GATLINBURG, Tenn.—Great Smoky Mountains National Park will host the annual synchronous firefly viewing opportunity at Elkmont from Sunday, June 4 through Sunday, June 11. The public may apply for the limited viewing opportunity by entering a lottery for a vehicle reservation through www.recreation.gov. The lottery opens for reservation applications on Friday, April 28 at 10 a.m. EDT and closes Monday, May 1 at 8 p.m. EDT. Using the lottery system ensures everyone who applies for a reservation has an equal chance of getting one.
Every year in late May or early June, thousands of visitors near Elkmont Campground see the naturally occurring phenomenon of Photinus carolinus, a firefly species that flashes synchronously. Since 2006, the National Park Service has limited access to the Elkmont area to the eight days of predicted peak firefly activity. This helps reduce traffic congestion, provides a safe viewing experience for visitors, and minimizes disturbances to these unique fireflies during their two-week mating period.
A total of 960 vehicle reservations, 120 per night, will be issued through the lottery process. The results of the lottery will be available by Thursday, May 11. Each reservation allows one vehicle with a maximum of seven occupants to park at the Elkmont viewing location. The number of daily reservations is based on parking capacity and the ability to safely accommodate a large number of viewers on site while minimizing resource impacts.
Lottery applicants may enter two dates to take part in the viewing opportunity over the eight-day period. 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 given reservations and a $24.00 reservation fee will be charged to the same credit or debit card used for the application fee. The $24.00 fee covers the cost of awarding the reservation, as well as on-site portable restrooms, supplies, and nightly personnel costs for managing the viewing opportunity.
Reservations are non-refundable, non-transferable, and good only for the date issued. There is a limit of one lottery application per household per season. Regardless of the outcome, all lottery applicants will be notified by e-mail by May 11 if their application was successfully drawn or not.
During the viewing period, access to Elkmont is restricted after 4 p.m. to passenger vehicles with a reservation, 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 go to www.recreation.gov and search for “Great Smoky Mountains Firefly Viewing Lottery” for more information and to enter the lottery. Synchronous fireflies are one of 19 species of fireflies that live in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and other locations throughout the eastern United States.