Even though I’ve lived in California practically my whole life, this was my first time going to Santa Cruz to witness the monarch butterfly migration. These butterflies settle in the California coast between October and February, and the Natural Bridges State Park in Santa Cruz is the perfect place to see them. If you’re relatively close by, it makes for a great half day trip. I spent some time at the beach itself before going inside the park, and I’m so happy the weather was as nice as it was.
The parking lot right next to the beach area is a 25-minute zone, but it’s a great place to park if you just want to get a quick look at the beautiful scenery. If you want to park inside the park, I believe it’s $10 per car. But if you drive back along Delaware Street, you can park for FREE near the back entrance of the park instead, and that’s actually a lot closer to the Monarch Trail itself. Ask the park rangers there for more information, they’re very helpful! I was surprised that they told us about the free parking, actually.
There are several mini trails within the park, and the one we took was the first left after we entered through the back entrance. It took about 15-20 minutes to walk to the visitor’s center (you basically go around in a circle), and you can see a few butterflies along the trail, though not as many as you’ll see on the Monarch Trail.
When you get to the visitor’s center, they have a mini garden there where you can see a few of the butterflies up close. This was the only place I was able to get some good shots of the butterflies. The Monarch Trail is the most abundant in terms of the number of Monarch butterflies, but they’re all way up in the trees and the pictures don’t do them justice.
The Monarch Trail starts about 20 ft. from the Visitor’s Center, and the views are absolutely breathtaking. It’s quite hard to explain what it was like–it’s just one of those things that you have to experience for yourself. Imagine a swarm of bees, but replace the bees with butterflies. There were SO many of them. I’m so happy it was a relatively warm day when we went. Apparently, these butterflies can only fly if the temperature is above 50 degrees. And below 40 degrees they actually can’t move at all. We saw a lot of butterflies huddled in large groups in the sun, probably trying to warm up their wings. Their wings act almost like solar panels.
Those dark clumps in the picture are actually huddles of butterflies! Incredible, no? There was a telescope set up when we went that was directly aimed at one of these clumps so you could really see the butterflies up close. If you Google “monarch migration” images, you’ll get a better sense of the wonder that this place holds during the 5-month period. After the weather warms up a little in February, the butterflies continue their journey north. It’s really quite fascinating–every migration period, the butterflies go through four generations. So the butterflies that we see this year are actually the great great grandchildren of the butterflies that were here last year.
Hope you guys enjoyed this post! Have you guys ever witnessed the monarch butterfly migration? For those of you who haven’t and are in California, I highly recommend going soon before the weather gets even colder as the butterflies won’t be flying around as much on colder days.