Lonely Planet Writer

Here's how to see synchronous fireflies light up Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Each year, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park lights up with synchronous fireflies in an incredible spectacle and anyone who wants to see it has to enter a lottery this weekend.

Synchronous fireflies (Photinus carolinus) flashing light during their mating season at Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
Synchronous fireflies (Photinus carolinus) flashing light during their mating season at Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Image by Putt Sakdhnagool/Getty Images

The event draws thousands of people to an area near the popular Elmont Campground in the Tennessee portion of the park, to see the fireflies light up. What makes the event special is that visitors can see the phenomenon of Photinus carolinus, a particular species of firefly that flashes synchronously.

Officials at the most-visited national park in the USA have announced this year’s viewing dates and that all those who want to go between Tuesday, 30 May until Tuesday, 6 June must obtain a parking pass through a lottery system, and then take a shuttle to the site.

Since 2006 the park has limited access using a necessary shuttle service, designed to reduce traffic and minimize any impact on the unique fireflies. The service runs from the Sugarlands Visitor Center for eight days of predicted “peak activity” during the fireflies’ two-week mating period.

Synchronous fireflies in Great Smoky Mountains, in Tennessee.
Synchronous fireflies in Great Smoky Mountains, in Tennessee. Image by Nan Zhong/Getty Images

Those eager to go can apply starting Friday, 28 April at noon local time until Monday, 1 May at 8 p.m. Results of the lottery, which is free and uses a randomized computer drawing to ensure fairness, will be released on Wednesday, 10 May.

There will be a total of 1800 vehicle passes available, and applicants must apply for either a regular-parking pass or large-vehicle parking pass and then can pick two dates to attend the event over the eight-day viewing period. The winners will get a parking spot at the visitor center and will get to take the shuttle to see the event. The shuttle service is the only way that visitors can get there, except for registered campers staying at the Elkmont Campground. People cannot walk the Elkmont entrance road due to safety concerns, according to a statement from the park.

To apply to the lottery, go to www.recreation.gov and search for “Firefly Event”.