The Lottery To See Synchronous Fireflies in the Smoky Mountains

The synchronous fireflies are an amazing natural spectacle, lighting up the Great Smoky Mountains National Park each year.

The fireflies are so popular now that the National Parks Service has a lottery reservation system to see them.

The 2024 Firefly Season

 forest view of fireflies at elkmont campground's syncronous fireflies

Update: The 2024 season for the lottery has closed (we didn’t get one!)

Elkmont Campground is one of the best viewing spots, and the event is so popular that you must register through a lottery on Recreation.gov .

Elkmont Campground is located just 20 minutes south of Gatlinburg.

On April 23, the NPS released the dates for the 2024 season.

  • Friday, April 26 at 10 am EDT: Lottery opens
  • Monday, April 29 at 11:59 pm EDT: Lottery closes
  • Mid-May: All lottery applicants will be notified if their application was successful or unsuccessful
  • June 3-10: Annual firefly viewing opportunity

You select two preferred dates and will be notified if you’re successful. A $1.00 application fee applies, with a $24.00 charge for successful applicants.

Important Dates for 2024

  • Late April: Announcement of viewing dates and opening of the vehicle pass lottery.
  • Early-May: Lottery closes.
  • Mid-May: Notification of lottery results.
  • June: The firefly viewing takes place June 3-10.

About The Fireflies

 forest view of fireflies at elkmont campground's syncronous fireflies

Fireflies, or lightning bugs, spend most of their life in larval form, feasting on snails and worms. Adult fireflies live for 3-4 weeks, often without feeding.

Their flashing patterns, varying in color from greenish-yellow to blue or white, are unique to each species and play a role in mating rituals.

The Phenomenon of Synchrony

The synchronous fireflies (Photinus carolinus) in the park have synchronized flashing patterns—a series of 5-8 flashes followed by an 8-second pause.

Synchrony ensures that female fireflies can recognize males of their species, which is important in a habitat with predatory firefly species!

When to Witness the Display

The mating season, lasting 2-3 weeks, varies annually based on weather conditions.

Peak activity has ranged from late May to mid-June. This can be changed based on rain and temperature, with the best viewing on misty evenings or when the temperature is above 50º Fahrenheit.

Viewing Etiquette

  • Use red cellophane-covered flashlights or red light filters.
  • Keep flashlights pointed at the ground.
  • Turn off flashlights once in your viewing spot.
  • Avoid capturing fireflies, stay on trails, and pack out trash.

Prepare for a Magical Experience

If you’re lucky enough to attend, the synchronous firefly event in the Great Smoky Mountains offers an amazing display!

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