June Firefly Watching in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Publish date:

This video, which premiered on BBC Earth, was filmed as part of SKYGLOW, an ongoing crowd-funded quest to explore the effects and dangers of urban light pollution in contrast with some of the most incredible Dark Sky Preserves in North America. This project is being produced in collaboration with International Dark-Sky Association. You can support SKYGLOW by visiting www.skyglowproject.com.

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.

2018 Dates for Viewing with Shuttle Service: Thursday, June 7 through Thursday, June 14

The lottery will be open for applications from Friday, April 28 at noon until Monday, April 30, 2018 at 8 p.m. Results of the lottery will be available on Wednesday, May 9.

Be sure to make an online reservation for tickets, starting in April, at recreation.gov as this firefly-watching event is popular. 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.

Fireflies lit up at night.

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.