The firefly photo is not mine, I got it from the Smokies website!
Over Memorial Day weekend, 2015, we camped at Elkmont for 2 nights.
We set up camp with several friends and at dusk, headed toward out to see the fireflies! We walked down the Little River Trail, past several abandoned homes. If you don’t know they are there (like me), it’s actually quite scary to catch an entire house in the sweep of the flashlight!
We settled in a random spot (there were no bad spots!) and shut off all the lights. Within seconds we could see twinkles! The fireflies in the Smokies flash like the fireflies everywhere do, but their flashes are synchronized. Each bug flashes 6 to 8 flashes, then stops for 10 seconds. They don’t all start at the exact same time, so the flashes undulate through the few hundred or so you can see at any given moment. It’s magical! It seemed to start at the left and then blink across to the right. They don’t all start at once, but they do all stop flashing for a short time, so it’s a wave of blinks and then total black for a few seconds until the first ones start the chain again.
From the nps.gov site: The fireflies do not always flash in unison. They may flash in waves across hillsides, and at other times will flash randomly. Synchrony occurs in short bursts that end with abrupt periods of darkness.
There are around 20 species of fireflies in the Smokies, the synchronous fireflies have a mating season of about two weeks and that time varies from the 3rd week in May to the 3rd week in June, no one knows exactly when they will start or all the factors involved. It is known that nights of the full moon affect the show-it starts much later, and that damp weather and temps under 50 effectively cancel that night’s showing.
There are a few other things that can make viewing better, these are from the nps.gov site as well:
Light Show Etiquette
Flashlights disrupt the fireflies and impair people’s night vision. The light show is best when you:
• Cover your flashlight with red or blue cellophane.
• Use your flashlight only when walking to your viewing spot.
• Point your flashlight at the ground.
• Turn off your flashlight when you find your viewing spot.
You can also help protect the fireflies and their habitat:
• Do not catch the fireflies.
• Stay on the trail at all times.
• Pack out all of your garbage.
On the second day, we explored the trail in the daylight. I’d say the Little River Trail is just about perfect! Flat, follows a beautiful stream with lots of wading access points and has a couple of swimming holes. It’s wide, well marked and a joy to walk along. We had toddlers to grandparents and all enjoyed the first 2 miles before some headed back to camp for snacks and playtime.
A smaller group of us continued on the trail to the 2.4 mile marker where it branched off to the more narrow and climbing Cucumber Gap trail, also 2.4 miles. It ends back at Wonderland, the old summer home village about a mile from the campground. It’s a gorgeous hike!
The second night, we walked up the road toward the restored section of the summer village and just sat on the edge of the pavement and watched the fireflies again.
The campground was full but did not feel ‘packed’ and this was before the peak, so not too many people driving in from out of the camp to see the fireflies just yet.
What to expect: Elkmont campsites can be reserved online ahead of time. There are flush toilets and cold water. No showers, power outlets or hot water. The bathhouse does have a nice big outside sink you can do dishes or wash out clothes in.
I recommend a site along the creek.
There are bears and coyote that frequent the area and you must keep all food and cooking gear in your trunk if you are not using them. Rangers keep a sharp eye and fine those who put others in danger by not following the rules.
Pets are allowed on leashes, apparently even cats! Our neighbor had one.