The Elkmont Synchronous Fireflies: What You Need To Know


Here, in the Great Smoky Mountains, we are surrounded by unparalleled beauty. Rivers and forests. Hiking and camping. Bears. Deer. And Wildlife. Oh my! But as if that is not enough, once a year, we are invited to witness a rare phenomenon that is seen in only a few places in the WORLD: The Elkmont Synchronous Fireflies!

Synchronous fireflies are one of only a few species in the world known to synchronize their flash patterns as part of their reproductive process. This display only lasts for a few weeks out of the year (usually in late May or early June) and we are privileged to have a group of them living right here in the Elkmont area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. 

Elkmont Synchronous FirefliesAs you can imagine, this rare display draws a lot of people, so the Park has created a special event for viewing the fireflies which limits traffic and ensures the best viewing experience for anyone who attends. 

However, getting a ticket to park here requires a bit of preparation. 

A total of 800 vehicle passes will be distributed for the eight-day event (100 per day). Passenger vehicles with a maximum occupancy not to exceed 7 people allowed. This provides an equitable opportunity for interested visitors to obtain a pass for this limited, yet high-demand event. 

Each parking pass is valid only for the specified date. Preferred arrival time to the check in location at the Elkmont viewing area will be between 6pm and 8pm. No late arrivals after 8:15pm will be allowed entry. If you depart, you will not be permitted to re-enter the viewing area.

Parking passes are not transferable. Any commercial use is prohibited. The lottery winner must occupy the vehicle and present a matching photo ID for the vehicle to be admitted.

It goes like this: You pay $1 to apply on their page during the three-day application period, choosing two possible dates that you would like to attend. Just over a week later you will receive notice whether your application was accepted or not. If you are accepted, you will pay a $24 reservation fee. On the day you are scheduled for, you will show your ID and your parking pass at the Sugarlands Visitor Center

Keep reading for important dates and helpful tips from experienced buggies!

Elkmont Synchronous Fireflies2024 dates you need to know: 

Viewing dates will be announced in late April.

Due to the nature of this event, dates can only be determined by park biologists who are studying the environmental factors surrounding the “show”. Dates will be determined prior to the lottery start time and will be posted on their event page at

Firefly Viewing Dates: Monday, June 3rd-Monday, June 10th

Lottery for Parking Passes Opens: 10:00am Friday, April 26th

There will be a link on their official page HERE. You may apply at any time during the three-day open period. You must apply for either a regular parking pass or a large-vehicle parking pass, and then may choose two possible dates. There is a $1 fee to enter the lottery. Check the event page for updates!

Lottery for Vehicle Passes Closes: 11:59pm Monday, April 29th

Results Announced Mid-May

All lottery applicants will be notified that their application was successful (and that they are awarded a vehicle pass) or unsuccessful (and that they were not awarded a vehicle pass). If selected, you will be charged $25 ($1 including the first application fee). Passes are non-refundable, non-transferable (they check your driver’s license at the parking lot, to ensure that it matches the name on your pass) and are good only for the date issued. There is a limit of one lottery application per household per season.

See the Fireflies 

You will go on the date you selected on your application. The fireflies begin their show closer to dark.

The Elkmont viewing area is located near the Little River and Jakes Creek Trailheads. Vehicles will not be allowed to park in the parking spaces at the Little River Trailhead. Follow directions into the assigned parking spots by on-site park personnel.

After checking in at the intersection near the Elkmont Campground Kiosk, parking attendants will direct vehicles into parking spots in the Jakes Creek Trailhead Parking lot, the Appalachian Clubhouse Parking lot and along the exit roadway.

Off-trail foot traffic and white lighting from flashlights, headlights and cell phones significantly disrupts the firefly’s synchronous flashing behavior. Visitors are highly encouraged to bring their own low powered red lighting and must stay on designated trails or paved surfaces at all times. 

Each parking pass is valid only for the specified date. Preferred arrival time to the check in location at the Elkmont viewing area will be between 6pm and 8pm. No late arrivals after 8:15pm will be allowed entry. If you depart, you will not be permitted to re-enter the viewing area.

Elkmont Synchronous FirefliesKnow Before You Go:

Port-a-potties are located at the entrance to the viewing area. There are no “real” bathrooms nearby and there is nowhere to purchase food or drinks so be sure to bring everything you think you’ll need!

BYOS: bring-your-own-seat. Folding chairs and blankets are great.

There is no food available. The event begins at dark (think 9:00pm), so you’ll want to have dinner before you go or while you wait. A lot of families bring coolers and make a picnic of it. Please note alcohol and pets are prohibited. Be sure to clean up after yourself!

Can you hear me now? Reminder…there is no cell service in Elkmont! So, you’ll have to post your selfies later. (Also, it will be dark…so there won’t be a lot of opportunities for pictures anyways. Be prepared to unplug and enjoy!)

Rain, rain go away. There is no cover on the trail. The event page explains that they will cancel in the event of hazardous weather, but you will need to be prepared for rain!

Elkmont Synchronous Fireflies

What else to bring: Bug spray is a must! A light jacket in case you get cool at night. Travel poncho in case of rain. Flashlights (you will receive red cellophane to cover the light that will be provided to you at the base of the trail) to use as you walk and pack up. Any kind of distracting light will ruin the show for everyone, so plan to be in darkness throughout the night. You might keep this in mind if you have younger children.

The area: There is a walking trail that runs directly through the viewing area and people set up their chairs on either side. The Little River runs along the left side of the trail and on the right side are deeper woods. There is no bad spot. There are some super-spooky abandoned cabins throughout the area that are fun to explore!

Timing is key: Sunset at this time of year is usually around 9pm, so there is a wait-time between when you board the trolley and when the show actually starts. Older kids seem to enjoy exploring and picnicking while they wait, but if you have younger kids, you’ll want to take that downtime into consideration. You may want to board the trolley closer to sunset. Early arrival = your choice of viewing spots. Late arrival = less opportunity for boredom, whining, etc.

Some people experience the show for a few minutes and are ready to leave. Others stay well into the night. Just know that you will inevitably find a line on the trail to board the trolleys no matter when you decide to head back. The good news is that the fireflies will still be showing off, so you’ll at least be entertained while you wait!

When the show begins, you’ll know it. “You wait and watch the woods around you darken, wondering if it will ever begin, when suddenly you see a familiar flash. You may think (like I did), ‘Wait – I see this every night in my yard!’ But the flashes begin to multiply…and all at once they sync up, flashing together five, six, seven times before taking a pause and then starting up again.” – Raven, one of our former contributors, is an ESF pro! 

“It’s totally mesmerizing and once they’re all doing their thing you’ll realize that you’re in the middle of something really, really special.”


Important Links:

Official Event Page

Light Show Etiquette

More tips and Information 



  1. Yes! You can go before the viewing time. There will still be fireflies before the selected dates. If it falls between those dates, then you would not have access.


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