Everything You Need to Know About Seeing the Synchronous Fireflies in the Smoky Mountains

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Everything You Need to Know About Seeing the Synchronous Fireflies in the Smoky Mountains

If you’re headed to see the synchronous fireflies this year, you’ve probably already planned your trip somewhat.  When I went last year, I had January 1st marked on my planner for months and as soon as midnight hit – I wasn’t kissing my boyfriend or hitting the bars, I was booking my campsite at Elkmont Campground.  I’m wild, I know.  The reason I was doing this is that the campsites open up six months ahead of time and during the time of the synchronous fireflies, they book up almost immediately.  Even being ready right at midnight, the sites were already limited.  It had been a dream of mine to witness the synchronized fireflies lighting up the dark forest in the Smoky Mountains for several years – ever since I first heard about them.  I’m so excited that I finally ticked this item off my bucket list.  There’s not a ton of information out there about this once in a lifetime event so I thought I’d put together a guide on everything you need to know about seeing the synchronous fireflies in the Smoky Mountains.

Every summer, between late May to early June, the synchronous fireflies come out to show us what they’re made of and it really is something you have to see to believe.  Pictures, videos, and even what I’m telling you here doesn’t do it justice.  Hell, I quickly found out that trying to take pictures of them was impossible (for my camera equipment) so I just put my camera up and enjoyed the moment – something we all should do every once in a while.

How to See the Synchronous Fireflies

Elkmont is the place to be to view the fireflies which is located within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  The event is ever popular, as I mentioned before, and thus they instituted a lottery system to obtain the parking passes for the shuttle period.  During the “event,” Elkmont is closed at a certain time at night with the exception of shuttle users and campers in Elkmont Campground.  Therefore, the ONLY two ways to see the synchronous fireflies at Elkmont is get your campsite like I did or get the parking passes through the lottery system.  The campground, in my opinion, is the best option.  For one, you know way further in advance that you have it.  Secondly, it’s just easier access as I’ll explain later.

Here is the page for the lottery.  Event dates announced on April 25th.  Lottery opens this year on April 28th and closes May 1st with the lottery recipients announced May 10th.

EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT SEEING THE SYNCHRONOUS FIREFLIES

What time See the Fireflies

The fireflies are at their peak around 10:00-11:30pm.  It doesn’t get super dark (you want it to be like pitch black) until around 9:00pm; however, I would encourage getting to where you want to sit while it is still light out because when it’s dark, it is very dark.  Stay until it’s later though – it’s so worth it!

What to Take During the Viewing

  • Blanket (it can still get chilly late at night in the Smokies)
  • Chair
  • Drinks + Snacks (don’t forget to carry your trash out)
  • Bug Spray
  • Entertainment (books, etc – you’ll want to have something while its still light while you’re waiting)

Where to View the Fireflies

EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT SEEING THE SYNCHRONOUS FIREFLIES

You can go either one of two areas.  At the end of the campground, where my arrow is pointing, there is an unmarked short pathway.  You will walk down this pathway and there will be rangers set up to give you red cellophane to put over your flashlights and phones.  At this table, you can go to your immediate right and up a hill.  This is the Levi Trentham Cemetery.  It is not nearly as crowded with people but I would say it was not as heavily saturated with fireflies either but still extremely wonderful!  Your other option is to go left at the table and you can go up Jake’s Creek Trail.  This area is busier because you’re getting campers and the people who are bused in whereas, I think mainly only campers go to the cemetery.  While more crowded, this was definitely more saturated with fireflies.

If you’re camping, you’re obviously better off staying on the end closest to the trailheads.  It will be less of a walk in the evenings but you’ll also have more people walking by your tent late into the night too.  I found the campsite area I most would have liked was around K16 – it was beautiful, right next to Little River and relatively close to the trailheads.

EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT SEEING THE SYNCHRONOUS FIREFLIES

What to Do During the Day

So, the fireflies don’t come out until late into the night so what do you do to pass the time during the day?  Check out my post here to find out.  Here’s some other options too:

Where to Stay

Like I mentioned, I would highly recommend staying AT the campground.  If you’re not able to get a campsite though or camping isn’t your thing, I really enjoyed my stay at the Bearskin Lodge in Gatlinburg.  It’s on the South side (closer to Elkmont) and walking distance to everything within Gatlinburg.  Here is my review.

What other questions do you have about this amazing event?

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EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT SEEING THE SYNCHRONOUS FIREFLIES

Ashley is the mastermind behind A Southern Gypsy, a travel blog focused adventure, outdoors, wildlife and Vegan food! In between bigger trips, she is delivering the best of her hometown, Nashville. Hates mustard & pickles. Needs coffee to function. Other passions | activism, minimalism, zero waste, books + writing.

5 Comments

  1. Charles McCool

    April 11, 2017 at 11:44 AM

    /i heard about these fireflies earlier this week and now again. Never before. Love that there is still so much in the world to explore, discover, see, and learn about.

  2. Mike McLeish

    April 17, 2017 at 5:33 AM

    I’d never heard of synchronous fireflies before. This is really interesting and something I’d love to see one day. Thanks for the detailed guide, Ashley.

    • Ashley Hubbard

      April 20, 2017 at 8:28 AM

      No problem! I hope you’ll get to see them one day 🙂

  3. Kathe Carnahan

    May 23, 2017 at 5:23 PM

    Thank you for this wonderful info! We are going to be in that area during the firefly time but did not get in on the lottery. However, your info helped me get a camping site for one night during our stay. Perfect!

    • Ashley Hubbard

      May 23, 2017 at 8:00 PM

      Yay! I’m so glad you’ll get to stay at the campsite! Its the best way to see the fireflies in my opinion anyway 🙂

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