Around the country with the monarch butterfly

Follow along with the monarch and its entire family as they make their epic migration across the country to some amazing national parks!

It’s about to begin!

As summer comes to a close, it may seem like the time for adventure is also. Not so for the monarch butterfly - the greatest journey of their life is just about to begin! Mid-August marks the start of a fall migration for millions of monarchs. It all started with their great-great-great-great grandparents - four generations - before them, who left Mexico to travel northward. Imagine flying 3,000 miles before you could rest! That is exactly what these tiny nomads are preparing to do.

National parks make excellent rest stops for monarchs, who rely on them for sustenance, as well as crucial breeding grounds to ensure their offspring will continue this familial relay race. Let’s rewind and follow along to see how these monarchs traveled to make it possible for the “super generation” to return to Mexico, beginning the cycle all over again. So where might the monarch stop on its epic adventure? Check below for some favorite stop overs that could become yours too!

A mock selfie of a monarch at San Antonio Missions National Historical Park
The monarch stops for a selfie in front of Mission San Juan Capistrano!

NPS photo
NPS graphic/ S. Sparhawk

Winter migration: San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

Springtime is all about new beginnings, and the first generation of traveling monarchs begins here! At the end of February, elderly monarchs leave Mexico to kick off breeding season in the southern U.S. At Texas’s San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, these adults will mate, lay the first of the new generation of eggs, and eventually die.

A mock selfie of a monarch at Ozarks National Scenic Riverways
Boaters and swimmers aren't the only ones who enjoy the Current and Jacks Fork Rivers - the monarch had to grab selfie here too!

NPS Photo
NPS graphic /S. Sparhawk

Spring migration: Ozarks National Scenic Riverways

By mid-April, it's just about time to stop for a snack, like sampling nectar from the delicious, rare Riddell’s goldenrod in Ozark National Scenic Riverways! The first generation traveled up to five weeks to reach this buffet, which would not have been possible without the help of fuel reduction and prescribed burns in 2014, which helped the plant increase by 1,026 percent! The second generation born here will have plenty to energize on before they head to colonize the eastern breeding grounds.

A mock selfie of a monarch at Shenandoah National Park
Always remember: no selfies while driving - or fluttering - along Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park!

NPS photo
NPS graphic/ S. Sparhawk

Summer migration: Shenandoah National Park

May through July is a beautiful time to visit Shenandoah National Park, and monarchs agree! Human occupation of the Blue Ridge Mountains is well documented and has changed the landscape, making it challenging for the monarch to find suitable habitat. Luckily, invasive plant removal, rock outcrop management, and more research is helping restore this great spot for the third generation of monarchs.

A mock selfie of a monarch at Acadia National Park
Time to relax along the water before the greatest journey yet. The monarch MUST have a before selfie in Acadia National Park!

NPS photo
NPS graphic/ S. Sparhawk

Fall migration: Acadia National Park

They braved the journey over the Appalachian mountains and, at long last, the monarch comes to Acadia National Park in June! The monarch’s sojourn north is rewarded with its favorite treat: milkweed! Thanks to years of milkweed preservation efforts by park staff, Acadia provides the perfect final stop. The monarch that hatch from eggs laid here - the fourth generation - heads south to Mexico in August. Not a bad way to spend the cooler months, huh?

What about the monarchs in the West?

Monarchs travel throughout the western United States as well! Not much is known about these populations, but citizen scientists are helping Yosemite National Park, Point Reyes National Seashore and more, discover their mysterious monarch visitors!

Can't get enough of this epic saga? Learn more about the annual monarch migration!

Acadia National Park, Ozark National Scenic Riverways, San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, Shenandoah National Park

Last updated: August 20, 2019