The Pismo State Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove season is from November to February

A group of orange and black monarch butterflies rest on a green tree branch.

The Pismo State Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove is a publically owned, protected overwintering site for western monarch butterflies.   Monach clusters are found in over 200 coastal sites, including several sites in San Luis Obispo County. 

The Pismo State Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove generally has one of the largest overwintering western monarch populations.  The current monarch population is threatened.  Recent counts show a 90% drop from counts done 25 years ago. 

Why do monarchs migrate to coastal California?

Monarchs seek places with ideal microclimates for their winter habitat.  They require a sheltered area buffered from cold temperatures, storm, and wind.  The coastal environment along Central California and specifically along the coast at Pismo Beach provides the perfect microclimate for the western monarch to rest during the winter months.  

At the Pismo State Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove, the tall eucalyptus and Monterey cypress trees provide the shelter and canopy for thermal stability. Although cool temperatures are needed to slow the use of stored energy reserves, monachs cannot survive long periods of freezing temperatures.  Unusually warm temperatures trigger a search for food and mates.  Adjacent to the grove of trees is a natural garden with native flowering plants that provide nectar for the adult butterlies.

The Amazing Monarch Migration

What's unique about monarch migration? 

The western monarchs in the grove are four generations removed from the last year's overwintering monarchs.  Monarchs can reach high altitudes and travel as far as 200 miles a day.  Western monarchs don't travel in a mass migration. 

Where do they come from?

Monarchs spend summers as far north as Canada. With the approach of winter, the late summer and fall butterflies head south or west to their overwintering grounds.  Because they cannot tolerate extreme cold winter temperatures, monarchs west of the Rocky Mountains come to coastal California.  Monarchs east of the Rocky Mountains overwinter in the mountains of central Mexico or along the Gulf Coast.  Some may travel as far as 2,000 miles to reach these sites.

How do they find their way?

Studies indicate that sensors in the monarch's antenna are key to migration, providing information about the time of day the same way a clock does.  Reseachers theorize that this information, combined with information about the sun's postion, is key for navigation.  On overcast days monarchs use a UV light-triggered geomagnetic compass as a backup navigational system. 

Virtual Tours

State Park Interpreters have curated a playlist of recorded videos that are free and available to the public to access at home or in the grove.  To view the videos while visiting the grove, look for the signs with the QR Codes to scan using your personal smartphone device.  To view the videos at home, check out our full YouTube Playlist: 

Become a Discovery Agent

Cartoon character orange and black butterfly Help Secret Agent Molly Monarch on her mission to discover the Pismo State Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove. Download the Agents of Discovery App on your smartphone or tablet and select the Pismo State Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove mission!

The App is FREE and does not require WiFi or cellular data to play once installed! Agents of Discovery is an augmented reality App that allows users to independently explore the Butterfly Grove through interactive games and triva.  At the park, users are able to search for challenges and answer questions about the Monarch Butterfly migration, over-wintering habitat and life cycle.  Please practice social distancing and be aware of your surrounding while playing this self guided game in the park.


Be Monarch-Friendly

In the Grove:

  • Watch for butterflies on the ground. Don't step on them!
  • Stay on designated paths.
  • Do not disturb butterfly clusters.
  • Dispose of all litter in proper receptacles

At Home:

  • Minimize use of herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides.
  • Plant milkweed away from overwintering habitats.
  • Plant native nectaring flowers.
  • Check with your local nurseries for native milkweed varieties. 
  • Support conservation efforts.
  • Educate yourself on monarch conservation efforts:

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife requires a scientific collection permit to handle any monarch, including collection for rearing, scientific research, and teaching. Please respect these guidelines and do no touch or handle monarchs in the grove. 


Providing for the Future

Unfortunately, the remarkable monarch butterfly and its annual migration is threatened.  The loss of coastal overwintering sites, the loss of milkweed along the migration corridors, extreme weather events, drought and climate change are all factors that negatively impact the eastern and western monarch populations. 

University-based studies are helping scientists understand more about the behavior and life patterns of these fascinating creatures.  Park managers and environmental scientists have created a plan for the future of the Pismo State Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove.  Check out our Document Library to read the Monarch Butterfly Overwintering Site Management Plan.