Synchronized Fireflies Light Up the Night at Congaree National Park

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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. 

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 the 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! And now is the time to reserve your tickets if you want to catch this amazing show! 

Modified Viewing for 2021 

COVID-19 has everyone living under new terms to keep people as safe as possible. With this in mind, Congaree National Park is offering a modified viewing schedule and limited access.

Per their website, they are offering the public opportunities to view the park’s fireflies on May 20-22 and May 27-292021. In order to protect the health and safety of visitors, staff, volunteers, and community partners, viewing will be limited to 25 vehicles per night.

Tickets will be available through recreation.gov and those interested in entering can submit their application on the Congaree Synchronized Fireflies lottery page. A vehicle pass obtained through the lottery will be required to enter the park on the evenings of the above dates.

The lottery is open now and will remain open until 11:59 p.m. on Monday, April 19. The results will be announced on Friday, April 23. 

A Couple Of Tips Before You Go

Don’t forget your masks.

COVID is still a concern, and keeping guests and staff as safe as possible is a top priority. Visitors are required to wear face masks while in federal buildings including visitor centers, historic structures, and museums. When outdoors, face masks are required on NPS-managed lands when physical distancing cannot be maintained.

Take note of entrance, building, landing, and trail closings.

Again … COVID. To further protect critical firefly habitat, the park entrance road will be closed to all visitors at 4 p.m. during this time. In addition, visitors will not have access to the Harry Hampton Visitor Center, frontcountry trails or the Boardwalk. However, the following areas of the park will remain open to the public on those evenings: Cedar Creek Canoe Trail, including South Cedar Creek and Bannister Bridge Canoe Landings, Bates Ferry Trail, Fork Swamp Trail, and all of the park’s backcountry.

Have a plan for keeping up with your kids in the dark.

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 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 know the South Carolina heat doesn’t disappear with the sun. You may 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.

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.

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