Synchronized Fireflies Light Up the Night at Congaree National Park


Synchronized Fireflies Light Up the Night at Congaree National Park | Columbia SC Moms Blog

It’s that time of year again – time to watch the fireflies do their thing! I’m not talking about a trip to see the Columbia Fireflies baseball team.

Before there was a baseball team, these real-life fireflies were lighting up in hordes and droves – and whatever you call a bunch of bugs – at Congaree Swamp National Park. This type of synchronicity is rare, and occurs only in a few locations throughout the Southeast, and I love that the Midlands is home to one of them.

This kind of firefly season is short, sweet, and magical (pretty much the opposite of baseball season). Beginning May 10 and running through May 27, 2019, the visitor center at Congaree Swamp will be open until 10 p.m. in an effort to allow visitors the opportunity to watch in wonder as the fireflies synchronize in large numbers. There is a designated Fireflies Trail, which will give access to prime viewing areas. 

Growing up here in the South, I loved when we caught a glimpse of fireflies dancing in the yard. It was usually around twilight, as the daylight was fading and the sky was changing to shades of lavender and rose before succumbing to darkness. There were never many – maybe a dozen or two – but even in small quantities, fireflies are a bit magical. Once in a while, I was lucky enough to capture one in a jar, entranced with the little bug’s ability to light up on its own.

Imagine the magic and wonder of those glimpses turned up a hundred – or even a thousand-fold. The boardwalk in front of you is really about all you can see, and you are surrounded on all sides but the quiet majesty of a cypress forest.

As the light in forest dims, you spy a blinking in the distance. Then a few more.

Once the forest is completely enveloped in darkness, the real show begins and the dark is punctured by thousands of tiny lights – synchronized fireflies surround you, their individual beauty magnified to a sum that is both whimsical and glorious.

If I’m waxing a bit poetic, it’s because this is such an inspiring experience. Words cannot do it justice. Trust me, if you haven’t been, you need to go! Whether you grab your spouse and make a romantic, inexpensive date night out of it, or pack up the whole family for a magical late night adventure, it is worth the trip out to Congaree Swamp to see the fireflies.

* Please note that the exact dates that the fireflies will synchronize in 2019 is not known. This phenomenon could begin by mid-May or it may be later in June.

A Couple Of Tips Before You Go

Arrive early.

While the sun won’t go down until after 8 p.m. and the fireflies tend to peak after 8:30 p.m., you will want to arrive as early as you can to get a good parking spot. I also found it helpful to let my kids explore the boardwalks while it was still light out; by the time it was well and truly dark, they were more willing to stay close and quiet.

Have a plan for crowd control.

Especially near the visitor center where the majority of the fireflies congregate, the boardwalk is edge-to-edge people. In the dark, it can be incredibly challenging to maintain a visual on children (especially if you have more than one or two). If you have a child who likes to be carried or worn in a baby carrier, definitely bring your carrier and use it. If you have a backpack leash type thing for your independent toddler or preschooler, this is a great place to make use of it. Talk to your kids beforehand about how to find you if you become separated in the dark and what a park ranger looks like.

Bonus tip: I plan to bring a several glow stick necklaces and bracelets for my kids to wear. They will provide a bit of light and visibility in the dark, without detracting from the fireflies much.

Pack water and late night snacks.

We are nearly into June in South Carolina, and the heat doesn’t disappear with the sun. You will probably be out walking an hour or two, part of that likely past your kids’ normal bedtime. Come prepared with hydration and healthy snacks for a happier, albeit tired, crew.

Forget pictures.

Unless you have a camera that does well or has special settings for the dark, don’t worry about the pictures. Enjoy the moments and bask in the glow of the fireflies.

If you plan to check out Congaree Swamp any other time of year, check out my tips for a fun filled family hike here.

Have you been to see the fireflies? What tips would you add to the list?

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Katrina is a mom of three great kids and has been married to her first love for nearly 10 years. She’s grateful to have a job that allows her the flexibility to both work from home some days and in the office others. On the surface, Katrina is pretty crunchy – she loves breastfeeding, babywearing, co-sleeping, natural birth, and homeschooling — but still loves her stroller, having her kids in their own beds at some point, her epidural was fantastic, and she’ll be sending the kids through public school. Most of all she loves the fact that we have all these choices, which makes life interesting! One of her favorite experiences was moving to Japan in 2002 to live as an adult dependent with their USMC family. It was an amazing experience, and if it weren’t for that, she probably wouldn’t ever have met my husband.


  1. I you take a flashlight be sure to put red plastic over the light so as not to scare the fireflies with the bright white light will help navigate the board walk

  2. Most definitely on the red plastic over the flashlight. Although the “bonus tip” may be helpful to keep track of the kiddos, any light without the red cover is not recommended by park rangers and does detract from the fireflies.


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