Fireflies Light up the Smokies


Spend some time outside this summer at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to watch the synchronous fireflies. The annual lottery to be eligible to view this incredible display opens this Friday, April 29 at 10 a.m. and closes Tuesday, May 3 at 10 a.m. 

These firefly flash patterns are a natural occurrence of Photinus carolinus and part of their mating display. The lights vary among species, and they help male and female fireflies to recognize and find each other. The flashing lights of the fireflies are their way of communicating with each other. 

This is a special opportunity not to be missed. Knoxville resident Allison Barker Watson has been lucky enough to view this phenomenon several times. “It was amazing, like standing in the middle of a stadium and thousands of cameras twinkling around you. The lights were not normal yellow firefly light, more bright white,” she says. “Everything would be dark then you would see one single light start to pulse, like establishing a beat, then a few more would join in, and then more, and the center would gradually grow and grow outward, surrounding the area in a synchronous light show.”

Watson describes the experience as magical. And those who win the firefly lottery will get the chance to experience the magic, too, at the Elkmont Campground beginning on June 3 and running through June 10.

Anyone can apply for the opportunity to view this unique phenomenon by entering a lottery for a vehicle pass here. All applications are treated equally no matter the time or date of entry as long as it is within the window of when applications are accepted. Lottery applications have the choice to enter two possible dates to participate in the viewing. 

In order to make the most of this window of time, access to the Elkmont area will be limited during the firefly viewing dates. This will reduce traffic congestion and keep all visitors attending safe, all while minimizing light and noise disturbances to the fireflies. 

Eight hundred vehicle passes are available for this experience, which equates to about 100 passes per night. The results will be available on Friday, May 13. All vehicle passes provide admission for parking at Elkmont for a vehicle that has a maximum of seven occupants, so this is the perfect opportunity to carpool. 

The selection process for the lottery is done by a computer drawing that randomly selects applicants. Applicants will be charged a small fee of $1, but if selected, the fee for a reservation for the event is $24. This covers the cost of the pass, restroom access, supplies, and employee costs. The parking passes are non-refundable, non-transferable, and are good only for the date they are issued. 

For more information about the synchronous fireflies, visit

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