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Monarch Butterfly Migration in the N.C. Smokies

butterfly in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park of NC

monarch in migrationLate September in the Smoky Mountains of Western North Carolina brings early signs of fall—cooler weather, the first few brightly tinted leaves, and the fluttering orange flashes of migrating monarch butterflies.

The monarchs, with their iconic orange, black and white-patterned wings, pass through the Southern Appalachian Mountains on their way to Mexico, the destination that marks the end of a 2,000+-mile southbound migration. The butterflies that pass through Western North Carolina likely began their journey in Pennsylvania, New York or even Canada. In spring, their descendants will make their way back to the north.

Where to Find Migrating Monarchs in the Smoky Mountains

During the fall migration, monarch butterflies travel among the treetops at higher elevations, some Blue Ridge Parkway overlooks and nearby mountain balds great places to see these winged beauties in action from late September through early to mid-October.

  • Black Balsam is a popular spot for hikers and picnickers, and during migration season the mountain bald is also great for finding monarchs. Find trailhead parking on Black Balsam Road, accessible from the Blue Ridge Parkway at MP 420.2. Bring a jacket (and your camera!) for the 1-mile hike to the top of the knob.
  • Nearby Waterrock Knob (at Parkway MP 451.2) is similarly known for its 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains, giving visitors plenty of open space to see a migrating monarch.
  • Butterflies abound in the Cade’s Cove area of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where groups gather each year to count and tag the passing butterflies. Check out the pretty pollinators in one of the area’s meadows, or head to Gregory Bald Trail for a 9-mile (round trip) hike with old growth forests and stunning views.
  • Those who are willing to venture a bit farther down the Blue Ridge Parkway may also find good butterfly-spying at Pounding Mill Overlook (MP 413.2)