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    Great Smoky Mountains

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Smokies Announces Firefly Viewing Reservation Plan

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Date: April 24, 2012
Contact: Public Affairs Office

Synchronous Firefly Parking Pass Reservations - Updated April 23, 2013
The firefly shuttles from Sugarlands Visitor Center to Elkmont will be operating June 6-13 this year. Vsitors wishing to see the fireflies during this time period will need to make advance reservations for a parking pass at www.recreation.gov. Parking pass sales will begin on or after April 29.


Great Smoky Mountains National Park announced a new reservation system for the Elkmont Firefly Viewing event beginning in 2012. The popularity of the firefly event has increased significantly over the past several years, prompting park officials to re-evaluate the effectiveness of managing the event on a first-come-first-served basis.


Every June, thousands of visitors gather near the popular Elkmont Campground to observe the naturally occurring phenomenon of the Photinus carolinus; a firefly species that flashes synchronously. In 2005, the Park began closing the Elkmont entrance road each evening and operating a mandatory shuttle bus system to and from the viewing area to provide for visitor safety, resource protection and to enhance the experience for both viewers and campers at Elkmont.  

In 2011, over 7,000 people rode the mandatory shuttle system from the Sugarlands Visitor Center parking area to Elkmont to view the fireflies. As the popularity has increased each year firefly watchers have begun to arrive earlier and earlier. In 2011, visitors started arriving in the parking lot as early as 2:00 p.m. in order to ensure they would be able to ride the shuttle that transports visitors to the viewing area beginning at 7:00 p.m. Visitors who have traveled from long distances have had to be turned away simply because the parking lot was full and general park visitors have not been able to access the Visitor Center due to the lack of parking.

In 2012, a new on-line ticketing system, operated through www.recreation.gov, provided visitors with parking passes to guarantee they would be able to park at Sugarlands Visitor Center, but without the inconvenience of having to arrive hours in advance. The park's expectations for improved visitor services were met even though the peak firefly display was, unfortunately, earlier than projected.

A parking pass will again be required for all vehicles in 2013. Though the pass if free, a reservation fee of $1.50 is required to cover the cost of the reservation service. Passes will cover a maximum of 6 persons in a single passenger vehicle (less than 19 feet in length). A few passes for oversize vehicles, like a mini bus (19 to 30 feet in length and up to 24 persons), will also be available. The reservation feel will be non-refundable; passes are non-transferable and good only for the date issued.  Each reservation through www.recreation.gov will receive an e-mail confirmation and specific information about the event. There is a limit of one parking pass per household per season.

The number of passes issued for each day will be based on the Sugarlands Visitor Center parking lot capacity. Passes will be issued with staggered arrival times in order to relieve congestion in the parking lot and shuttle boarding station. Upon arrival at the parking lot, each passenger in the vehicle will be given a trolley boarding ticket.  

The shuttle trolleys, which are provided in partnership with the City of Gatlinburg, will begin picking up visitors from the Sugarlands Visitor Center RV/bus parking area at 7:00 p.m. The cost will be $1 round trip per person, as in previous years, and collected when boarding the shuttle.  Only visitors with a boarding ticket shall be permitted aboard the trolleys. Walk-up traffic and passenger drop-off's will not be accommodated.

The shuttle service will be the sole transportation mode for visitor access during this period, except for registered campers staying at the Elkmont Campground. Visitors will not be allowed to walk the Elkmont entrance road due to safety concerns.

Ninty (90) Advanced parking passes for each day of the 2013 event will go on sale on-line beginning approximately April 29 after 10:00 am at www.recreation.gov. An additional 85 Day Before passes per day will be held back to accommodate individuals who did not learn of the need to pre-purchase tickets and to accommodate the uncertainty involved in predicting the peak firefly display. Day Before passes will go on sale on-line at 10:00 a.m. the day before the event and will be available until 3:30 p.m. on the day of the event or until the passes are all reserved. Passes can be purchased at www.recreation.gov. Parking passes can also be obtained by calling 1-877-444-6777, but park officials strong encourage using the online process because it provides far more detailed information to visitors about what to expect when they arrive in the park. The $1.50 reservation fee covers the cost of processing the requests for passes. The park will not receive any revenue from either the reservations or the shuttle tickets.

Did You Know?

President Roosevelt at the park's Rockefeller Memorial.

Money to buy the land that became Great Smoky Mountains National Park was raised by individuals, private groups, and even school children who pledged their pennies. In addition, the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial Fund donated $5 million to create the park. More...