Fireflies (also known as lightning bugs) are known for putting on one of nature’s great light shows, synchronizing their “lanterns” to create amazing patterns while flying around during their mating rituals. Many people know the season for viewing the fascinating creatures is worth the wait, and that’s why Great Smoky Mountains National Park puts on an annual firefly-viewing event. Tickets are so coveted that the park has created a lottery system and limited vehicle entry to 800 available parking passes.
Winners of the lottery will be able to purchase a parking pass for $24 per vehicle, and each can hold no more than seven passengers. Passes are required to access the Elkmont viewing area, known for having the largest swarms of synchronous fireflies in the Western Hemisphere. After check-in, visitors can leave their vehicles to watch the natural light show. ADA parking is also available for first-come, first-served. The best place to find the unique beetles are Jakes Creek and Little River trails.
Peak mating season lasts for about two weeks. To figure out the best time for viewing, scientists predict the dates using temperature and measuring moisture in the soil. However, there’s no way to guarantee the fireflies will put on a show — and unfortunate events like rainfall or cooler temperatures that fall below 50 degrees can shut the display down.
The lottery for the parking passes opens on April 29, 2022, at 10:00 AM EST and closes on May 3, 2022, at 10:00 AM EST. The application fee is $1. If selected for a parking pass, lottery applicants will be informed by email on May 12. Shows for the event will run from June 3 through June 10. Each pass will be valid for a randomly chosen specified date with an assigned arrival time between 6:00 and 8:00 PM.
Upon arrival, attendees will need to cover their flashlights with red or blue cellophane and turn them off once they’ve found their viewing spot. Leaving trail pathways and catching fireflies is prohibited.
If you’re lucky enough to receive one of those coveted parking passes, get ready for a brightly lit, priceless experience.