You’ve seen their recognizable orange, black, and white patterned-wings fluttering around before, but have you seen the monarch butterflies cover the mountains of Western North Carolina as they migrate south for the winter? Their 2,500-mile journey to Mexico’s warmer climate leaves our landscape covered in their beautiful orange hue. It’s a sight worth seeing, and you can get a glimpse here in the North Carolina Smoky Mountains.
Monarchs often travel along mountain ridges on their way south, so our mountain towns are some of the best places to see them. Catch one of Mother Nature’s best displays between September and early October in one of the locations below.
(Psst. These are also some great spots to view the fall foliage!)
ALONG THE BLUE RIDGE PARKWAY
Its high elevation and panoramic views make several spots along Parkway perfect for viewing the migration. Most overlooks allow for at least partial viewing, but here are some of the more popular on the BRP to catch these guys:
- Wagon Road Gap: Parking area at Milepost 412.2.
- Double Top Mountain Overlook: Milepost 435.3 at Balsam Gap near the junction of Route 215, parking area located on Flat Gap.
- Cherry Cove Overlook: Near-360-degree views at Milepost 415.7, south of Mt. Pisgah.
- Pounding Mill Parking Overlook: 20 miles south of Canton at Milepost 413.2.
- Waterrock Knob: With plenty of parking and one of the most iconic views on the parkway, this is another exceptional viewing area in Haywood County. Located at Milepost 451.2, this 360-degree overlook also offers a summit hike. Their Visitor Center will be open from 10 am – 5 pm through October.
- Haywood-Jackson Overlook: The overlook itself may only offer a few glimpses of mountain peaks due to the dense firs that tend to block the view. For a real treat, take a hike up to Richland Balsam, the highest peak on the Blue Ridge Parkway, for a glimpse of the monarch migration.
This wildly-popular camping destination boasts a beautiful 360-degree view on a cleared mountain top. (It’s also a perfect picnic spot, so think about grabbing a picnic lunch from Sunburst Market in Waynesville before you go!) It’s roughly a half mile hike from the parking lot to the summit, making this a good spot to bring the youngins along.
BLACK BALSAM KNOB
This treeless bald sits at around 6,200 feet in elevation. For you, that means wide, sweeping Smoky Mountain views filled with speckles of orange and black, courtesy of our winged visitors. To get here, just hop on the Art Loeb Trail via the Blue Ridge Parkway!
A scenic, 200-acre lake surrounded by 1,200 acres of rolling mountain peaks and valleys—that’s Lake J. Here, you’ll find a looping walking trail that encircles the lake itself, full of beautiful blooms and wildflowers. We’re big fans of this trail and so are the monarchs.
NORTH CAROLINA ARBORETUM
Just a short drive from Haywood County, the Arboretum is hosting a new recurring event to celebrate some of our favorite seasonal travelers. Every Saturday in September, stop by the Baker Exhibit Center to learn all about how the monarch butterfly caterpillars go from milkweed-munchers to long-range road trippers.
Finding the monarchs is part luck and part science. Checking out these spots will increase your chances of witnessing this remarkable migration. While you’re here, find other ways to enjoy the fall weather in the Smokies. And if you’re able to spot some monarchs, make sure you share them with us on social using #HAYNOW!