There’s nothing quite like the Great Smoky Mountains in the spring. Blooming wildflowers, misty mornings that give way to warm afternoons, falling asleep under the stars after a long winter spent indoors. Spring is also when fireflies start to emerge again and perform their annual mating rituals. And, while they’re doing so, they put on an absolutely hypnotic, utterly mesmerizing synchronized lights show that is unlike anything anywhere else in the world.
Many species of fireflies can be found throughout the park, but only one, Photinus carolinus, is synchronous; the females synchronize with a nearby male as part of their mating ritual. P. carolinus fireflies are an exceptionally rare breed and though they can be found throughout the park, there’s a good population of them in the Elkmont district of the Smokies. Elkmont is an abandoned resort town tucked away in the woods, and the quaint but crumbling cabins dotted around add to the sense of nostalgia as you watch the show. Who doesn’t have fond memories of chasing fireflies in your yard or while camping out?
Watching the firefly lights show has become a “thing” of late, attracting crowds to witness the hypnotic occurrence. Perhaps the thought that this phenomenon is something that might not be around much longer is driving the popularity… fireflies are delicate creatures. If you want front row seats to the action, the NPS has an annual lottery for parking passes and access to a shuttle that will take you to Elkmont. Or you can always hike in! The phenomenon occurs in late spring, usually in May and June.