Summer Travel Quest #1

Watch Fireflies Flash in Sync

Head to Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee to witness one of nature’s great spectacles
by Katy Koontz
Katy was born and raised a Yankee but has lived in Knoxville, Tennessee, for more than 25 years. She’s the author of Family Fun in the Smokies and the Smoky Mountain Travel Guide app.

So if you want to see the famous flashers, the choice for U.S. travelers is a pretty easy one. The critters (Photinus carolinus, to be exact) put on their light show during their mating season each June, and the absolute best place to witness it is at the Elkmont Campground on the Tennessee side of the park (which straddles the Tennessee-North Carolina state line).

INSIDER TIP

Bring a blanket to sit on and be prepared to wait until it’s totally dark, about 10 p.m., when the show is at its most impressive.

They typically flash in short bursts 8 to 10 times, then everything magically goes dark for about 6 seconds before the cycle begins again. As the night deepens, the anticipation builds and the effect becomes more and more dramatic, with the fireflies blinking on in a wave effect. The tiny points of light look very much like strings of Christmas lights.

To see this illuminating phenomenon, you must either be a registered camper at Elkmont or ride one of the special event shuttle buses to the campground viewing area from the Sugarlands Visitor Center near the Gatlinburg entrance. This year, shuttle buses run from June 4 through June 11.

Bus tickets cost $1 per person, roundtrip, and you’ll need to reserve a parking pass ($1.50 per car) in advance.

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Katy Koontz was born and raised a Yankee but has lived in Knoxville, Tennessee, for more than 25 years. She’s the author of Family Fun in the Smokies and the Smoky Mountain Travel Guide smartphone app.

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MORE SUMMER TRAVEL QUESTS

1) Watch Fireflies Flash in Sync in the Great Smoky Mountains

2) Ride Shotgun Around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway

3) Get a World Cup-Style Soccer Experience in the U.S.

>> All 99 Summer Travel Quests

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Use the hashtag #99SummerQuests to share your own summer travels, and follow along with us at @MapQuest and Instagram.

Synchronous fireflies in the Great Smoky Mountains
Synchronous fireflies in the Great Smoky Mountains
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