One of the most unique natural displays that visitors to Gatlinburg can see at the first part of June is the famous spectacle of the synchronous fireflies. While they range from Tennessee up to Pennsylvania, the population here is the largest in the Western Hemisphere and the forests in this area offer a particularly suitable place for them to perform their mating ritual. The males light up with the stronger flashes and fly above the females who sit on the ground and signal back with weaker flashes. The result is an awe inspiring site that leaves people with a peaceful feeling as they witness one of nature’s wonders.
Visitors can see these amazing fireflies in one of two ways; be a registered camper at Elkmont or take the Tan trolley up to the Great Smoky Mountains National park and view the firefly display. The fireflies can be seen at approximately 9:30 pm from around June 6 to June 13. Since so many people want to come and see these unusual creatures cars driving in and out from Elkmont are not allowed after 5 p.m. Visitors need to park their cars at the Sugarland Visitors Center then take the trolley to Elkmont. The last trolley returns to the Visitors Center from Elkmont at 11 p.m.
Visitors are required to buy a Sugarland Visitors Center parking pass in advance due to the fact that the Visitors Center parking lot has limited capacity. People interested in seeing the fireflies can get information on purchasing Day Before Parking Passes here.
Fireflies live an interesting life as it takes them up to two years to reach adulthood. They then live only about 3 weeks during which time the famous lighting mating ritual occurs. It’s not possible to determine exactly when each year the fireflies will display their synchronous mating ritual, but it has varied from mid-May to mid-June. The display advances each night until peak synchronicity is reached, then it gradually dwindles until the mating season is completed. When viewing the fireflies it can take a few moments for them to sync up, then viewers will notice waves of flashes back and forth, lasting around 6 seconds, then 6 second periods of darkness after the synchronization.
People are encouraged to get their parking passes and come out to see the fireflies. About 1,000 people per night come out to see the display. While people are welcome to come, pets are not allowed at the firefly site. There are volunteers and park rangers who can answer questions about the event at the park and there are firefly viewing information stations.
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