Great Smoky Mountains National Park will host the annual synchronous firefly viewing opportunity at Elkmont beginning Tuesday, June 1 through Tuesday, June 8. 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 Monday, May 3 at 11:59 p.m.
Every year in late May to 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. Since 2006, access to the Elkmont area has been limited during the eight days of predicted peak activity in order to reduce traffic congestion and provide a safe viewing experience for visitors that minimizes disturbance to these unique fireflies during the peak mating period.
“I’m pleased that we’re able to once again offer an opportunity for visitors to experience synchronous fireflies at Elkmont in a safe manner,” said Superintendent Cassius Cash. “Last year, we canceled the viewing opportunity due to concerns about using shuttle operations during the pandemic. Our staff worked hard to develop a new operational plan that allows limited parking for passenger vehicles directly at the site for 2021.”
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 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 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 visit www.recreation.gov and search for “Great Smoky Mountains Firefly Viewing Lottery” for more information and to enter the lottery. Visitors may also call 1-877-444-6777 to enter the lottery, but park officials encourage the use of the online process. For more information about the synchronous fireflies, please visit the park website at https://www.nps.gov/grsm/learn/nature/fireflies.htm.
– National Park Service release