Every summer, something very special takes place in the Smokies. Photinus carolinus, a firefly species that flashes synchronously, emerge in Smoky Mountain National Park to mate between May and June, and the spectacle is truly breathtaking!
The Smokies are home to the largest population of synchronous fireflies in the Western Hemisphere. The hub of firefly activity is the Elkmont viewing area, which is located near the Little River and Jakes Creek Trailheads. The show that these fireflies put on is dazzling and unforgettable. The synchronous fireflies- also referred to as Elkmont fireflies or Sugarlands Visitor Center fireflies- match their light flashing to the other fireflies they are around. Sometimes this means that the fireflies flash in unison, but other times it creates an effect like rolling light waves.
For 2021, the official synchronous firefly viewings will take place June 1 through June 8. A limited number of viewers are allowed at each viewing event. The ticket lottery has already closed, but that doesn't mean that you can't participate in the fun! If you visit Elkmont on May 30, May 31, June 9, or June 10 (a day or two before or after the official viewing events), then you should still be able to witness the synchronous fireflies. You can also head down the Cades Cove on a summer evening to see a large display of (non-synchronous but still beautiful) fireflies.
When viewing synchronous fireflies, remember that any light you bring will disrupt the fireflies' rhythms. Flashlights, headlights, and cell phones all seriously impact synchronous flashing. Visitors should plan to bring low-powered red lighting. The National Park Service says "Cover your flashlight with red cellophane or use a flashlight with a red light filter, use your flashlight only when walking to your viewing spot, point your flashlight at the ground, and turn off your flashlight when you find your viewing spot." Visitors should also stay on designated trails or paved surfaces at all times.