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National Parks: Great Smoky Mountains

For guaranteed solitude in the park's southwest reaches, explore this quiet loop during the off-season.

Believe it or not, the country’s most spectacular light show is not on July 4. For a two-week period in mid-June, male Photinus carolinus fireflies (one of the park’s 14 firefly species) synchronize their flashes for mating season. Get front-row views—and bypass the crowds that flock to the popular Elkmont viewing area—on Porters Creek Trail in the northern reaches of the park. The mile-long (one-way) route, wide and manageable in the dark, leads to a clearing at Porters Flat where clouds of fireflies blink in unison. Watch closely: The short bursts of synchronous lights form distinct patterns, which vary among the species. Target your arrival to Porters Flat for 9 p.m.

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