Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials have announced the dates for synchronous firefly viewing in Elkmont. The ticketed event will take place from Thursday, June 7 through Thursday, June 14. This year, parking passes will be distributed via a lottery system administered through www.recreation.gov.
Every year in late May or early June, thousands of visitors gather near the popular Elkmont Campground to observe the naturally occurring phenomenon of Photinus carolinus, a firefly species that flashes synchronously. Access to the viewing area during the eight days of predicted peak activity is provided through a shuttle service beginning at Sugarlands Visitor Center. All visitors wishing to view the synchronous fireflies at Elkmont must have a parking pass distributed through the lottery system.
The lottery will be open for applications from Friday, April 27 at 12:00 noon until Monday, April 30 at 8:00 p.m. You’ll be able to see the results of the lottery on Wednesday, May 9. A total of 1,800 vehicle passes will be available for the event which includes: 1768 regular-parking passes (221 per day) which admit one passenger vehicle up to 19’ in length with a maximum of six occupants, 32 large-vehicle parking passes (four per day) which admit one large vehicle (RV, mini-bus, etc) from 19’ to 30’ in length, with a maximum of 24 occupants. Lottery applicants must apply for either a regular-parking pass or large-vehicle parking pass and then may choose two possible dates to attend the event over the eight-day viewing period.
The park’s lottery system will be utilizing a randomized computer drawing to select applications. You won’t have to worry about paying a fee to enter the lottery, but if you’re selected, you will be charged a $20.00 reservation fee before being awarded a parking pass. If selected you can park at Sugarlands Visitor Center, where you can access the shuttle service to Elkmont. Remember that parking passes are non-refundable, non-transferable, and are only good for the date issued.
There is a limit to one lottery application per household, per season. All participants will be notified by email on May 9 about whether they were selected for the parking pass by the computer system.
The number of passes issued each day is based primarily on the Sugarlands Visitor Center parking lot capacity and the ability to accommodate a large number of viewers on site. Arrival times will be assigned in order to relieve traffic congestion in the parking lot and also for boarding the shuttles, which are provided in partnership with the City of Gatlinburg. The shuttle buses will begin picking up visitors from the Sugarlands Visitor Center RV/bus parking area at 7:00 p.m. The cost will be $2.00 round trip per person, as in previous years, and collected when boarding the shuttle. Cash will be the only form of payment accepted.
The shuttle service is the only transportation mode for visitor access during this period, except for registered campers staying at the Elkmont Campground. Visitors are not allowed to walk the Elkmont entrance road due to safety concerns.
Visitors may visit the website www.recreation.gov and search for “Firefly Event” for more information and to enter the lottery. Parking passes may also be obtained by calling 1-877-444-6777, but park officials encourage the use of the online process. The $20.00 reservation fee covers the cost of awarding the passes.
For more information about the synchronous fireflies, please visit the park website at http://www.nps.gov/grsm/learn/nature/fireflies.htm.
Media Access: To obtain media access for the firefly event, please contact Dana Soehn (865-436-1207) or Jamie Sanders (865-436-1203) in order to secure times, dates, and an access pass.
Film Permit Access: To obtain a film permit to photograph or film the firefly event, please contact Molly Schroer (865-436-1209) in order to secure times, dates, and a film permit access pass.
Special thanks to Dana Soehn and Jamie Sanders at the Public Affairs Office of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for providing the information for this article.