Synchronous Fireflies in the Smokies
One of the most popular events in the Great Smoky Mountains each year is also one of the most unique. In fact, the phenomenon is so unique, you can only experience it in a few places in the world. Until recently, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was thought to be the only place in North America where the event happens.
Photinus carolinus, synchronous fireflies, are 1 of 19+ species of fireflies living in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. These lightning bugs are beetles that only live about 21 days as adults, but during their lifetime they put on a miraculous display. During their mating season, these fireflies synchronize their light flashing patterns. Their heaviest concentration is in Elkmont, with the peak display typically happening sometime from the third week in May to the third week in June. It adds up to an incredible light display that will impress adults and amaze kids.
The mating season is about 2 weeks long, and the quality and intensity of each night’s showing depends on several environmental factors. If it’s below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, misty, very wet after a rainfall, or brighter because of the moon, the display may not be as bright or may begin later in the night. Check back on www.nps.gov for updated information about the synchronous fireflies display, including the dates for 2016.
How do I get there?
Viewing for the synchronous fireflies is in Elkmont. Unless you have already reserved a spot in the Elkmont Campground, you will need to purchase a parking pass for the firefly shuttle from the Sugarlands parking lot to the Elkmont viewing area. There are a limited amount of passes, so they fill up quickly – reserve as soon as possible! Trolleys will start leaving the Sugarlands parking lot at 7 p.m. and will start coming back from Elkmont sometime after 9:30. They will run until everyone with a pass has received a ride. The Sugarlands Visitor Center is located 2 miles south of Gatlinburg on Newfound Gap Road/Highway 441.
Sugarlands Visitor Center
1420 Little River Road
Gatlinburg, TN 37738
What should I bring?
Bring along a flashlight and wear comfortable shoes for walking around the different viewing areas. Most are on easy trails, but there are a few hills that you may prefer having tennis shoes or boots on for. Also, don’t forget your parking pass and valid ID! You will not be allowed into the Sugarlands Visitor Center parking lot without a parking pass for the synchronous fireflies event.
Are there any rules?
In order to keep yourself, other guests, and the fireflies and other wildlife safe, there are a few rules to follow. First, always cover your flashlight with the red or blue cellophane that will be provided. It will soften the light on your flashlight and keep from disrupting the fireflies’ displays. Second, only turn on your flashlight while you’re walking to your next viewing spot. Never point it at others or at the fireflies. Third, never attempt to catch the fireflies. Fourth, just like in hiking, always stay on the trail. And lastly, remember an important rule of spending time in nature: Leave no trace. If you have any garbage, pack it back out with you.
About the synchronous fireflies
Each firefly has its own flashing light pattern, making it unique and recognizable to other males and females. The ability to produce light is called bioluminescence. Unlike incandescent light bulbs, the light the fireflies produce is “cold” light. Almost 100% of the energy is put into their light instead of 10% light and 90% heat like the bulbs.
During the mating period, these fireflies have the ability to flash at the same time, blinking their greenish-yellow lights in the dark woods of the Smoky Mountains. The reason is unknown, although one theory is that by flashing all at the same time, the males have a greater chance of being noticed by the females. Sometimes they all blink at once, while other times bring waves of flashes or random blinks of light. If you have never seen it before, this Pigeon Forge event is truly is an amazing experience!
Where do I stay?
If you’re not camping in the Elkmont Campground (sites are already booked up during the typical firefly display time), we have some awesome Pigeon Forge cabins available. From cozy 1-2 bedroom cabins to spacious large group lodges, we have something for any type of vacation you’re planning. If you want to keep costs down, check out our budget-friendly cabins. We also have luxury rentals if you’re wanting so splurge and pet-friendly properties if you don’t want to leave any member of your family behind. Along with the space you need for a honeymoon, family vacation, reunion, or retreat, our cabins offer a wide range of amenities to keep you relaxed and entertained. Want a taste of what’s in store for you at our Pigeon Forge cabins? Some of our favorite amenities include…
- Big screen TVs
- Outdoor hot tubs
- Incredible mountain views
- Private indoor pools
- Private home theaters with huge screens
- Blu-ray and DVD players
- Fully equipped kitchens with stainless steel appliances
- King-size beds
- Bunk beds
- Rec rooms with game tables