One of the reasons the Great Smoky Mountains National Park continues to be the most visited park in the United States is the variety of wildlife you will see when you visit. Home to 65 species of mammals, more than 200 varieties of birds, 67 native fish species, and more than 80 reptiles and amphibians, the Great Smoky Mountains have more wildlife than you will ever be able to see in one visit alone.
But while you may be drawn to see some of these larger critters and creatures—especially the symbol of the Smokies, the American Black Bear—you shouldn’t forget about one of the park’s smallest guests: the synchronous fireflies at Elkmont. These fireflies are one of 19 species that live in the national park and the only species in America that can synchronize their light patterns!
Interested in seeing it for yourself? Below we’ve answered some of your most common questions so you can have the information you need to attend the nation’s only natural light show right here in the Great Smoky Mountains!
What Is It?
The light show provided by the fireflies is part of their mating display each year. Every species of fireflies has a specific light pattern that helps male and female fireflies find one another. Typically, the males flash first, and then the females flash in response.
Scientists are not sure why these specific fireflies flash simultaneously. One theory is that if the males flash their lights together, they will have a better chance at being noticed by the females. But the exact reason is unknown.
Because this event is completely dictated by nature, the dates are subject to change each year. Typically, though, the peak season for these synchronous fireflies is within a 2-week period in late May to mid-June. The 2018 dates for the shuttles to Elkmont will be announced soon, so keep a lookout!
How Do I Get There?
A shuttle system has been set up from the Sugarlands Visitor Center that will escort you to the firefly show at Elkmont. Unless you are camping in the park, this shuttle will be your ONLY access to the Elkmont area this time of year.
To park at the Sugarlands Visitor Center, you MUST purchase a parking pass. Keep in mind that a limited number of these passes are available each year, and they are now on a new lottery system for parking passes. Here’s how the lottery works:
- Enter the date you want to attend, plus one alternate
- Entering the lottery is FREE
- Lottery winners are charged $2.75 for their parking pass
- No refunds, transfers, rain checks, or changes
- Lottery winner must be in vehicle and provide photo ID
- 1 applicant per household
After being shuttled to Elkmont, you will find a variety of small paved areas and easy walking trails within a quarter-mile from the drop-off zone. Rangers will be on-site to provide more information once you are in the park.
When Do I Need to Make Plans?
As soon as possible! This is a very popular event with limited campsites. But there’s no need to get out the camping gear in order to enjoy this unique nature display. Instead, book a beautiful Smoky Mountain cabin with Cabins for YOU, take advantage of the convenient shuttle service to the park, and enjoy a one-of-kind experience that will truly be the highlight of your stay!