EXTRA, EXTRA! There’s been a major change to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Firefly Event in 2016. For those who don’t know what we’re talking about, this is the rare 2-week period in late May to mid-June when the synchronous fireflies at Elkmont show off their light patterns in a dazzling mating display. These are 1 of only a few firefly species in the world to synchronize their light patterns, which is why thousands of guests scramble each year to reserve their parking pass to see the fireflies during their visit to the Smokies.
The way this has worked in the past has been a first-come, first-served basis. Visitors to Elkmont are required to purchase a parking pass to see the synchronous fireflies because shuttle transportation reduces traffic congestion and minimizes disturbance to these unique creatures during their mating period. So you would purchase a parking pass, ride the shuttle to Elkmont, and visit the synchronous fireflies in a more controlled environment.
However, in recent years, the amount of people wanting to purchase these parking passes has far exceeded the amount of passes available. Last year, this nearly led to a system crash as thousands of guests simultaneously called in or visited the park’s website to purchase passes as soon as they became available. So this year, the park has opted for a lottery system instead. According to the Superintendent, they “are hopeful that the new process for registering to reserve a parking pass will be an easier, less frustrating experience for visitors.”
If you’re interested in seeing the fireflies this year, we want to answer your questions about how this all works, how you enter the lottery, and what you can expect after entering. See our Q&As below for more information.
How Does the Lottery System Work?
Basically, there will be a 3-day period when applicants may apply for the lottery drawing. You can enter your name at any time during this open period (it doesn’t matter what day or time you sign up), and your name will be added to the “pot.” Results of the lottery will be determined May 10, when the computer randomly selects applicants to receive parking passes.
How Do I Enter?
When the firefly lottery opens in 2016, you’ll have 3 days to sign up. That’s anytime between Friday, April 29, 2016, at 12 p.m. (ET) through Monday, May 2 at 8 p.m. (ET). The preferred method for entering the lottery is the online process. Visit the website (www.recreation.gov) and search for “Firefly Event” for more information. But if you have trouble with the online application or prefer to enter by phone, simply call 1-877-444-6777. Lottery applicants must apply for either a regular parking pass or a large-vehicle parking pass, and then you will have the choice between 2 possible dates to attend the firefly event over the 8-day viewing period.
Is There a Fee?
There is NO fee to enter the lottery in 2016. However, if you are selected for a parking pass, you will be charged a $1.50 reservation fee and, of course, awarded your parking pass. The pass will permit you to park at the Sugarlands Visitor Center on 1 of the 2 days you choose to attend the event (you’ll put in your top choice and an alternate). Then you and your vehicle’s occupants will proceed to the shuttles, which will escort you to Elkmont—the home of the synchronous fireflies—in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Other Important Info
- A total of 1,800 parking passes will be available for the 2016 Firefly Event. If you’re wondering how that number is determined, it’s based on the capacity of the Sugarlands Visitor Center parking lot and the number of viewers who can be comfortably and safely accommodated on site.
- The shuttle service to Elkmont is the ONLY way to visit the area during this 2-week period, except for registered campers staying at the Elkmont Campground. Even visitors traveling by foot are not permitted to walk the Elkmont entrance road due to safety concerns.
- Parking passes awarded in this year’s lottery system are non-refundable, non-transferable, and good ONLY for the date issued. Also, you may only submit 1 lottery application per household per season.
Dates to Remember
- Tuesday, April 26, 2016: Dates of Firefly Event and shuttle operating period will be announced.
- Friday, April 29, 2016: Lottery for parking passes will OPEN at 12 p.m. (ET).
- Monday, May 2, 2016: Lottery for parking passes will CLOSE at 8 p.m. (ET).
- Tuesday, May 10, 2016: All lottery applicants will be notified as to whether they will receive a parking pass or not.
For more information about the synchronous fireflies, visit the National Park Service website by clicking here. For more information about the new lottery system or the Great Smoky Mountains Firefly Event in 2016, visit recreation.gov here. And for help booking your cabin if you are chosen to attend this year’s Firefly Event at Elkmont, be sure to call our reservation specialists at 866-513-7885. There’s no lottery system for finding the cabin that’s just right for you in Pigeon Forge!