Striking shades of orange are now threading in and out of the eucalyptus groves in Morro Bay State Park, meaning the migration of monarch butterflies has come early this year. With our warmest sunshine out daily, the monarchs readily recreate their homes high in the trees to escape the cold temperatures of their homelands.

We typically greet the monarchs during mid-October, as they instinctively leave their home west of the Rocky Mountains to escape freezing temperatures until summertime. However, this year the arrival of the butterflies began in late August, blessing the beginning of autumn with the addition of these colorful insects. Some of the butterflies fly more than 1,000 miles to arrive on the coast. No single monarch makes the entire journey; it takes two to three generations to migrate to the coast and back.

The monarchs will return to their homes along the Rocky Mountains likely at the end of February. Although they will be in our trees for several months, the best time to visit them is during Morro Bay’s secret season: fall. This time of year is treasured as the most vibrant, with summer-like sunshine and rainbow-colored sunsets every evening.

Morro Bay’s monarchs have a unique tendency to rest lower on the trees, allowing visitors to see them clearly without binoculars. Almost close enough to touch, you will be unable to get closer to monarch groves anywhere else.

You will find groups of monarchs around the eucalyptus groves in the State Park, the Morro Bay Golf Course and Del Mar Park. They’re often gathered with each one hanging its wing down below it to form a shingle-like fixture. This formation provides warmth, shelter from rain, and a shield from the wind. Their colorful congregation is a photographer’s dream: be sure to bring your camera along.

Come check out a guided butterfly tour to locate the best spots. Our docents from the State Park are a well of knowledge; learn more about the monarchs and their annual migration by visiting a docent at the natural history museum.

For more information, stop by the visitor center or give them a call at (805) 225-1633. 

Photo by Hunter Kilpatrick

Written by Shannon McCallister

Shannon McCallister is a Central Coast native that grew up in Arroyo Grande, California. She pursued her passion for writing, earning a B.S. in journalism at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo with a minor in women's and gender studies. Through her endeavors, she worked at the County of San Luis Obispo Administrative Office before becoming the marketing and communications coordinator for Morro Bay Tourism and enjoys promoting the city as a travel destination.