Set Your Alarms: The Lottery to See Fireflies in the Great Smoky Mountains Opens Friday
Remember chasing fireflies around your backyard as a kid? Now imagine an entire forest lit up by their twinkling lights. That's exactly what happens every spring, when thousands of fireflies congregate in Great Smoky Mountains National Park to mate — and create a spectacular light show.
And these aren't just any fireflies. There are at least 19 species of fireflies that live in the park, but these synchronous (or Elkmont) fireflies are one of just a handful of species on Earth that synchronize their flash patterns. The males fly around flashing the lights in their abdomens, while the stationary females respond with a flash. No one knows exactly why this phenomenon occurs, but seeing thousands of fireflies flashing in the dark all at once certainly creates a magical effect.
So magical, in fact, that due to overwhelming demand, the park limits the number of visitors who can enter the viewing area. Prospective viewers must enter a lottery system on Recreation.gov in order to score one of the coveted parking passes required to enter the park.
This year's spectacle will take place from May 30 to June 6, but the lottery opens on Friday, April 26 at 8am EST and closes on Monday, April 29 at 8pm EST. Winners will be announced on May 10.
During the peak firefly viewing season, which typically occurs for just two weeks out of every year, a total of 1,800 parking passes will be distributed. Each pass will cost $25, will be valid for just one day and will be assigned an arrival time between 6:30pm and 7:30pm. Visitors will need to park at the Sugarlands Visitor Center and take a shuttle to the Elkmont viewing area, where the fireflies put on their light show.
Park officials ask that visitors cover their flashlights with red or blue cellophane and only use them when walking to their viewing spot to avoid disrupting the fireflies. Visitors should protect the park by staying on the trails at all times, not trying to catch the fireflies and not leaving trash behind.