Blog for Zip line Attraction in the Smoky Mountains
Located in Pigeon Forge, TN and near Gatlinburg and Sevierville.
By Ross Bodhi Ogle
Posted on May 21, 2019
A few weeks ago, we shared information about how to enter the lottery to receive a parking pass to see the synchronous fireflies in the Elkmont section of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Notifications went out on May 10, and unfortunately, most who applied online for a pass weren't fortunate enough to be selected (we actually count ourselves in that number).
However, many of you may have been among the lucky ones to receive one of the thousand daily passes, which are required to park at Sugarlands Visitor Center and be shuttled to Elkmont for the firefly viewings. Also, it's very possible that some of you visiting Elkmont immediately before or after the official May 30 to June 6 viewing period might encounter this natural phenomenon as well. If you wind up getting to see the synchronous fireflies this year, here are some guidelines and suggestions for making the experience a positive one for you as well as for your fellow park visitors.
But first, let's take a brief detour to explain exactly what synchronous fireflies are for those who may not have heard of them. These fireflies are a specific species that are found only in Great Smoky Mountains National Park (the largest population in the Western Hemisphere) and one other location in the world (that we know of).
Each night at dusk, tens of thousands of these lightning bugs gather and flash in unison as the forest advances toward darkness. While there's a misconception that all the bugs' individual flashes of light are in perfect synch, it's more accurate to say that these insects (a species of beetles, actually) repeatedly emit their lights as a group during regular intervals and then stop for a few minutes. Then they all start up again for a minute or so and then stop again. This pattern repeats until full darkness sets in.
There are actually 2,000 such species of fireflies worldwide. There are 125 species in North America and 19 in the national park. The fireflies' abdomens light up in a process called bioluminescence. The light is a chemical reaction of luciferin and oxygen and is used to attract a mate. Adult fireflies only live two to three weeks.
If you received a parking pass (and paid the subsequent $25 fee), you will be able to park at Sugarlands and travel as a group by trolley to the Elkmont campground area. (You must also have $2 cash to pay for the trolley ride.) The entire experience lasts three to six hours, so once you walk to the viewing area, it's recommended that you get comfortable and be prepared to wait until dusk for the synchronous lights to begin. If there's a full or bright moon, the fireflies may be delayed in getting started, but in either case, bring a camp chair or blanket to sit on. Bug spray is also encouraged.
You'll need to carry a flashlight to see where to walk in the dark, but since flashlights can disrupt the fireflies or annoy other visitors, park rangers require your flashlight lenses to be covered in red or blue cellophane and that you use them only to find your way to the viewing area.
Keep in mind that shuttles don't start heading back to Sugarlands until 9:30 p.m. or later, so you may want to make sure you've had dinner before setting out on your firefly quest. And finally, if you didn't get a pass, you can try viewing the fireflies during the few days before or after the official viewing period, when passes aren't required, or seeing different pockets of synchronous fireflies in Cades Cove, near the Abrams Falls trailhead, or at Cataloochee Valley.
Observing synchronous fireflies is just one way to enjoy the outdoors of the Great Smoky Mountains. Another is to zipline Gatlinburg by visiting us at Smoky Mountain Ziplines. We're easy to find, we have free parking, and you don't have to win the lottery to get tickets to our canopy tour. Just call us or contact us online today, and we'll make sure you're ziplining in no time!