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Where and When to See the Synchronized Fireflies in Gatlinburg

Where and When to See the Synchronized Fireflies in Gatlinburg

One of only two spots in the world to view synchronized fireflies is in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park just outside of Gatlinburg, TN. One of my favorite memories as a kid is running around chasing fireflies on a warm summer evening. My brother and I would capture fireflies, put them in a mason jar, and poke holes in the lid. Our plan was to put them in our room to have as a natural night light. Unfortunately their glow didn’t last long once in captivity, and we usually set them free.

As an adult the yellow glow of fireflies lighting up a lawn always reminds me of summer nights spent cupping my hands around these luminescent insects. I smile and dream of those carefree days running barefoot in the grass.

Firefly nights don’t have to be a thing of the past for those visiting the Great Smoky Mountains. Every June Adults and children alike will be dazzled by the mystical glow of huge amounts of synchronous fireflies light up the night in the Great Smoky Mountain Park. This natural wonder is one of only two places in the whole world (the other is Southeast Asia) where people can view synchronous fireflies buzzing with light in unison. The fireflies put on quite a show for spectators often glowing and lighting up in many different patterns: sometimes in unison, other times in waves across hillsides, or in short bursts that glow and end in a period of darkness.

This is all a part of the mating game. Every species of firefly has unique flash patterns that help them recognize each other. Just like humans, fireflies try to attract attention by being flashy. Well, literally in this case, the males try to grab the attention of their mate by flying and flashing. The stationary females respond with another flash. This call and response type of mating starts to happen in sync. Then suddenly viewers will see the fireflies lighting up together for as long as six seconds.

This phenomenon occurs during the mating season for only two weeks each year during mid-June. As the season beginnings a few fireflies start flashing and then others join in each night. The synchronous fireflies reach a peak night when the greatest number of insects shows light. After peak the numbers decline each day.

The synchronous firefly show can be viewed from the Elkmont area in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park along Little River Hiking Trail. The fireflies usually begin twinkling at dusk each night. So bring a blanket or small lawn chair, a flashlight (be sure to cover it when you get to your viewing post) and refreshments to truly enjoy experience this extraordinary wonder of nature.

Directions: To view the fireflies, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in cooperation with the City of Gatlinburg will operate a trolley service June 2-June 10, 2012. People wishing to vie the fireflies during this time must ride a trolley. There is a trolly stop in the Arts and Crafts Community just outside Elk Springs Resort Gatlinburg cabin rentals. The cost is $1 per person to ride to Elkmont. For the first time, advance reservations are required for this trolley. Visit to reserve your trolley seat.