Come to the Smokies for the unique synchronous fireflies 2022 show!
It’s almost time for the amazing synchronous fireflies to light up the skies in the Great Smoky Mountains. We’re here to tell you how and when to see them.
Each year in the Smoky Mountains, for a few magical nights in June, one of the 19 species of fireflies in the park – the Photinus carolinus – synchronize their flashing pattern. It’s a sight to behold.
This year, the best firefly viewing opportunity is June 3 – June 10. If you didn’t get in on the National Park Service lottery for viewing in Elkmont, Tennessee, there are still places for seeing the magic and beauty of this annual event. (Only about 1,000 people per evening get to visit the Elkmont area while the lightning bugs – what we southerners call fireflies – are at their peak).
You can try and visit three days before and after the event and you may be surprised because the peak date is a best hypothesis not an exact date the lightning bugs will flash.
What are fireflies?
“Fireflies are beetles. Most of their lifecycle is spent in the larval stage (1-2 years), where they feed on snails, worms, and smaller insects in the leaf litter on the forest floor. Once they mature into the adult form, they only live for about 3-4 weeks, and many do not feed” at all. Their goal is mating, and the flash patterns are part of their mating display.
Each species has a characteristic pattern that helps male and female individuals recognize and find each other. Most species produce a greenish-yellow light. Males typically flash while they are flying, and females, which are usually stationary, flash in response.
The production of light by living organisms is called bioluminescence. “Fireflies combine the chemical luciferin and oxygen with the enzyme luciferase in their lanterns (part of their abdomens) to make light. The light produced is referred to as a “cold” light, with nearly 100% of the energy given off as light. In contrast, the energy produced by an incandescent light bulb is approximately 10% light and 90% heat.
Synchronous fireflies (Photinus carolinus) are one of only a couple species in North America whose individuals are known to synchronize their flashing light patterns.
The magic formula is to try and find a place around the same elevation as Elkmont (2,150 feet) that is also near the water. Synchronized fireflies have also been reported in Cades Cove, along Little River, and even in the vicinity of the Mt. LeConte Trailheads just outside of Gatlinburg. You never know what you might see if you head out into the forest at night.
You may also catch a glimpse of the famous blue ghost firefly, which from afar, glow blue-white instead of flashing yellow-green. How cool and funky!
Cades Cove sits at 1,713feet and there are many trails to explore and go hunting for fireflies. Cades Cove is a broad, lush, green valley surrounded by mountains that is one of the most popular destinations in the Great Smoky Mountains. Here, visitors find some of the best opportunities for wildlife viewing in the park. White-tailed deer are frequently seen, and black bear, coyote, ground hog, turkey, raccoon, skunk, and other animal sightings also are possible. Along the loop road and the trails that originate in the cove are waterfalls, caverns, monuments, a grist mill and incredible natural life.
Located 27 miles from Gatlinburg and 9 miles from the lovely Townsend, TN., Cades Cove has plenty of trails – from short and gentle to more challenging. As of May 4, 2022, the 11-mile Cades Cove Loop Road will be closed to all vehicles on Wednesdays through Sept. 28 to provide for pedestrian and bicycle use – so it’s a GREAT day to plan a hike in this incredible place uninterrupted by cars traversing the loop.
The Cades Cove Nature Trail is particularly beautiful in the spring when the dogwoods bloom and also in the fall when the sourwoods and maples turn a beautiful red” NPS.gov.
On this trail, visitors can see what remains of what was once a thick chestnut grove in the 1800’s. Almost one third of the forest surrounding Cades Cove was made up of Chestnut trees at that time. Today the large trees growing along the Nature Trail are primarily oak, dogwood, sourwood, and pine trees.
Abrams Falls Trail is a five-mile roundtrip hike to Abrams Falls. Longer hikes to Thunderhead Mountain and Rocky Top on the famous Appalachian Trail also begin in the cove. Another great place to see fireflies might be along the water.
Seeing the Smoky Mountains from above them is spectacular and hiking to Mt. LeConte is special fireflies or not. Hikers will gain nearly 4,000 feet in elevation by the time they get to Mt. LeConte.
The Rainbow Falls Trail is fairly challenging if completed all the way to Mt LeConte. Allow an hour and a half to Rainbow Falls and four hours to Mt LeConte. Hikers will gain nearly 4,000 feet in elevation by the time they get to Mt. LeConte. The point of departure is at Cherokee Orchard Road – Turn at light #8 in Gatlinburg and follow the Airport Road 1 mile out of Gatlinburg into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The name will change from Airport Road to Cherokee Orchard Road.
About 2.5 miles after entering the Park, Cherokee Orchard Road approaches the Rainbow Falls parking area. You will find the trail head at one edge of the parking area. Features of interest include the 2.8-mile point when you arrive at Rainbow Falls. At the 6.6 mile-point you will come upon an Alum Cave Trail junction which leads left 0.1 mile to the LeConte Lodge. You can hike from Cades Cove too.
Norton Creek is another location with a fireflies event – this year June 9-12. It’s a private event that requires reservations. Norton Creek Preserve, a 3000-acre tract adjacent to Great Smoky Mountains NP, near Gatlinburg, TN. Detailed directions will be sent to ticketholders before the event
“From the comfort of a luxurious private reserve, enjoy food and drink surrounded by gorgeous natural scenery, and witness an incredible display of synchronous and blue ghost fireflies (and other glowing critters) guided by our knowledgeable staff.”
You may be outdoors between 3 and 6 hours waiting and watching, so you’re going to want to make sure to be comfortable. It’s recommended you bring a blanket or some chairs to sit on during the viewing period. Also, because white lights can interrupt the flash patterns of the synchronized fireflies, your headlamp or flashlight should have a red or blue setting. A flashlight covered with red or blue cellophane also will work. Make sure to also pack water and snacks, as well as rain ponchos and a map if you’re going out on your own to find fireflies. Charge your cell phone.
Watch From A Cabin!
Another way to look for synchronous fireflies is by booking a cabin in the forest. Find a quiet, secluded cabin – whether you want something without mountain roads, or something fully ensconced in the beauty of the mountains, a cozy bungalow or treehouse or a cabin with all the entertainment – movie theater, pool, big kitchen, games and lots of space, American Patriot Getaways has a cabin for you. https://patriotgetaways.com/pigeon-forge-secluded-cabins
Be sure you check out all our amazing featured deals so you can get the best price for your synchronized firefly vacation.
Give American Patriot Getaways a call at (800) 204-5169, and let our experts help you find the right cabin. The perfect cabin in addition to all the right fun, food and entertainment for an adult vacation will have you wanting to come back as soon as possible!