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 20 and running through May 28, 2017, the visitor center at Congaree Swamp will be open late for visitors to watch in wonder as the fireflies synchronize in large numbers near the Bluff Trail. There is even a Firefly Festival with special exhibits on Saturday, May 27.
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.
A couple tips before you go:
Arrive early. While the sun won’t go down until after 8 p.m. and the fireflies tend to peak around 9 or 9:30 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 pre-schooler, 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.