In 2019, people from all over the country and some from other countries witnessed it and it’s most definitely a “bucket list” item for outdoorsmen and women.
If you don’t win the lottery, no worries. You can purchase a parking pass that allows one vehicle to park at the Sugarlands Visitor Center. You’ll then hop on the trolley that will take you to the Elkmont campground. The fare for that is $2/person round trip and it requires exact change.
The whole trip will take three to six hours — so commit to the show and enjoy! Take a small chair or blanket with you.
If you don’t get a pass, you can most likely view some light action at the Abrams Falls trailhead near Cades Cove.
The park issues 1,800 vehicle passes for the event.
The Lord of the Fireflies
If you want to be considered a “Lord of the Fireflies,” then you have to be very sensitive to the protocol concerning of what to bring and what to do in order to witness them.
Here’s the rules:
- Bring a flashlight, but cover it with red or blue cellophane.
- ONLY use your flashlight when walking to your spot to see the fireflies and point it toward the ground.
- Turn your flashlight OFF when you find your viewing spot.
- DO NOT catch or attempt to catch the fireflies.
- Stay on the trail at all times.
- Be considerate and pack up all your garbage and belongings that you brought with you.
The right time to view? According to Nichols, that is 9:30 to 10 p.m. She also said they love a rich forest floor, moist conditions and a closed canopy so they can see each other better when they begin their flash dance.
What a feeling!
Visit the park’s website for more info and updates here.
Cabins in the Smokies
Hopefully, you’ll be in the area to witness this magnificent dance of the fireflies. You can stay in a beautiful mountain cabin in Gatlinburg. Condo-World’s cabins are one-of-a-kind with a lot of ways to experience the view. Some cabins even have theater rooms and game rooms. Book your next cabin in Gatlinburg today!