The Glow Worm Caves at Pickett State Park, TN

*This text might include affiliate hyperlinks. We obtain a small fee at no additional value to you. If you happen to get pleasure from our content material and need to assist Journey For Wildlife, please go to our store Really Wild.We rolled slowly to a cease within the Hazard Cave trailhead parking space at 8:20 PM. The indigo sky was darkening rapidly however a near-full moon was peeking via the tree tops. As we opened the automotive door the incessant name of a whip-poor-will echoed loudly via the forest. We had pushed greater than 200 miles that day, full of pleasure to see a bioluminescent maggot. Sure, it was lastly time to appreciate one in every of our desires, to take a tour of the glow worm caves at Pickett State Park, Tennessee.
A simulation of the glow worm caves at Pickett State Park, Tennessee
We had wished to witness this pure marvel for years however one way or the other by no means received the timing proper. The excursions are solely carried out in late Could and early June. However this yr we received fortunate. It popped into our heads simply days earlier. We managed to discover a tour that wasn’t bought out and one of many lovely Pickett State Park cabins was out there for a similar night time. Destiny was on our aspect.
Two different automobiles pulled into the lot, adopted by a ranger’s truck. Dim pink headlamps and flashlights got here on one after the other and after a short introduction from the ranger, Codi, we headed off into the black forest. By some quirk of timing, our expedition consisted of solely 7 individuals.  Codi knowledgeable me that the majority nights bought out on the present cap of 25 folks. “Within the outdated days we didn’t put any cap on it and a few nights we had as many as 90 folks.”
Coming into the Hazard Cave Path
What’s all of the fuss about? That is no unusual bug. Actually, that is a particularly uncommon phenomenon that’s restricted to a small area of  the southern Appalachian Mountains within the Japanese United States.
These “glow worms”, recognized by the scientific title Orfelia fultoni, are the one bioluminescent fly species in North America. In addition they emit the bluest gentle ever recorded for any bioluminescent insect, even bluer than their well-known glowworm cousins Arachnocampa present in New Zealand caves. Although associated, they every use a unique chemical system to create blue gentle.
Intently associated to fungus gnats, the grownup principally appears to be like like a big mosquito. However it’s the larval stage of the fly that glows. This wormy type is a mere quarter-inch lengthy. What seems as a tiny blue dot is definitely two tiny blue dots as a result of the Tennessee glow worms gentle up at each the top and the tail, one other distinctive function.
An illustration of Orfelia fultoni larvae, aka glow worms.
Not like most fungus gnat larvae, O. fultoni is a predatory species. The larvae create a sticky web-like construction and use their glowing blue gentle to draw flying bugs and lure them.
Typically a fly larva is known as a maggot, however how one way or the other Predatory Bioluminescent Maggot doesn’t sound as cute as Glow Worm does it? That will make an excellent title for a metallic band although.
Which one do you think about while you consider glow worms?
They’re generally known as “dismalites” in Alabama the place you too can take a Dismals Canyon glow worms tour.
Underneath pink gentle, we fastidiously picked our method down the steep concrete steps, throughout sandy trails, and over small rocks and roots for about 10 minutes earlier than reaching a small wood boardwalk. Above our heads within the gloom an enormous rock overhang stretched as much as the celebrities. Thats once we began to note stars on the bottom.
“Woah! Over there! And there!” Although our eyes had not but adjusted to the darkish, dim blue factors of sunshine started to appear. First alongside the banks of a moist creek mattress to our proper, then tucked beneath the wall of rock to our left. The ranger urged us ahead to the mouth of the cave, promising we’d see extra on the best way out. 
The boardwalk to Hazard Cave seen in daylight the day after.
Although we hadn’t seen it in daylight, we might really feel we have been getting into an area the scale of an airplane hangar, with a mouth that would swallow a blue whale sideways. Not technically a cave, Hazard Cave is in actual fact a “rock shelter” or “rock home”, an enormous overhang that stretches a whole lot of toes deep.
The doorway to Hazard Cave
The sandy ground felt like a seaside beneath our toes, however the massive boulders looming in our headlamps reminded us we have been in an alien setting. Winding between the stones we moved to the again of the cave and located seats among the many slabs. Right here we extinguished our lamps whereas the ranger defined the pure historical past of the glow worms and our eyes adjusted to the pitch. Simply behind our heads on the ceiling of the cave, two blue factors of sunshine glowed faintly.
standing inside Hazard Cave
“Some years there are greater than others,” he defined.  The perfect yr I keep in mind was 2015. It was unbelievable. The moon may be very brilliant tonight so it is going to be a bit more durable to see them, however you’re nonetheless going to see an excellent present tonight.
We plodded clumsily again out of the cave, utilizing as little gentle as doable and made our method again to the cut up rail fence alongside the rock face. It was erected to guard an endangered plant, the Cumberland Sandwort (Arenaria cumberlandensis) discovered solely in sandstone rock throughout the Huge South Fork watershed.  However it additionally served to maintain folks from trampling glow worm habitat.
The tiny blue specs grew to become increasingly quite a few as we reached the boardwalk, alongside the creek mattress and on the base of the stone cliff. I tried to take a protracted publicity picture with my tripod however failed miserably. Our small group moved a bit too rapidly to permit me the time I wanted to experiment. So I gave up on photographs and watched the starry forest ground round me.  Right here’s a simulation of the picture I want I might have taken.
A simulation of the glow worm caves at Pickett State Park, Tennessee
This isn’t the identical because the transient intense flash of a firefly. As a substitute, the regular, dim glow of intense cobalt blue requires a little bit of effort to identify, ideally on a really darkish night time along with your eyes absolutely adjusted to the darkness. 
After we discovered one near the path we’d try and find it with our headlamp, however the larvae have been so tiny that they have been unattainable to identify among the many moss and particles.
We have been lagging behind and felt pressured to make our method again out, so we dragged ourselves away. Till a couple of years in the past, guests have been allowed to go to Hazard Cave on their very own at night time, “however we received bored with folks getting misplaced,” the ranger knowledgeable me. So if you wish to see this spectacle for your self, get your self to Pickett State Park and be a part of a guided glow worm tour.
I’ll be coming again once more quickly, and never only for the glow worms. This hidden gem of a park has much more to supply! (see extra actions beneath). The ranger stated in addition they provide a guided night time paddle infrequently and that it was an effective way to see extra glow worms!

Glow Worm Tour Information, Pickett State Park TN
Right here’s a fast have a look at the glow worm hike information as of 2021
What: Glow Worm guided hike to Hazard Cave.
The place: Hazard Cave trailhead parking space off route 154 in Pickett CCC Memorial State Park, Tennessee. (view google map or obtain park map pdf)
When: After sundown (8:30 PM for us) on choose nights in late Could and early June. Test the Pickett State Park upcoming occasions web page for particular nights. Some nights seem to supply a second hike at 9:30 PM. The tour lasts for lower than one hour. 
Price: $5 per particular person.
Distance: 0.25 miles from trailhead parking to the rock shelter (Hazard Cave)
Issue: Average. You have to have the ability to climb down some pretty steep units of concrete stairs and stroll uneven trails at nighttime with solely a red-light to gentle the best way.
Methods to Register for Glow Worm Hike

Go to the upcoming occasions web page of the Pickett State Park web site.
Click on on “view particulars” for an upcoming glow worm hike.
Click on “Register for occasion” button.

The signal on the Hazard Cave trailhead parking the place the tour begins.

Issues to Do in Pickett State Park TN
What actually shocked me was what number of enjoyable sights are constructed into this comparatively small park. Primary amongst them have been the pure arch and pure bridge which might be simply accessible by mountaineering or paddling, one in every of which you’ll paddle proper beneath! Each of them might be walked throughout through mountaineering trails. On high of that, you too can go to the Twin Arches 8 miles away in Huge South Fork Nationwide River and Recreation Space.
It appears to be like scarier from the aspect than it does from the highest. A pure bridge in Pickett State Park, TN
If you happen to’re into astronomy, Pickett State Park was the primary state park within the southeast to earn an Worldwide Darkish Sky Park silver tier standing. Guests are welcome to make use of their astronomy subject in case you introduced a telescope or to hitch a guided night time sky program.
The primary Worldwide Darkish Sky Park within the southeast United States
There are a great deal of stunning quick mountaineering trails, all throughout the speedy neighborhood of the cabins and a pair longer ones if you wish to make a day of it. They take you thru a stunning number of plant communities and geological formations. We beloved the lake path, blazed via dense patches of flowering mountain laurels, spongy lichens, and the surprisingly tropical-looking bigleaf magnolia with its absurdly massive leaves.
The focus of the park is Arch Lake (generally known as Pickett Lake) the place a sandy seaside invitations you to dip your toes and go for a swim.
The seaside on Arch Lake at Pickett State Park
There’s a boat home with canoes, paddle boards and fishing boats for hire (hire from the customer middle), and a suspension bridge hangs throughout the center of the lake. 
A protracted suspension bridge hangs excessive above the lake.
Our favourite exercise was paddling a canoe beneath the pure stone bridge and looking for beaver dams (see the Watching Wildlife part beneath). The water is obvious and nonetheless and filled with fascinating life.
Paddling a canoe beneath the huge pure stone arch in Pickett State Park

Watching Wildlife in Pickett State Park
Whereas the glow worms have been our main wildlife attraction, we additionally had a couple of different enjoyable encounters alongside the best way.
The lake is stuffed with red-spotted newts (red-spotted salamanders) they usually’re enjoyable to sit down and watch from the sting of the seaside or from a canoe.
A red-spotted newt (salamander) within the water of Arch Lake
We additionally noticed a northern water snake (aka frequent water snake) swimming within the lake and one other snake (most likely an jap rat snake) searching in a rock shelter.
An jap rat snake searching in a rock shelter.
It was most likely looking for deer mice which we noticed residing in cozy little homes constructed on rock ledges within the caves.
I noticed 3 deer mice come out to test on me after I found their home on a ledge in a rock shelter
At night time throughout glow worm season you could have a good chance of listening to a whip-poor-will calling. (Go away your cabin home windows open and also you’ll hear all of them night time!) If you happen to’ve by no means heard this night time chicken sing, have a hearken to the whip-poor-will name beneath we recorded whereas ready for our glow worm tour.
Take into accout, there are black bears which have been reintroduced to the Huge South Fork space in 1996-97. We didn’t occur to identify one, however it is best to apply bear security by keeping track of all meals gadgets and storing them securely at night time. Additionally observe that some intelligent crows have been busy pilfering meals from unattended picnics on the seaside.
A number of pairs of Canada geese with fluffy yellow goslings additionally frequent the seaside and should harass guests for meals. (Please don’t feed them, pure meals is significantly better for them!)
Our favourite wildlife encounter was not a sighting in any respect however a “sounding”. We have been paddling across the loop of Arch Lake and encountered a beaver lodge. Whereas analyzing it we heard a wierd whining and whimpering sound coming from the alternative shore behind us.
Cristina stated, “these are child beavers!” (See video beneath.) Ever the doubter I replied “nah, these are simply geese.” After paddling nearer we observed the sound  wasn’t coming from the forest above the excessive cliff however from deep beneath a low rock ledge overhanging the water. What at first seemed like an inexplicable mass of tree roots wedged on the again turned out to be one other beaver lodge! And the whimpering sounds have been coming from inside.
A beaver lodge wedged deep beneath a rock ledge, with noisy children inside!
After all Cristina had been proper (she at all times is) and we drifted nearer beneath the ledge til our heads have been touching the ceiling to hearken to the unbelievable sounds of an excited beaver household taking part in inside their lodge. Try our video of beavers swimming underwater! We took this video in Asheville, NC a couple of years again. 

Pickett State Park Cabins
To me, that is cause sufficient to go to Pickett, for an opportunity to remain within the stunning stone cabins constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps within the 1930’s. 
One of many stunning Pickett state park cabins constructed by the CCC within the 1930’s
I’ve by no means seen a method fairly prefer it, with the stone partitions changing into thicker close to the bottom, giving  them a sloping natural high quality like they one way or the other sprouted naturally from the bottom. There are solely three  stone cabins and two different small wood cabins that have been initially constructed by the CCC. 
Whereas known as “rustic”, they’ve each fashionable luxurious, are tastefully embellished and meticulously maintained. The large stone fire must be draw sufficient (although fires are solely allowed in colder seasons), however the central warmth/AC, plus a full kitchen ought to seal the deal. There’s even a small dishwasher hiding behind historic cabinetry. 
The bed room in one of many rustic stone Pickett State Park cabins
The massive stone fire within the cabin lounge. I might have most popular a sofa however they threw in a second mattress as an alternative.
Different cabin lodging contains 5 commonplace cabins,  5 “suite cabins” constructed side-by-side like row homes in addition to 5 “luxurious cabins” known as villas on the park map. Go to the Pickett State Park cabins web page for availability and charges.
We stayed in Cabin 3 which was tucked right into a semi-private nook within the forest and featured a screened porch wanting into the woods. We beloved staying in it and are already fantasizing about coming again within the fall.

Pickett State Park Tenting
Pickett additionally incorporates a beautiful little campground with 27 websites (20 have electrical hookups) and a bunch tenting space. Go to their tenting web page for more information.
Historic water tower within the Picket State Park tenting space.

Regardless of having all these enjoyable sights and incredible lodging choices, Pickett was virtually empty the whole two days we spent there. Maybe it was fortunate timing (the weekend earlier than Memorial Day weekend) or maybe it is a hidden gem that’s simply ready so that you can uncover it. We’ll be heading again there quickly to seek out out.
wanting up at a sandstone cliff in Pickett State Park

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