The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is known for its great diversity of species, including 65 species of mammals. The raccoon, known as the “masked bandit” is an intelligent, mostly nocturnal mammal. Fully grown, raccoons weigh from 8-14 pounds, and live up to 7 years old. They feed on many aquatic species such as frogs or crayfish, and the nests of both birds and turtles. In the fall, acorns are the food of choice, helping build up their fat stores for the winter. Raccoons can be found from Canada to Central America and have an average home range of 200-500 acres, mostly along stream courses. You can help raccoons stay wild by keeping your trash put away, as they are frequent visitors to camprounds, such as Elkmont, or Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, or Up the Creek RV Camp in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

Every year in late May or early June, thousands of visitors gather near the Elkmont Campground located in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, to witness the naturally occurring phenomenon of “Photinus carolinas,” a firefly species known for flashing synchronously. There are 19 species of fireflies that live in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but Photinus carolinas is the only species in America whose individuals can synchronize their flashing light patterns.

Fireflies (also called lightning bugs) are beetles. Their light patterns are part of their mating display. Each species of firefly has a characteristic flash pattern that helps its male and female individuals recognize each other. Most species produce a greenish-yellow light. The males fly and flash and the usually stationary females respond with a flash.
It is not understood why the fireflies flash synchronously. The fireflies do not always flash in unison, and instead flash in waves across hillsides, and at other times will flash randomly. Synchrony occurs in short bursts that end with abrupt periods of darkness.

The firefly shuttle operating dates are June 2-9, 2015. Advance reservations of parking passes have sold out, however, 85 parking passes will be available for each day of the event. These 85 passes will go on sale online at 10:00 a.m. the day before the event. Passes can be purchased online at or by calling (877) 444-6777. During the program operating dates, a parking pass is required for evening access tp the Sugarlands Visitor Center parking lot and the firefly shuttle to the Elkmont viewing Area.

Elkmont is not the only place to view synchronous fireflies. On many occasions, synchronous fireflies have made an appearance at Up the Creek RV Camp in Pigeon Forge, TN.

Mingo Falls on the Cherokee Indian Reservation, located just outside Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a lesser-known gem! The 120 ft waterfall is one of the tallest and most spectacular in the southern Appalachians. Of all the hikes to Great Smoky Mountains Waterfalls, this one is relatively short, being only 0.4 miles in length, one-way. However, it is considered moderate to difficult, since it is all stair-climbing from the trailhead.

To reach the trail head: from Oconaluftee Visitor Center, drive south (toward Cherokee) on US-441 and take the second left onto Big Cove Road. At the first stop sign turn left and drive 4.5 miles to Mingo Falls Campground, where the trail begins. Mingo Falls is an amazingly scenic day-trip from Up the Creek RV Camp in Pigeon Forge Tennessee. One of our large, scenic full-hookup sites is a great base camp for all of your Great Smoky Mountain adventures!

Pink lady’s-slipper is a fairly rare spring wildflower in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The blossom has a pink inflated pouch (“slipper”) & two large basal leaves that are strongly ribbed.It is a member of the orchid family & grows to up to 18 inches tall. Witnessing these amazing wildflowers in bloom is a truly exhilarating experience!


Pioneer botanist, William Bartram, discovered flame azaleas in 1791. He described the plant as “certainly the most gay and brilliant flowering shrub yet known.”

In the Great Smoky Mountains, flame azalea flower colors range from white to peach to orange, yellow, or red. Blooming time is April and May in the pine and oak forests at low to mid-elevation, but not until June or early July on the mountain tops. The famous displays on Gregory Bald bloom in mid to late June and on Andrews Bald in late June. Flame azalea can also be seen on Balsam Mountain Road.

One of the first wildflowers to bloom each year, the fragile bloodroot appears well before trees leaf out. Native Americans used bloodroot as dye for baskets and clothing, as well as for body paint. In large quantities, the orangish-red juice found in its rhizome is poisonous and can be lethal. These flowers appeared near the creek bank at Up the Creek RV Camp but can also be seen on Porters Creek Trail or Rich Mountain Road in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.