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Fireflies, or lightning bugs, can be found all over the eastern parts of North America, but the Great Smoky Mountains is one destination that attracts thousands of visitors year after year to see the Elkmont fireflies. But why?
Every year, in late May and early June, the Elkmont fireflies (sometimes also referenced to as Sugarlands Visitor Center fireflies) in the Smoky Mountains National Park light up the sky. These fireflies are special because they synchronize — all lighting up at once! If you’ve never visited to see the synchronous fireflies event at Elkmont, it’s time you do!
2021 Elkmont Fireflies Event in the Smoky Mountains
Official dates for the shuttle service to the viewing area for this year’s fireflies event have not yet been announced.
In 2020, this event was cancelled due to the pandemic. This year, the park is taking extra precautions to keep visitors as safe as possible during the event. When they announce the lottery information and details, there will be more about measures being put in place to keep people safe.
Parking passes are required to see the Elkmont fireflies. This parking pass gives your vehicle access to the parking lot at Sugarlands Visitor Center on the evening of your visit.
Like the past couple of years, parking passes for viewing the Elkmont fireflies in the Smoky Mountains will be distributed through a lottery system. In previous years, the parking passes would go on sale and would sell out quickly on a first come, first served basis.
Dates You Need to Know
- April 30: Event and lottery details will be announced
Vehicle Passes Distributed through Lottery System
Vehicle passes will be distributed through a lottery system. As usual, the demand for parking passes exceeds the number of parking passes available, and interest in the event continues to grow each year.
How It Works
- There will be a 3-day period open for visitors to apply to receive a parking pass.
- All applications will go through a randomized lottery system to determine results. In the application process, you will apply for a regular pass or a large-vehicle pass. You will also choose 2 possible dates that you will be able to attend over the event period.
- Results of the lottery will be determined soon. Winners will be assigned a date to attend the event during the results period. All lottery applicants will be notified by e-mail that they were “successful” and awarded a parking pass or “unsuccessful” and not able to secure a parking pass.
- Unfortunately, not everyone can be accommodated for the event since, typically, the number of people entering for a parking pass is much greater than the number of passes available.
How does the lottery choose winners?
- The lottery system is a randomized computer drawing system to select applications.
- There is no fee to enter the lottery in 2020
- Lottery winners will be charged a $1 application fee. Successful applicants will be awarded a parking pass and charged $24 to help cover the cost of viewing supplies and nightly personnel to manage the viewing opportunity at Sugarlands Visitor Center and Elkmont. The parking pass permits parking at Sugarlands Visitor Center and allows guests to ride the shuttle to the Elkmont viewing area. There is a $2 fee per person to ride the shuttle. It is cash only, so please bring exact change.
- Arrival times will be assigned to lottery winners to relieve traffic congestion.
- Parking passes are non-refundable, non-transferable, and good only for the individual issue date.
- There is a limit of one lottery application per household per season.
What Are My Chances of Getting a Parking Pass?
- It’s difficult to determine your odds because we don’t know how many people will submit an application.
How do I apply?
Visit http://www.recreation.gov/ for all official details and the application. Take note that the application will not be visible online until the lottery is open.
Directions to Sugarlands Visitor Center
What to Take to See the Elkmont Fireflies in the Smoky Mountains
You can expect the event to last between 3-4 hours (from the time you park to the time you arrive back to your car). We definitely recommend you plan your evening so you eat a good dinner before heading to the national park.
The National Park Service recommends visitors:
- Pack a foldable chair or blanket for the viewing area
- Cover your flashlight with red or blue cellophane to prevent interrupting the fireflies
- Stay on the trail at all times and don’t catch the fireflies
- Pack up your garbage, and don’t leave it in the national park
If you need other details about the Elkmont fireflies event in the Smoky Mountains, you can visit the National Park Service website by clicking here.
- “Fireflies” aren’t flies. And “lightning bugs” aren’t bugs.
Seems strange, right? Your entire life, you’ve probably been calling them “fireflies” or “lightning bugs.” But, in fact, they’re not flies or bugs at all–they’re actually beetles!
- There are 2,000 species of fireflies in the world.
Fireflies are found on every continent except Antarctica. In North America, there’s over 150 documented species of fireflies that have been found.
- There are 19 species of fireflies in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
In the national park alone, you can find over 19 species of fireflies. The synchronous fireflies (the Elkmont fireflies) are only one of the species in the Smokies. In fact, they are the only species in America who can synchronize their light patterns, so it’s quite a sight!
- Not all fireflies glow in the dark.
Unfortunately, not all fireflies light up the dark night sky! In the United States, when you travel west of the Rocky Mountains, chances are you’ll see very few glowing fireflies, if you are lucky enough to see any at all! Thankfully, we’ve got plenty of glowing lightning bugs in the Smoky Mountain area! And, of course, we have plenty of Elkmont fireflies lighting up the sky during the annual synchronous fireflies event.
When you visit to see the Elkmont fireflies, you’re actually watching these lightning bugs in their annual mating ritual. The fireflies glow in the dark, each with a specific flashing pattern. Female fireflies don’t do too much flying, and they stay near the ground, so the males are usually the ones lighting up the sky. When a female becomes interested in a male, she will blink back from the ground.
- Fireflies find their homes in different habitats.
Like many species, fireflies can be found in all sorts of habitats, from wooded areas to open fields. A bit of helpful information if you’re searching to find fireflies: look near water. Fireflies like humid environments, so these water area provide the moisture in the air that’s just what they need.
Of course, the Elkmont fireflies have made their home in the forest of the Smoky Mountains!
Video: Learn More About Elkmont Fireflies in the Smoky Mountains
Making Memories at Elkmont
Fireflies have been bringing families together for hundreds of years. Don’t you remember running outside on those hot summer nights to watch the fireflies light up all around you? Now you can make those memories with your kids at the synchronous Elkmont fireflies event in the Great Smoky Mountains.
To learn more about other great events in the area, take a look at our Smoky Mountain events calendar.