#6 of 24 National Park Things To Do

View The Amazing Synchronous Fireflies In The Smoky Mountains

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View The Amazing Synchronous Fireflies In The Smoky Mountains (Summer 2023)
Written by: David Angotti
Local Expert's Rating:
5.0 / 5
The Bottom Line:

Although parking passes can be VERY difficult to procure, the synchronous fireflies are an unforgettable experience that you simply MUST experience. The cost is minimal and it is a natural phenomenon that will amaze you.

- The SmokyMountains.com Local Expert Team

Updated: 5/12/2023

Located just a few minutes from the hustle and bustle of downtown Gatlinburg and its millions of summertime visitors is an incredible natural phenomenon known as synchronous fireflies. This breathtaking show put on by nature resembles a psychedelic combination of stars falling and fireworks exploding – It is an immersive experience you will never forget.

The tens of thousands of lightning bugs gather in swarms and flash in harmony as the entire forest alternates between light and darkness. Right here in the Smoky Mountains, near the Elkmont campground, is the largest population of synchronous fireflies in the Western Hemisphere.

Fireflies Or Lightning Bugs? Beetles.
While people commonly call these amazing creatures fireflies or lightning bugs, they are actually small flying beetles with an abdomen that lights up. There are over 2,000 species of bioluminescent beetles in the world with 125 in North America alone and 19 species found within the Smoky Mountains National Park.

Although it takes the lightning bugs one to two years to mature from larvae into adults, the lifespan of an adult is extremely short. Adult fireflies only live two to three weeks and don’t eat any more meals once they are an adult.

Why Do They Flash?
The distinct flashing pattern of the synchronous fireflies is difficult to describe and nearly impossible to photograph or catch on film. The pattern includes five to eight bursts of light in a short time period followed by complete darkness for approximately five seconds. The light they emit, which produces no heat, is due to a chemical reaction of luciferin and oxygen and is used to attract a mate.

When Can I View The Synchronous Fireflies In The Smoky Mountains?
The 2023 dates for the official Smoky Mountains National Park synchronous fireflies event will be held June 4th – June 11th, 2023.

How Do I Get Tickets For Synchronous Fireflies In The Smoky Mountains?
The lottery period for the 2023 synchronous fireflies official park passes open on Friday, April 28 at 10:00 AM and closes Monday, May 1 at 8:00 PM.

Once the passes are on sale, you will be able to purchase them from Recreation.gov. For each of the seven evenings, there are 111 advance parking passes (first-come, first-serve) and 36 large vehicle passes (first-come, first-serve).

Each of the lottery applicants will receive a notification on whether or not a vehicle pass will be awarded on Thursday, May 11, 2023. If you are selected, you will be charged a $25.00 (per vehicle) fee for the pass by Recreation.gov and an additional $2 (cash only) fee per person while boarding the round-trip shuttle to the viewing area.

Note: If you do not procure a ticket from Recreation.gov, please do not contact the park – they don’t have additional tickets or passes.

Elkmont Entrance
What To Expect
The parking pass that you purchased will allow one vehicle to park at the Sugarlands Visitor Center (must have a pass). After parking your vehicle, you and your group will ride the trolley to the Elkmont campground area. The trolley, which accepts only cash, will cost an additional $2 per person for the round-trip ride to Elkmont.

Since flashlights disrupt the fireflies and are an annoyance to other visitors, the Rangers and National Park require that the lens is covered in red or blue cellophane and that the flashlights are only used to navigate to and from the viewing area.

The entire trip will last between three and six hours. Once you are seated, get comfortable and expect the activity of synchronized fireflies to start up around dusk. However, if the moon is bright, expect this to delay the start of the show by 30 minutes or more. We highly recommend bringing some small chairs or a blanket to sit on.

NOTE: The synchronous firefly lottery winner is required to be present in the vehicle with current photo identification. The pass is non-transferrable and the vehicle will not be permitted to enter without the lottery winner present. In addition, only one application per household is allowed. 

Abrams Falls Trailhead
Alternate Viewing Option:
If you are not fortunate enough to score parking passes for the main event at Elkmont, don’t be too surprised. Unfortunately, only approximately 1,000 fortunate people per evening get to visit the Elkmont area while the lightning bugs are at their peak.

However, all is not lost! We have partnered with a local outfitter who will pick you up at a designated meeting spot, transport you to an alternate(secret!) firefly viewing area, heavy hor d’oeuvres at a boutique pavilion around a fire, explain the significance of this phenomenon, and finally lead you a few steps into the wilderness where Mother Nature will put on her magic display! The tour will only require minimal walking and chairs will be provided. THIS SELLS OUT FAST!

Insider Tips:

  • The synchronous fireflies lottery period for 2022 is Friday, April 28, 2023, 10:00 AM – Monday, May 1, 2023, 08:00 PM.
  • The synchronous fireflies event dates are June 4th – June 11th, 2023.
  • Lottery winners will be notified on Thursday, May 11, 2023
  • On cool nights (below 50º Fahrenheit) and on misty evenings following rain, the flashing may be greatly reduced or altogether absent.
  • Since the first shuttle back to the parking area is typically 9:30 pm (or later), it is a good idea to eat dinner before going.
  • It is highly recommended to bring bug spray and chairs or a blanket to sit on.
  • Did you fail to procure a pass? Consider visiting within three days on either side of the event when passes are not required. Alternatively, you may want to book with a private operator that has some limited availability (first come, first serve).

Experiential Camping & Firefly Experience:

Are you looking for an incredibly unique and fulfilling experience? We have partnered with a reputable local company to provide a once-in-a-lifetime camping and firefly experience. Imagine all of the fun of camping without having to buy or hassle with the gear! This experience includes the following:

  • Your guide will set up your choice of two or four-person tents. For larger families, they have other options as well.
  • Each person will be provided a two-inch inflatable sleeping pad, sleeping bag, and sleeping pillow
  • Three meals will be provided including a culturally significant dinner around a campfire (weather permitting) – an example of this type of meal is mountain fajitas and cornbread with cast iron cobbler for dessert
  • You will have a wonderful evening of after-dark magic including all the nocturnal realm has to offer! Prepare to hunt for the world-renowned synchronized fireflies, the mystical blue ghost fireflies, cute salamanders and so much more!
  • While this is an incredible family experience, we recommend only bringing children ages nine or older.
  • This is much more than just a synchronous firefly adventure! This is your chance for an all-inclusive, hassle-free overnight camping adventure with all meals. Your knowledgeable guide will help ensure this is the highlight of your trip to the Smoky Mountains.
  • Quote and book this tour online