How to View Synchronous Fireflies in the Great Smoky Mountains

February 19, 2024

For about two weeks each year, the Great Smoky Mountains become the site of an extraordinary light display. As part of their mating ritual, synchronous fireflies light up the night sky in a striking pattern, flashing five to eight times before going dark for about eight seconds. The synchronized lightning bug show in Tennessee is a visual experience that people travel from all over the world to see every summer.

Here is how to see fireflies in smoky mountains, including the best spots and tips to make the most of your trip.

Fireflies in the forest of the Great Smoky Mountains

What Are Synchronous Lightning Bugs?

Synchronous fireflies are a type of beetle known for their distinct flash pattern. While they live as larvae for one to two years, adult fireflies only live for three to four weeks and must find a mate within that time.

As the males flash, their patterns eventually begin to sync up, creating an incredible phenomenon. Scientists think that the males flashing synchronously make it easier for a female to know that she is responding to her own kind — and not a predator. Male fireflies typically flash while in flight, and females flash in response when they are stationary.

When Are the Fireflies in the Smokies?

Firefly season in Tennessee typically lasts around two to three weeks each year, with a peak date in late May or early June. While the exact date for when to see synchronous fireflies depends on temperature and soil moisture, the famed firefly event occurs in Great Smoky National Park around the first week of June.

During the mating season, environmental changes, such as cooler weather and heavy rain, can affect nightly displays. The best time of day to watch the light show is right after dark, usually from 9 p.m. to midnight.

Tips for Seeing the Great Smoky Mountain Fireflies

When traveling to see the lightning bug show in Tennessee, you should keep a few things in mind to help protect these amazing insects. Fireflies require total darkness to mate, and humans using flashlights and producing other light pollution have caused a decline in fireflies worldwide. Here are some guidelines to follow when viewing the light show:

  • Follow flashlight etiquette: Flashlights disrupt the fireflies and other people’s night vision. When attending the light show, use your flashlight only when walking to your viewing spot. You can also cover it with red cellophane or use a headlamp with a red light.
  • Do not catch the fireflies: Do not disturb or catch the fireflies when attending the light show.
  • Stay on the trail at all times: It is also best to stay on the trail at all times to avoid disturbing the insects’ habitat.
  • Pack out all garbage: When spending time outdoors, always remember to leave it in a better state than how you found it. That includes picking up all trash and packing up any items before leaving.

Synchronized fireflies light up the fields throughout Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Where to See Fireflies in the Smoky Mountains

The largest population of fireflies in the Western Hemisphere is close to the northern edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee and parts of the park in North Carolina. The region has become a popular destination in recent years as visitors from across the world travel to get a glimpse of one of nature’s best light shows. If you are planning a trip, you will find plenty of trails to hike and campgrounds to rest your head during your travels.

Here is where to see fireflies in Tennessee and North Carolina and places to stay so you don’t miss this unforgettable experience.

Elkmont, TN

Elkmont Campground is one of the best places to see lightning bugs. The area attracts thousands of synchronous fireflies every year, with the park planning a yearly event every June. The National Park Service uses a lottery system for the event, with just 800 parking passes available for visitors hoping to secure a spot. If you are not able to secure a ticket through the lottery, you can find many areas of the park to view the fireflies — search for an open field bordered by trees and close to water.

When you need a place to rest after your trek, find refuge at Kampgrounds of America. Just a half hour away, Townsend / Great Smokies KOA Holiday offers Tent Sites, RV Sites and cabins. Appreciate Deluxe Cabins with private and full baths, providing a peaceful respite after your firefly adventures in the Smoky Mountains.

Cades Cove, TN

Just an hour west of Elkmont and deep within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Cades Cove is also a great spot to catch a glimpse of the firefly light show. While the main gate closes at sunset, park rangers often lead night walks so you can safely participate in the fun and avoid disrupting the fireflies. Just be sure to stick to the paved loop and be mindful of wildlife during your hike.

After experiencing this amazing event, take advantage of Townsend / Great Smokies KOA Holiday — 16 miles south of Cades Cove Loop Road — for an unforgettable stay in the Great Smoky Mountains.

Rainbow Falls Trailhead, TN

Just minutes from Gatlinburg, TN, the Rainbow Falls trailhead is one of the most convenient synchronous firefly locations. Make sure you arrive early enough for a parking spot along Cherokee Orchard Road. You will find two designated parking spots, though there are many other parking areas, pull-outs and overlooks just a few miles down the road. The Rainbow Falls roundtrip is 5.4 miles, and the hike is considered moderate in difficulty.

Hike the trail or find a spot to stop and gaze upon the fireflies. If you walk the trail, wear sturdy hiking shoes, bring drinking water, avoid climbing on rocks and always stick to the trail. After the show, settle in at Pigeon Forge / Gatlinburg KOA Holiday for the night, just 12.5 miles from the Rainbow Falls Trailhead. You will find gorgeous waterfront Tent Sites to set up your tent, as well as cabins and RV Sites to rest after the lightning bug show.

Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park, TN

Winning a ticket to Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park’s firefly light show means seeing both blue ghost and synchronous fireflies in one spectacular event. During mating season, the blue ghost firefly emits a steadily glowing blue light for over a minute, giving off an ethereal floating appearance. As the males fly, they paint streaks of a bluish-white light across the forest, creating an otherworldly display that is not to be missed.

Like other parks on this list, Rocky Fork State Park uses a lottery system to ensure visitors have a fair chance at securing a spot, with just 10 vehicles allowed to enter the park for the show each night. After experiencing this intimate event, travel to Asheville West KOA Holiday, just a 55-minute drive from the park. You will find wooded Tent Sites, RV Sites with full hookups and cozy cabins to relax after a long night of firefly gazing.

Cataloochee Valley, NC

Synchronous fireflies have been spotted across the Cataloochee Valley in North Carolina, a remote area known for its scenic trails and spectacular wildlife. Though you can catch a glimpse of these fireflies, their location may be more challenging to access without a bit of hiking. You will find plenty of guided tours in the area, which can be safer for you and the sake of the fireflies.

If you don’t see the synchronous fireflies, you might still catch sight of the blue ghost fireflies during your trip. Additionally, Asheville West KOA Holiday is just 28.6 miles away, providing plenty of recreation, from nature trails to community gardening.

Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, NC

Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest is known for its dense hardwood trees, making it the ideal habitat for synchronous and blue ghost fireflies. This impressive forest is home to over 100 tree species, many over 400 years old, maintained in its primitive state. The only way to see the forest and the fireflies is by foot. Follow the 2-mile trail, find a bench to stop and watch these stunning lightning bugs glow in the night.

Located just one hour from Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, Murphy / Peace Valley KOA Holiday offers a place to camp during your travels while offering easy access to hiking, rafting, kayaking and canoeing in the area. With shaded RV Sites along the Valley River and fully furnished Deluxe Cabins, this campground makes an ideal destination to rest your head after hiking the Great Smoky Mountains and enjoying the firefly light show.

View the Fireflies While Staying at KOA

With so many areas around the Great Smoky Mountains to see synchronous fireflies, you will want to secure a spot for this spectacular event. Whether you find yourself in Elkmont, TN, or Cataloochee Valley, NC, you are bound to have an unforgettable experience. With several nearby KOA Campgrounds providing Tent Sites, cabins and RV Sites, KOA makes an excellent basecamp for witnessing the synchronous firefly show in all its glory.

Search our Southeast campgrounds to reserve a campsite or use our KOA Camping App today!

About the Author: Kampgrounds of America

Kampgrounds of America is the largest system of open-to-the-public campgrounds in the world, with over 500 locations across the United States and Canada. Founded in Billings, MT in 1962, KOA’s family of campground brands – KOA Journey, KOA Holiday and KOA Resort – today serve more than a million camping families each year. KOA is dedicated to “connecting people to the outdoors and each other” by providing people with a variety of camping experiences and the information they need to make the most of their camping trip. Read more of their camping and travel resources by visiting

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