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Each and every year in the Smoky Mountains, for a magical few nights in June, something spectacular happens.  One of the 19 species of fireflies in our spectacular park, the Photinus carolinus, synchronize their flashing pattern.   These synchronized fireflies are a true sight to behold and worth attempting to see. Read this post to see how your family can get the chance to see this spectacular natural light show.

Fireflies putting on a spectacular light show.


For 2021, the lottery information is expected to open at 10 a.m. eastern time on 4/30/21.   

Like past years, there will be a lottery system.  For 2021, the viewing opportunity for the Elkmont Synchronous Fireflies will be modified for Covid-19 precautions.

The NPS always states there is no preference given to the order in which they receive the applications and there is a randomized computer drawing for the winners.  The link to apply for the lottery during this time can be found at The Firefly Event Page. Please note, the link for the lottery is not visible because it is not yet open.  

The viewing period for 2021 is June 1 through June 8.  A total of 800 vehicles will win lottery parking.  This equals to 100 cars per night.  This year, cars with more than 7 people will not be allowed.  

There is a $1 cost to enter the lottery system. If you’re successful at winning a spot, you’ll be charged $24 for the reservation fee and be given a parking pass.  This registration fee helps pay for viewing supplies, additional personnel to cover the event, and the management of the Visitor Center and Elkmont area during the event.  

More information on the Synchronous Firefly Lottery will be released by April 30,2021.  In past years, all applicants will receive a notice, regardless of whether or not they were successful. The synchronous firefly lottery winner is required to be present in the vehicle with a current photo identification. The pass is non-transferrable and the vehicle will not be permitted to enter without the lottery winner present. Only one application per household is allowed.

A sign at Elkmont Campground in the Smoky Mountains reading "CAMPGROUND FULL"


Due to the popularity of this incredible event, since 2006 a shuttle service has been in place to help move visitors into and out of Elkmont. Visitors who are successful in the lottery will receive a parking pass to park at the Sugarlands Visitor Center. They will then by shuttled by trolley to the viewing area in Elkmont.  

Despite paying the $25 fee for parking, each and every passenger taking the shuttle will need to have $2 in cash to ride the trolley out to Elkmont.  This is your round-trip fee.


Since you’ll be outdoors anywhere between 3 and 6 hours, 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, the park service does require your headlamp or flashlight to have a red or blue setting.  A flashlight covered with red or blue cellophane is also acceptable.

Make sure to also pack water and snacks, as well as rain ponchos.


This dramatic natural fireworks display is definitely an experience you’ll always remember.  However, in June you can experience a wide variety of weather.

While the exact dates for 2021 haven’t been announced yet, the event typically occurs over the last week of May or first week of June.  Folks entering the lottery are allowed to choose two nights that work best for their schedule. On nights where the temperature is below 50 degrees, it’s possible there won’t be much to see.  On nights where there has been rain or fog during the day, it’s also possible the light show will be less dramatic or absent altogether.  

Taking bug spray is recommended, especially if you’ve got little ones.  Since the event won’t get you back to your car until after 9:30 p.m., eating dinner beforehand and bringing snacks along is also recommended.  


If you weren’t able to win a pass through the lottery system, you still have a chance to see those gorgeous synchronized fireflies.  Plan to try and visit three days before and after the event and you may be surprised. Because there’s never an exact date these lightning bugs will flash, you never know what you’re going to see.  

There are also reports of synchronized fireflies elsewhere in the Smoky Mountains.  The magic formula is to try and find a place around the same elevation as Elkmont 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 venture out into the forest at night. While you may not see the famous fireflies, the Smokies boast more than 19 species of fireflies, including the famous blue ghost firefly!


In 2020, Covid-19 forced the cancellation of the viewing.  Fortunately, Discover Life in America held a virtual event on their YouTube channel.  We do not know if they’ll be doing the virtual event again in 2021, however.

Discover Life in America, DLIA as they’re known for short, raises funds every year to conserve biodiversity in the Smokies and offers a private fundraising event each year.  The funds raised from ticket sales go back into understanding and conserving this special place.  Check out their fundraiser.


After spending an exciting evening in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you’re going to want to have a cozy place to stay.  Book yourself a Gatlinburg Cabin with a hot tub so you’ll have the perfect place to unwind under the stars.  Be sure you check out all our amazing featured deals so you can get the best price for your synchronized firefly vacation.

Planning a trip to be in the Smoky Mountains?  Let us help with these useful vacation guides! Insider tips to help you plan the perfect Smoky Mountain vacation.

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