Love is in the air. A select group of fireflies throughout the world are beginning to find a mate in the ambiance of synchronized flashing lights at one of the Southeast’s oldest forests. Now, isn’t that romantic? Here’s your guide to the amazing and rare natural phenomenon of synchronized fireflies at Congaree National Park each May.
With over 2,000 species found worldwide, there are only three species of synchronous fireflies that can be found in North America and only about a dozen known locations around the globe where this occurs. Every year, the Photinus frontalis that call Congaree National Park home engage in their springtime ritual for approximately two weeks beginning in mid-May. During this time, visitors can experience an awe-inspiring display of synchronized flashes while the fireflies search for a mate.
Due to the growing popularity of the fireflies phenomenon, Congaree National Park has implemented a lottery system and designated specific dates for viewing opportunities. In the interest of protecting critical firefly habitat and providing an optimum viewer experience, each viewing is limited to a certain number of vehicles per night. But the good news this year is that the park is increasing both the number of viewing nights and the amount of vehicles allowed each night. If you’d like to try to your luck in this year’s lottery, you can register at this site.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
A non-refundable service fee of $1 will be charged by recreation.gov to enter the lottery. Selected participants will then be required to pay a $19 non-refundable event fee to secure the tickets (a $20 total investment). Tickets will only be issued for passenger vehicles up to two axles that can fit in standard parking spaces (i.e. no motor homes, vehicles with trailers, buses or mini-buses).
To further protect critical firefly habitat, the park entrance road will be closed to all visitors at 4 p.m. nightly during the weeks when synchronization occurs. On those dates (specifics will be announced soon), visitors will not have access to the Harry Hampton Visitor Center, frontcountry trails or the boardwalk after 4 p.m. However, the following areas of the park will remain open to the public on those evenings: Cedar Creek Canoe Trail, downstream from the South Cedar Creek Canoe Landing, Bates Ferry Trail, Fork Swamp Trail and all the park’s backcountry east of Bridge “J” on Kingsnake Trail. This handy map will be your best friend.
Due to the large crowd expected, dogs, strollers, wagons, chairs, hammocks and blankets are prohibited on the Fireflies Trail. As are headlamps, the use of smartphones as flashlights and flash photography, as the light will affect the synchronicity of the blinks.
As mesmerizing as they are, participants are not allowed to capture fireflies within Congaree National Park. Noise levels should also be kept to a minimum and staying on the designated trail is a must, as veering off may adversely impair the firefly habitat.
Please remember to dress for the occasion. Participants should wear sturdy, closed-toed shoes as roots and biting insects may be present. Do not use any insect repellant one you’re inside the park, as fireflies are insects too and they will be impacted by it. Finally, keep an eye on the forecast and come prepared for potential rain showers.
Need more #RealColumbiaSC travel inspo? Follow us on Instagram.