Park officials have announced the Elkmont Firefly Viewing event in Great Smoky Mountains National Park will take place from Thursday, June 6 through Thursday, June 13. For this year’s viewing event, the on-line ticketing system, operated through Recreation.gov, will again provide visitors with parking passes to guarantee they will be able to park at Sugarlands Visitor Center without the inconvenience of having to arrive hours in advance.
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. In 2005, the Park began closing the Elkmont entrance road each evening and operating a mandatory shuttle bus system to and from the viewing area to provide for visitor safety, resource protection, and to enhance the experience for both viewers and campers at Elkmont.
In 2012 the Park instituted the reservation requirement for the first time. This was in response to the increasing popularity of the event which caused management issues in the parking area and congestion for visitors accessing the Sugarlands Visitor Center. The new system improved the visitor experience by allowing reservation holders to arrive later in the day and guaranteed access to the event.
For this year’s event a parking pass will be required for all vehicles. The pass will cover a maximum of 6 persons in a single passenger vehicle (less than 19 feet in length). Four passes for oversize vehicles, like a mini bus (19 to 30 feet in length and up to 24 persons), will also be available. Each reservation will cost $1.50. Parking passes will be non-refundable, non-transferable, and good only for the date issued. There is a limit of one parking pass per household per season. Each reservation through www.Recreation.gov will receive an e- mailed confirmation and specific information about the event.
The number of passes issued for each day will be based on the Sugarlands Visitor Center parking lot capacity. Passes will be issued with staggered arrival times in order to relieve congestion in the parking lot and for boarding the shuttles.
The shuttle buses, which are provided in partnership with the City of Gatlinburg, will begin picking up visitors from the Sugarlands Visitor Center RV/bus parking area at 7:00 p.m. The cost will be $1 round trip per person, as in previous years, and collected when boarding the shuttle.
The shuttle service will be the only transportation mode for visitor access during this period, except for registered campers staying at the Elkmont Campground. Visitors will not be allowed to walk the Elkmont entrance road due to safety concerns.
The parking passes for this year’s event will be on sale on-line beginning after 10:00 a.m. April 29. The Park will hold back 90 passes for each day to accommodate individuals who did not learn of the need to pre purchase tickets. Those last 90 passes will go on sale on-line at 10:00 a.m. the day before the event and will be available until 3:30 p.m. on the day of the event or until the passes are all reserved.
Passes can be purchased at www.Recreation.gov. Parking passes may also be obtained by calling 1-877-444-6777, but Park officials strongly encourage the use of the on-line process, because it provides far more information to visitors about what to expect when they arrive at the Park. The $1.50 reservation fee covers the cost of processing the requests for the passes. The Park will not receive any revenue either from the reservations or the shuttle tickets.