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

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This content was most recently updated on January 25th, 2020

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Headed to see the synchronous fireflies in the Smoky Mountains? Here is everything you need to know before you go! Have fun experiencing this once in a lifetime experience!

If you’re headed to see the synchronous fireflies this year, you’ve probably already planned your trip somewhat.  When I went, 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.  

→ NEW INFORMATION – instead of campsites opening up six months prior, they now open up one year prior according to their website.

Reservations for campsites and picnic shelters may be made up to one year prior to check-in.

If you don’t score a campsite, keep checking back every couple of weeks as people cancel their reservations. I’ve seen open spots very close to the date when they were booked beforehand. 

Since you won’t know the exact dates of peak time one year prior, you can counting on being pretty good if you book the last 10 days of May through the first 10 days of June. Looking back over the past years, this usually always when the peak time is happening. 

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It had been a dream of mine to witness the synchronous 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.

synchronous fireflies

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 by getting 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.  The lottery typically opens the end of April with winners announced mid-May.

synchronous fireflies

Synchronous Fireflies – What Time Do They Come Out

The fireflies are at their peak around 10:00-11:30 pm.  

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It doesn’t get super dark (you want it to be like pitch black) until around 9:00 pm; 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!


Synchronous Fireflies: 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, playing cards, etc – you’ll want to have something while its still light while you’re waiting)

Where to View the Synchronous Fireflies

synchronous fireflies

You can go to either one of the two areas to see the synchronous fireflies. 

At the end of the campground, where my arrow is pointed, 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.  

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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.

synchronous fireflies elkmont campground map


“P1000561” by edmondo gnerre is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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?  

There are plenty of things to do to stay entertained during the day.  Here are some other options too:


Where to Stay While Viewing Synchronous Fireflies

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.  

What other questions do you have about this amazing event

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synchronous fireflies
synchronous fireflies
synchronous fireflies

Traveler. Freelance Writer. Blogger. Vegan. Risk Taker. Voice for the Voiceless.

12 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 🙂

  4. Amanda W.

    June 1, 2017 at 1:51 PM

    Great article! I live close to the Park, but did not win the lottery. So yesterday, I checked the rec.gov site and got lucky. One night open this weekend for fireflies, and on the river! Cannot wait.

    • Ashley Hubbard

      June 3, 2017 at 12:29 PM

      This is fantastic news and you’re super lucky!! Enjoy!!

  5. Jan wilson

    March 20, 2018 at 10:37 AM

    We will be there June 13. Is that too late for fireflies or is it multiple nights?

    • Ashley Hubbard

      March 20, 2018 at 3:29 PM

      Jan,

      It looks like the window is May 30-June 6. This is the time they anticipate the fireflies being the “strongest” and the time when a parking pass is required to visit. I would say you still have a chance of seeing them a week later though and you won’t have to worry about the hassle of getting a shuttle ticket!

  6. Caroline Gerardo

    April 17, 2018 at 5:40 PM

    I’m traveling by myself with video equipment – can I hitchhike into the park then pay for the shuttle? How far of a hike is it if I walk and would they allow a foot hiker in?

  7. Lane

    May 23, 2018 at 1:13 PM

    I just booked a campsite at Elkmont for June 7! We arent’ going to actually stay there; we have a room booked in Gatlinburg. The plan is to drive up to the campsite in the afternoon and picnic at our site until it’s time to walk to the viewing areas you mentioned. My dad will be with me, and although he can walk short distances, he will probably be in a wheelchair. How accessible do you think the trails are for a regular push wheelchair? Which viewing site would you recommend? I’ve spoken with someone at the campground, and they said there will probably be a ranger who will help us, but I’m nervous about getting him to where he can see the fireflies. Thanks for any insights!

    • Ashley Hubbard

      May 24, 2018 at 11:26 PM

      Hi Lane! So happy you get to experience this amazing event! I would suggest the Jake’s Creek Trail – you’ll need to access it via the paved road/path instead of via the trail (the one I marked with an arrow on the map). There are definitely rangers there to help. My main suggestion to you would be get there before dark so you can scope it out. Perhaps, let the rest of your party hang out at the campsite while you go get a feel for where you need to go. Don’t stress too much – you’ll have a wonderful time! <3

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