Fireflies flying simultaneously as the night falls in a dense forest

Where to see Synchronous Fireflies in 2023

Updated by Dianne Titos on April 26 2023

Can you imagine anything more enchanting than ethereal twinkles of light dancing among the trees? There is nothing quite like watching synchronous fireflies sparkling and, for a short time between late spring and summer, you can admire this magical sight in person.

Choose from our selection of four amazing road trips, all of which offer opportunities to admire displays by synchronous fireflies. You can also enjoy spring blossoms, historical stopovers and majestic scenery - as well as charming small towns on each journey.

Best road trip routes to view the synchronous fireflies
RouteDistanceTravel timeBest time to visit
Atlanta to Gatlinburg
via Great Smoky Mountains National Park
230 miles4 hours 30 minutesLate May to early June
Savannah to Columbia
via Congaree National Park
230 miles4 hours 30 minutesMay to June
Pittsburgh to Niagara Falls
via Allegheny National Forest
250 miles4 hours 50 minutesJune to early July
Charlotte to Knoxville
via Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park
270 miles5 hoursLate May to early June

What are synchronous fireflies?

Synchronous fireflies (Photinus carolinus) are a unique species of fireflies found primarily in the southeastern United States, especially in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

These fireflies are particularly spectacular to see because they are known for their synchronized flashing patterns during their mating season, which usually occurs for a short period between late May and early June.

Synchronized fireflies twinkling with a pitch-black background. Photo is taken in Elkmont in Great Smoky Mountain National Park in Tennessee
The sparkling dance of the synchronous fireflies in the night is quite a spectacular sight to behold.
Alisha Bube/

Males of this species gather in large groups and emit flashes of light in unison to attract females. This creates a mesmerizing display of thousands of fireflies lighting up together in a coordinated manner, turning the dark forest into a magical, glowing spectacle.

Unlike other firefly species, which flash independently or follow a specific sequence, synchronous fireflies flash in harmony, creating an enchanting effect that draws many visitors to witness the phenomenon each year.

The synchronized flashing behavior is believed to be an evolutionary adaptation to help males stand out among the vast number of fireflies and increase their chances of finding a mate.

Click here for our general tips for synchronous firefly viewing and what is the best etiquette to follow during this event.

1. Atlanta to Gatlinburg

Via Great Smoky Mountains National Park

4 hours 30 minutes (230 miles)

Why you should take this trip: This fascinating but manageable road trip is perfect for a weekend adventure. It might be relatively short, but it is brimming with adventure!

From awe-inspiring scenery of Chattahoochee-Oconee and Nantahala National Forests to witnessing the magical dance of the fireflies in the Great Smoky Mountains, this is a journey like no other.

The Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee during sunset, the hills are illuminated by the pink sun rays with forests in the foreground
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is especially awe-inspiring in late spring. Come here for the fireflies and stay for the unforgettable sunsets!

The ultimate synchronous firefly viewing location: Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The species of fireflies you can see on this trip:

  • Synchronous fireflies (Photinus carolinus)
  • Blue ghost firefly (Phausis reticulata)
  • Chinese lantern (Photuris versicolor)

*These will depend on the time of your visit

How to get there: Head north out of Atlanta towards Blue Ridge, and drive through Chattahoochee-Oconee and Nantahala National Forests.

Following US-441 from Cherokee will take you through the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and then finally to Gatlinburg.

Our highlights: Water sports lovers are in for a treat on this road trip. The Chattooga River is a popular spot for whitewater rafting, while Lake Blue Ridge and Lake Chatuge are ideal for boating and swimming.

The national forests en route provide numerous options for exploring lush valleys and mountain peaks. Some popular trails include the Appalachian Trail, which passes through the area, and the Raven Cliffs Falls Trail, which leads to a beautiful waterfall.

The latter is a bit of a detour, but we strongly recommend putting aside some extra time to visit it.

You might be heading to the Great Smoky Mountains to admire the magical dance of the fireflies, but we strongly recommend taking at least a couple of days to explore this stunning national park and do it justice.

With over 800 miles of trails, the park offers a range of hikes for all skill levels. Some popular trails include Alum Cave Trail to Mount LeConte, the Chimney Tops Trail, and Laurel Falls Trail.

You can also make detours to visit the scenic cities of Chattanooga and Knoxville on this road trip.

Local gems: Often overlooked by visitors, Greenbrier Cove is a less-crowded area of the park, offering beautiful wildflowers in spring, excellent hiking trails, and pristine rivers for fishing.

The Ramsey Cascades Trail, which leads to the tallest waterfall in the park, is a must-see, so make sure you bring your camera with you!

Tucked away in the eastern part of the park, Cataloochee Valley is a hidden gem known for its picturesque landscapes, historic buildings, and opportunities to spot elk, which were reintroduced to the park in the early 2000s.

Located along Big Creek Trail, Midnight Hole is a lesser-known swimming hole featuring crystal-clear water and a series of small cascading waterfalls. This secluded spot offers a refreshing break during a hike and an opportunity to enjoy the natural beauty of the park away from the crowds.

Our travel tips: The National Park uses a lottery system, and you will need to apply to this if you want to see the enchanting nighttime scenery created by the synchronous fireflies.

The lottery application fee is $1, and if your application is successful, you will need to pay $24 to secure a parking pass. One passenger vehicle can have up to 7 visitors including the driver.

The event takes place near the Elkmont Campground.

When is the best time to visit: The best time to see the synchronous fireflies in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is Late May to early June. This year, the viewing will take place between June 4 - June 11, 2023.

2. Savannah to Columbia

Via Congaree National Park

4 hours 30 minutes (230 miles)

Why you should take this trip: This relatively short road trip boasts rich history in Charleston, gorgeous architecture, delicious food on top of amazing firefly viewing opportunities.

You will get the best of famous Southern hospitality as well as opportunities to make stops at Lakes Moultrie and Marion.

Boardwalk in Congaree National Park, surrounded by densely populated bald cypress trees
Congaree National Park is famous for its Bald Cypress trees, so why not take an extra day to enjoy a hike or to forest-bathe here?
Serge Skiba/

The ultimate synchronous firefly viewing location: Congaree National Park

The species of fireflies you can see on this trip:

  • Snappy synch (Photinus frontalis)

How to get there: Follow I-95 out of Savannah and head towards Charleston. I-26 will then take you past Lake Marion and to Congaree National Park before you reach Columbia.

Our highlights: Paddle through the tranquil waters of Cedar Creek in Congaree National Park to immerse yourself in the park's serene beauty.

Canoeing and kayaking will allow you to explore the park's unique floodplain forest and catch glimpses of various wildlife, including wading birds, turtles, and even alligators.

You will also drive through the charming coastal city of Charleston on this route. Its cobblestone streets, well-preserved antebellum architecture, and lush gardens create a picturesque setting that transports visitors back in time.

With its vibrant culinary scene, numerous art galleries, and warm Southern hospitality, Charleston offers a delightful blend of old-world charm and modern amenities, making it an unforgettable destination.

Once in Columbia, we suggest visiting Riverbanks Zoo and Garden. This award-winning attraction features over 2,000 animals and a stunning 70-acre botanical garden, making it a must-visit for families and nature lovers alike.

Local gems: A hidden gem within the park, Wise Lake is a peaceful, secluded oxbow lake that can be reached via the Kingsnake Trail. The calm waters and surrounding wilderness make it an ideal spot for quiet reflection and wildlife watching.

Our travel tips: The lottery application costs $1 and the passes for the event cost $24, which is non-refundable.

To protect critical firefly habitat, certain areas of the national park are closed off during the event. Check their website for updated information before your visit.

When is the best time to visit: This year, the synchronous firefly viewing in Congaree National Park will take place between May 13-16 and May 19-24, 2023. The lottery period for the Synchronous Fireflies Viewing Event has now ended.

3. Pittsburgh to Niagara Falls

Via Allegheny National Forest

4 hours 50 minutes (250 miles)

Why you should take this trip: The saying goes “It's not the destination that matters; it's the journey”. Well, that doesn't apply to this road trip as both the journey and the destination are equally amazing!

After marveling at the fireflies and how amazing nature is at Allegheny National Forest, you will conclude your journey at the legendary Niagara Falls.

Allegheny Reservoir in Allegheny National Forest on a bright, sunny day with only a few clouds in the sky
Enjoy a scenic picnic overlooking the crystal-clear waters of the Allegheny Reservoir while waiting for the dark skies to marvel at the synchronous fireflies.
Zack Frank/

The ultimate synchronous firefly viewing location: Allegheny National Forest

The species of fireflies you can see on this trip:

  • Synchronous fireflies (Photinus carolinus)
  • Pennsylvania firefly (Photuris pennsylvanica)

*These will depend on the time of your visit

How to get there: Head northeast from Pittsburgh and you will soon reach Allegheny National Forest. Turning north, US-219 will then take you across the border into New York and through Buffalo before you reach your destination in Niagara Falls.

Our highlights: If you have more time, you can visit Pennsylvania during the Pennsylvania Firefly Festival in June and participate in this fun, celebratory event while also admiring the dotted night canvas, lit up by both the fireflies and the skies.

Allegheny National Forest is home to several lakes, rivers, and streams, providing excellent opportunities for fishing, kayaking, and canoeing. The Allegheny Reservoir, also known as Kinzua Lake, is a popular spot for boating and fishing, with species such as walleye, smallmouth bass, and trout.

While waiting for the night skies so that you can spot the fireflies, you can take a scenic drive along the Longhouse National Scenic Byway or the Kinzua Bridge Scenic Byway. These routes offer stunning views of the forest, lakes, and valleys, as well as access to various recreational opportunities.

Continue on your scenic trip to Niagara Falls, where you can see the waterfalls lit up by the "Inspired by Nature" display on certain days. Check the illumination schedule ahead of time to avoid any disappointment.

Local gems: Kellettville is one of the best places to view the fiery displays of the synchronous fireflies.

Located along the east branch of the Tionesta Creek, Hector Falls is a beautiful, lesser-known waterfall that offers a peaceful spot for a picnic or relaxation

Our travel tips: There is no lottery system to view the fireflies in Allegheny National Forest as of now.

Allegheny National Forest is one of the first federal lands that got funding to clear orphaned oil and gas wells, which means that we might get to enjoy more fireflies and wildlife here in the future!

When is the best time to visit: The best time to visit to admire the synchronous fireflies in Allegheny National Forest is June and the beginning of July, but keep in mind that this will depend on the weather, which plays a very important role in the mating season of these fireflies.

4. Charlotte to Knoxville

Via Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park

5 hours (270 miles)

Why you should take this trip: This is a fun and adventure-filled road trip, perfect for a long weekend. You will travel past beautiful Lake Norman and lush Pisgah National Forest before arriving at the Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park.

Even though a beautiful place to view the synchronous fireflies, this state park is not as popular as the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, so you might be able to enjoy the event without worrying about securing a ticket and competing against other hopeful nature lovers.

The Great Craggy Mountains with Catawba Rhododendron in the foreground during a spring season sunset.
After admiring the synchronous fireflies in Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park, continue on to Asheville and take in the views of the nearby Great Craggy Mountains.
Sean Pavone/

The ultimate synchronous firefly viewing location: Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park

The species of fireflies you can see on this trip:

  • Synchronous fireflies (Photinus carolinus)
  • Blue ghost firefly (Phausis reticulata)

*These will depend on the time of your visit

How to get there: Take I-85 out of Charlotte and head northeast on US-321. Following I-40 and I-26 then will take you to Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park. This is a really scenic part of North Carolina. Follow the highway east to reach Knoxville.

Our highlights: You might have embarked on this adventure to see the glittering dance of the fireflies, but there is so much more to do and see.

Whether you are an avid hiker, or someone who enjoys peaceful nature walks, you will find a hiking trail in Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park. The most popular ones are the Whitehouse Cliffs Trail, which offers stunning views of the surrounding mountains, and the Rocky Fork Trail, which follows the scenic Rocky Fork Creek.

Fireflies won't be the only fascinating creatures you will get to see on this amazing road trip. The state park is home to black bears, white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, and various bird species.

You can enjoy some wildlife watching along the trails or near the creek, particularly during dawn and dusk when animals are most active.

This road trip will take you to the scenic city of Asheville. If you aren't short on time, you can set off on an epic adventure on the legendary Blue Ridge Parkway from here to take in the stunning scenery of the area.

Looking to let your hair down and have some fun? Then we suggest making a detour to Pigeon Forge to visit Dolly Parton's beloved Dollywood, a fascinating theme park. Try to catch a concert here or two!

Local gems: A hidden oasis near the University of North Carolina at Asheville, The Botanical Gardens at Asheville are dedicated to the preservation and display of native plants of the Southern Appalachians.

This secret gem offers walking trails, picturesque bridges, and a peaceful atmosphere where you can admire the unique flora.

Our travel tips: This state park has used a lottery system in the past, so keep an eye out for their official website and social media account to see when they announce the lottery dates.

When is the best time to visit: Mid-May to mid-June are the best times to set off on this road trip, if you are hoping to see the dance of the synchronous fireflies.

Alternative viewing spot: If you aren't keen on participating in lotteries, or are looking for a more affordable, but a smaller option to admire the synchronous fireflies, you can opt to extend the road trip slightly to visit Molly Branch Fireflies in Corryton near Knoxville.

This privately-owned property opens its doors to welcome firefly enthusiasts every year. There is free parking available that is included with the ticket.

General tips to keep in mind for synchronous firefly viewing

  • Don't try to catch or disturb the fireflies.
  • Keep flashlight use to a minimum to avoid disturbing the fireflies, and only use lights that have a red-mode or a red filter if you have one.
  • Keep your flashlight pointed to the ground when in use.
  • Don't use your cell phone as a light source or try to take photos with the flash on.
  • Stay on the designated trail if there is one.