Thomas J. Story

You can visit stops along the Western Monarch Trail to learn more about how to help monarch butterflies.

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It’s a brisk, early morning in Pismo Beach when the sun begins to break through the eucalyptus branches that tower above a quiet dirt trail. A few people meander up and down the pathway. We’re all waiting for the first rays of light to wake the sleeping monarch butterflies hidden in the trees. 

Then, all of a sudden, the chill begins to fade. The air warms. One butterfly starts to flutter above our group of watchful eyes—then two, then three. Soon, a burst of orange and black wings begins to swirl all around us, the scene as magical as a Disney movie. This is Pismo State Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove, an otherworldly oasis on the central California coast that serves as an overwintering site for the beloved Western monarch butterfly. 

It’s the first stop on a new multi-state trail established to educate people on how they can help save the species, which has seen significant decline in recent decades. More people are becoming aware of the migration and doing their part to aid in a healthy population. Recent months saw a bit of good news: About 250,000 monarchs overwintered along the West Coast last winter, according to the Xerces Society, which is up from fewer than 2,000 the year before. 

Monarch butterfly
A monarch butterfly at Pismo State Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove

Thomas J. Story

There are many ways you can help the butterflies, from planting native milkweed and nectar plants to keeping them migrating (AKA not keeping a monarch as a pet). The folks over at the nonprofit Central Coast State Parks Association wanted to do even more—and help empower others to join in the effort. The Western Monarch Trail was born.

It’s modeled after the nearby Whale Trail, which offers resources at more than 100 whale migration stops up and down the West Coast.

“We will span as far north as Washington and south to Arizona and to the west side of the Rockies,” says Kristin Howland, executive director of the Central Coast State Parks Association. 

They aim to do this by installing educational panels at critical migration sites, and facilitating restoration and outreach at other locations such as nurseries and gardens.

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The trail will span several locations within the California State Parks system, and you’ll also find stops soon at the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden and Port Hueneme Historic Cemetery.

Staff installed the first set of educational panels at the Pismo Beach overwintering site on Earth Day, less than one year after multiple federal and state agencies, plus private and nonprofit organizations, came together to conceptualize and launch the trail.

More locations will be revealed in the coming months. In the meantime, you can read about ways you can help monarch butterflies—or get a ticket to the association’s upcoming gala to provide financial support. A 2022 Butterfly Ball will take place Sept. 10 in San Luis Obispo, and proceeds will go toward the ongoing support of the Western Monarch Trail. You can also donate directly to the cause online here.