Synchronous fireflies light up the Appalachian Mountains

Fireflies will glimmer and glisten in unison as part of this rare natural phenomenon.

Synchronous fireflies at Elkmont Campground

Synchronous fireflies light up Elkmont Campground.

Photo by Ryan C. Atkins

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During a short window from late May to early June, fireflies in the Appalachian Mountains are putting on a magical light show.

Synchronous fireflies, also known as Photinus carolinus, are one of just a couple of species in North America that coordinate their flashing patterns. The fireflies glow as part of their mating ritual to ensure that male and female fireflies can identify each other. They illuminate in a series of five to eight flashes, followed by eight seconds of darkness before the miraculous cycle starts all over again.

See the light show

The most popular location to view the synchronous fireflies is at Elkmont Campground in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Each year, a lottery system is used to assign vehicle passes. While the lottery closed on May 1, there are still several ways to experience the phenomenon.

Asheville Hiking Tours hosts its Blue Ghost Firefly Tour — a night hike that guides participants to see the winged creatures twinkle across the forest. There are several spots left for its May 29-31 tours, but act fast to reserve your spot at $145 per ticket.

Located about 30 minutes from Gatlinburg, the Rainbow Falls Trailhead is another coveted spot to see the fireflies. Make sure to get there early for your best chance to snag a parking spot along Cherokee Orchard Road.

The fireflies have also been spotted in Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest. Trek up the trail and scope out a spot to see the bugs glimmer and glow.

What to know before your adventure

As you gear up to see the synchronous fireflies, it’s important to know the proper etiquette for viewing.

  • Cover your flashlight with red or blue cellophane.
  • Only use your flashlight to locate your viewing spot and always keep it pointed at the ground — turn it off once you arrive.
  • Do not try and catch the fireflies.
  • Stay on the trail to avoid endangering the fireflies.
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