For about two weeks each year, Elkmont in Great Smoky Mountains National Park becomes the site of the most magnificent synchronized firefly (also called lightning bug) gathering in the world.
For synchronous fireflies, the peak mating season usually begins in late May and ends in early June, although the two-week season varies slightly year to year. According to Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials, since 1993, the peak date has ranged from the third week of May to the third week in June. During mating season, male fireflies flash their lights four to eight times at the same time for 10 seconds. In the next 8-10 seconds, female fireflies can respond by lighting up.
Firefly Shuttle Ticket Lottery
This firefly-watching event is extremely popular. Enter the lottery for shuttle tickets starting in April, at www.recreation.gov/camping/gateways/2739. Your ticket includes parking at the Sugarlands Visitor Center and a seat aboard a shuttle to Elkmont. At Elkmont, there are rangers to answer questions and a number of paved areas and trails you can take to watch the fireflies light up the night.
In 2020, the public event was canceled because of the COVID-19 virus. But a live, online event was held and recorded on YouTube.com. (Firefly views begin at 14:15)
Fireflies require total darkness to mate and humans who use flashlights, as well as produce any any other form of light pollution, have led to decrease of fireflies across the world. The NPS enforce strict lighting regulations in the park which prohibit use of lights which may disturb and drive out the fireflies from the park. These regulations include:
- Cover your flashlight with red or blue cellophane.
- Use your flashlight only when walking to your viewing spot.
- Point your flashlight at the ground.
- Turn off your flashlight when you find your viewing spot.
Although Elkmont is the most popular place to view the fireflies during mating season, you can also find them in other areas of the park. Look for open fields bordered by trees and near water. Later in the season, you may find them at higher elevations. The flashing begins around 10 pm and ends around midnight.