Lights Out: After Hours Adventures Near Knoxville

Camping at Elkmont during the firefly festival
Camping at Elkmont during the firefly festival Jim R Rogers
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Now that the warmth of summer is well on its way, don't let your nighttime fun be limited to bars and backyards. Here are three great options for getting out after hours near Knoxville.

Star Gaze in Dark-Sky Park

Pickett-Pogue Dark-Sky Park
Pickett-Pogue Dark-Sky Park Mike Serkownek

As earth becomes evermore electrified and lit, it’s becoming harder and harder to track down a perfect night’s sky. Not so long ago, even those living near cities could see a great host of stars in the sky and often even catch trace edges of the white, cloudy line of the Milky Way Galaxy. Today, though, street lights are ubiquitous and densely clustered, in most residential areas, and the constant glow of cities makes it sometimes hard to discern even the most prominent constellations.

Luckily, the International Dark-Sky Association has named several “dark-sky parks” around the world to encourage dark night education and conservation, and one of the parks is right here in East Tennessee!

Pogue Creek Canyon Natural Area and Pickett State Park cooperatively form the Pickett-Pogue International Dark Sky Park, located on the northwest side of Big South Fork. These parks comprise “some of the darkest and most pristine skies in the world” according to the IDA. "International Dark Sky Places serve as reminders that the wonders of the nighttime environment are just as much a part of our lifestyle and history as the natural beauties experienced during daylight." So pack up your tent, sleeping bag, and constellation chart for a night of pristine skies, where a campfire and the star speckled universe provide the only light you need.

Catch a Movie at Parkway Drive-in

Enjoying a blast-from-the-past classic in style.
Enjoying a blast-from-the-past classic in style. Denise Mattox

Another night-only experience near Knoxville is the classic Parkway Drive-in in Maryville . Just 20 minutes from Knoxville, this blast from the past drive-in movie theatre is packed in the spring and summer months with pick-up trucks, lawn chairs, and southern relaxation straight out of a country music video. Gates open at 7pm on Friday and Saturday nights, allowing movie-goers some time to pick their spot, mingle, and settle in for the double feature that starts at dusk. With tickets only $7 and kids under 4 getting in for free, you can feel comfortable taking the whole family out for a memorable night without worrying about crowded theatre aisles, sticky floors, or bank-breaking costs.

Unfortunately, the Parkway Drive-in might be in danger. Some fear the light pollution from a incoming Super Walmart could threaten the quality of the Drive-in, overwhelming the light of the screen. So make sure you get out this summer and catch a movie the in this retro style, before drive-ins like the Parkway totally fade away.

Experience the Synchronous Fireflies at Elkmont (June 2-9)

Mike Lewinski

As dusk settles down into dark, the June air begins to twinkle in the Smokies with the soft, bioluminescent glow of countless fireflies, blinking in unison. The light these fireflies give off as part of their mating ritual occurs for approximately two weeks every summer at Elkmont in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park . The chemical reaction that produces the greenish-yellow light is 10 times more efficient than the heat-heavy light of our incandescent lightbulbs, and can manifest in a number of different patterns.

"The fireflies do not always flash in unison," says the National Park Service, who have been tracking this rare phenomenon in the Great Smoky Mountains for years. "They may flash in waves across hillsides, and at other times will flash randomly. Synchrony occurs in short bursts that end with abrupt periods of darkness."

It really is something to behold, drawing audiences from around the country. The synchronous fireflies were even featured recently in the film Something, Anything, serving as a sort of lightbulb bug moment for the protagonist.

The park service organizes shuttles for those who want to observe the fireflies at peak times in the areas their known to most densely congregate. The advance reservation passes are already sold out, but additional passes will go on sale for each day of the run, beginning the day before, starting at 10:00 am. So you'll still have a chance to see this mysterious act of nature at its best. For more information, visit the National Park website.

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