SEVIER COUNTY, Tenn. — The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is preparing for the return of some special visitors at Elkmont soon -- both of the insect and human variety!
The famous synchronous fireflies will return from June 1 through June 8 to light up Elkmont with their unique synchronized mating ritual, and the park is planning on bringing the special viewing event back to the park in 2021.
The 2020 event had to be canceled shortly after the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This year, the park is planning to take extra precautions for people lucky enough to secure a ticket to ensure the viewing is safe for visitors and employees.
The public may apply for the limited viewing opportunity by entering a lottery for a vehicle pass through www.recreation.gov. The lottery opens for vehicle pass applications on Friday, April 30 at 10:00 a.m. through May 3 at 11:59 p.m.
A total of 800 vehicle passes, 100 passes per night, will be issued through the lottery process. Results of the lottery will be available by Friday, May 7. Each vehicle pass provides admission for parking directly at the Elkmont viewing location for one passenger vehicle with a maximum of seven occupants. During the application process, lottery applicants may enter two possible dates to participate in the viewing opportunity over the eight-day period.
The number of passes issued each day is based on parking capacity and the ability to safely accommodate a large number of viewers on-site while minimizing resource impacts.
The lottery system uses a randomized computer drawing to select applications.
All lottery applicants will be charged a $1.00 application fee. Successful applicants will automatically be awarded parking passes and a $24.00 reservation fee will be charged to the same credit or debit card used for the application fee.
The $24.00 reservation fee covers the cost of awarding the passes, on-site portable restrooms, supplies, and nightly personnel costs for managing the viewing opportunity at Elkmont.
Parking passes are non-refundable, non-transferable, and good only for the date issued. There is a limit of one lottery application per household per season.
All lottery applicants will be notified by e-mail by May 7 that they were “successful” and awarded a parking pass or “unsuccessful” and not able to secure a parking pass.
During the viewing period, access to Elkmont is restricted after 4:00 p.m. to passenger vehicles with a parking pass, registered campers staying at the Elkmont Campground, or backcountry campers with a valid permit.
Visitors are not allowed to walk or ride bicycles on the Elkmont entrance road or Jakes Creek Road after 4:00 p.m. due to safety concerns.
Overnight parking at Little River Trailhead, Jakes Creek Trailhead, or the Appalachian Clubhouse is not allowed without a valid backcountry permit for backcountry campsites associated with these trailheads.
Visitors may also call 1-877-444-6777 to enter the lottery, but park officials encourage the use of the online process.
The nights the viewing will be held will also be announced on relatively short notice, as the mating season lasts only two weeks each year and the park won't know precisely when the fireflies will be at peak viewing until they become active.
The synchronous fireflies are a special species that put on an impressive bioluminescent light show that's unlike other species. True to their name, the fireflies are the only ones in America able to synchronize their flashing light patterns.
You can learn more here.