These Amazing Fireflies Look Like Little Blue Fairies and Only Appear 3 Weeks Each Year

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Looking for a new family adventure? The Blue Ghost Fireflies are an amazing site you can view through the Cradle of Forestry in Pisgah Forest. KAG’s Kristina Hernandez experienced this unique site and she’s sharing all the information so you can check it out with your family!

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I love hiking and exploring and having adventures with my kids. But hiking in the dark in the middle of a forest was never truly on my to-do list. However, when my editor and owner of Kidding Around Greenville, Bethany, emailed one day in April asking if I wanted to get tickets to see the Blue Ghost Fireflies in Pisgah Forest, for some reason, I didn’t hesitate. I had heard about the mysterious blue ghost fireflies (from our own website no less) and certainly wanted to experience it. But honestly, I hadn’t thought it through. You can’t see the fireflies unless it’s dark out so that would automatically imply it’d be way past bedtime for my kids. It’s over an hour away to any place to see them so it’d be a late night. And hiking in the dark? No thanks.

But I bought the tickets, said yes, and planned for an epic adventure. And it was one of the most amazing, incredible, ethereal experiences I’ve ever had.

What are the Blue Ghosts?

When I told my four-year-old we were going to see the Blue Ghosts, she kind of cowered and cried that she didn’t want to see any ghosts. Well, maybe I should have couched it a little differently. Either way, we were going and I couldn’t wait to see these little creatures.

The Blue Ghosts are a kind of firefly or lightning bug that are pretty tiny, smaller than a dime. The males emit a green light, which appears blue to human eyes, that is cool instead of hot. That means we can easily see them in the dark. The Blue Ghosts light up for mating purposes – the males fly slowly, close to the ground in search of females hidden in the leaves and forest floor, who are flashing their own lights. When they spot one, they head off in that direction and make their own fireworks.

The females don’t have wings so they signal to the males flying above them, which means it’s important to not get in the way of this mating ritual when checking them out and being cautious where you step.

How to See the Blue Ghosts

You can only see these Blue Ghosts for about three weeks during the whole year, which makes this an even cooler experience. There are a few places around Greenville to see the insects but we chose to purchase tickets through the Cradle of Forestry in the Pisgah Forest, about 90 minutes from Greenville in North Carolina right outside of Brevard.

The Blue Ghosts typically show up in humid weather close to the ground near creeks or water sources in search of love – or whatever the insect equivalent of that is. They can be seen in Pisgah Forest, DuPont National Forest, and Congaree National Forest.

Related to the Blue Ghosts are the synchronous fireflies, which are another neat phenomenon where the bugs light up all at the same time. These come out the same times as the Blue Ghosts but people who want to see them – the fireflies usually show up in the Great Smoky Mountains – have to enter a lottery to get a spot to take a bus to Elkmont to check them out. In 2019, 29,000 people entered the lottery and just 1,800 won a ticket.

At Congaree National Forest, you now have to enter a lottery system to see them. It’s hard to get tickets. The ones that show up there are mostly the synchronous fireflies. But at Dupont National Forest, hunting the Blue Ghosts has become so popular that rangers have closed off some parking lots and trails at night because people ended up stepping all over the female insects on the ground that were signaling to the male Blue Ghosts. This is why we can’t have nice things.

Hunting the Blue Ghosts in the Cradle of Forestry

This particular experience at the Cradle of Forestry was ideal for many reasons. The plan was already in place on what to do so you just had to show up. You need a small flashlight and it’s encouraged to wear long pants and shirts and bring a rain poncho. Your flashlight will be covered with a red film and rubber band and should only be used for safety to see the paved trail. If you constantly use the flashlight, you won’t see the Blue Ghosts and may scare them off.

The naturalists at the Cradle of Forestry are really good at their jobs. They give a fascinating presentation – along with a likely-made-up folk song about the Blue Ghost – before they let you on the trails, which is so helpful because it’s more interesting if you know what you’re looking for and the reasons behind what you’re about to see.

And thirdly, the guides at the Cradle are knowledgeable and help you get to where you need to go, plus answer all your questions along the trail. You can follow a flat, paved 1.2 mile trail to see the Blue Ghosts or just go halfway and turn around.

The program starts at 8:30 pm and the guides promise you’ll be heading out by 10:30 pm. We ended up leaving around 10 pm all giddy and ecstatic about having witnessed a truly incredible sight. As we hit the paved trail around 9 pm, it was dark and we saw the Blue Ghosts right away.  

There were around 90 people maybe but for most of the trail, we were by ourselves – three adults and four kids ages 4-10. At least we thought we were by ourselves. It was so dark we couldn’t see other people….or animals.

As we walked the trail and saw the fireflies lighting up, it was truly unreal. Words fall short in trying to describe the Blue Ghosts as they darted low to the ground. I tried to take photos but it was so dark, I couldn’t see anything, much less figure out how to get my camera to take a decent shot.

The kids especially were awed. It looked like little fairies were surrounding us on either side. As the night got darker, we couldn’t see anything in front of us and relied on the guides ahead to tell us where to go, only turning on our flashlights if we hit a tree or thought we were going off the path. Closer to 9:45 pm, it was pitch black. We couldn’t see the trail or our hand in front of us. We may have run into a couple people on the trail, too. Sorry!

As we walked, it felt like we were walking in a black cloud while the Blue Ghosts spanned out in front of us. Magical, surreal, ethereal.

My eight-year-old daughter said the night was “better than awesome”. I agree.

Here’s what Bethany and I thought:

Check it off Your Bucket List

To sign up for the Blue Ghost tour at the Cradle of Forestry, you need to book your tickets online and they sell out fast.

2023 dates are Tuesdays-Saturdays during these weeks. Gates open at 8:15 pm and the program starts at 9 pm and will conclude by 10:30 pm:

  • May 16-May 20
  • May 23-May 27
  • June 6-June 10

Tickets are $50/adult and $25/youth (ages 4-12). It’s cheaper if you have an annual pass for the Cradle of Forestry or an America the Beautiful National Parks Pass. My four-year-old was probably the youngest one there but she loved it as did all the other kids we had with us. There weren’t many other kids there but I’d still recommend it for children.

Parents need to keep an eye – or ear – on kids throughout the tour because it’s dark and really, you don’t want to lose them. And because kids and flashlights are like butter on popcorn, keep the flashlights to yourself until the end in the interests of everyone having the best experience possible.

You need to arrive at 8:15 pm for the 8:30 pm tour but I’d suggest getting there earlier to explore the indoor exhibit, which is super cool. They have a huge space dedicated to educating the public on the history of the area and the forest. It’s worth checking out. There are also bathrooms at the building, which you’ll want to do before the tour because peeing in the dark woods is a bad idea.

Since Pisgah is quite a distance from Greenville, I ended up finding a place to stay and making a trip out of it by exploring waterfalls the next day but it’s possible to just make it a really late night and drive home.

People come from all over the world to see these creatures since there aren’t a lot of climates and environments that make it ideal for the Blue Ghosts to do their thing. Living in the Upstate has lots of benefits and the area certainly lends itself to experiencing adventures like this. So drink some coffee, plan for a late-night, and mark your calendar for a magical late-night adventure with the Blue Ghosts.

Have you seen the blue ghosts?

About the Author
Kristina Hernandez is a mom of two girls, freelance writer and photographer. Originally from New Jersey, she is in love with the Upstate and could not imagine raising her kids anywhere else. She enjoys hiking to waterfalls, kayaking, camping, cooking, and exploring all that Greenville has to offer. And she really loves baby goats. Follow her on Instagram at @scadventurer.

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