Last updated on May 6th, 2023 at 12:32 am
After our adventures in Big Sur, we had a small amount of time to kill. So after scoping out the area around our upcoming dinner reservation, we went to check out the Pacific Grove Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary, which was pretty cool!
Now, I must preface this post with some disconcerting information – the North American Monarch Butterfly population is considered endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Populations west of the Rockies have dropped by 50% since 1997, while those to the East have declined by a staggering 90%. The reason for these losses isn’t entirely understood, but theories include farming practices, habitat loss, weather, pests, and more. So, while what we saw was impressive, it’s a mere fraction of what it used to be and could vanish entirely in the future.
Pacific Grove Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary Location
As its name suggests, the Pacific Grove Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary is in the city of Pacific Grove in Monterey County, California. It’s a 20-minute, 10-mile drive from our hotel, the Hyatt Carmel Highlands.
It’s worth noting that the Pacific Grove Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary is a public park in the middle of a residential neighborhood, next to an Inn and across from a school. As you might imagine, parking in the area is TIGHT. But, please, whatever you do, please be respectful of the residents here. Do not block people’s driveways, do not illegally park in the streets, and do not park at the Inn or school.
What to Visit the Pacific Grove Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary
Butterflies in the area primarily come to the Pacific Grove Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary to overwinter in a warmer climate. As such, you should only expect to see them here during the winter. Specifically, the Pacific Grove Museum of Naturally History states that the butterflies typically arrive in mid-October and leave in early March. That said, the sanctuary is open seven days a week, year-round, except for during inclement weather.
As you’d expect, the Pacific Grove Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary itself is a mostly natural habitat. That means most of it is a wooded area with a trail running through it. Visitors must remain on the trail to help protect the butterflies and the ecosystem, though it’s wide enough for several people to stand in one area without blocking the way. During peak months, volunteers are also there daily to provide guests with information about the sanctuary and its butterflies.
It was very crowded during our visit, though people were generally courteous. The only disturbances we encountered were a couple of really unhappy kids. Otherwise, people didn’t really shove their way in front of each other as they do at the Monterey Bay Aquarium – more on that later. That all said, because of the sharp declines in their population, you won’t see large swaths of butterflies coating trees. While you’ll likely see some branches densely covered, it isn’t going to be like the scene you may have seen in Planet Earth.
Another point worth noting is that the butterflies aren’t evenly spread throughout the sanctuary. During our visit, they were primarily clustered on a few trees towards the beginning of the sanctuary. In fact, towards the back of the trail through the area, we saw very few butterflies on trees or flying around. That said, just walking around the entire sanctuary is pleasant and worth doing.
Whether you’re into butterflies or not, I think it’s worth visiting the Pacific Grove Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary. The site of so many Monarch Butterflies in one place is simply amazing – I can only imagine what it would look like before the devastating population declines. That said, as I mentioned earlier, please be respectful to others, and especially to area residents. You are visiting someone else’s home here, and it’s important to remember that.