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Celebrate a migration miracle at the fall Monarch Butterfly Festival

Everyone ends up in Florida sooner or later it seems, and monarch butterflies are no different.

On their 2,000-mile fall migration from North America to Central Mexico, thousands of monarch butterflies stop over in Florida’s Big Bend and Panhandle in October and November.

This miraculous migration is celebrated in an annual Monarch Butterfly Festival at the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in picturesque St. Marks, Florida, a half hour south of Tallahassee.

Monarch butterfly by Kenneth Dwain Harrelson
Monarch butterfly is celebrated at Monarch Butterfly Festival (Photo by Kenneth Dwain Harrelson)

This 2023 festival will be held October 28 from 10 a.m.-4 p.m., including exhibitors and programs about Florida native plants and local and migrating birds. There will be hot dogs, hamburgers, beverages and snacks. Event details.

Admission to the Monarch Butterfly Festival is free. There’s a modest $5 fee to enter the refuge. Read more about the refuge.

The 1831 lighthouse at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
The 1831 lighthouse at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Monarch butterflies have experienced a dramatic decline in population in the last two decades. While monarch butterflies are found across the United States, according to the U.S. Fish Wildlife Service, their numbers have declined by 90 percent because of loss of habitat due to agricultural practices, development and cropland conversion.

The monarch butterfly migration is unique – each butterfly is on its own, not following a parent, exhibiting an inherited behavior, not a learned one. Migrating monarchs hatch during the summer and they make the round-trip only once. says you can see hundreds or even thousands of monarch butterflies at St. Marks refuge and the best place is around the picturesque historic St. Marks lighthouse.  The site reports: “Monarchs are reluctant to fly directly across the water, so they bunch up at the lighthouse, located on a small tip, beside the Gulf of Mexico. They tend to stay for a time because the food supply is good at this time of year.”

Even without monarch butterflies, we found the St. Marks Refuge to be a beautiful place to explore.

You won’t find a more scenic lighthouse than St. Marks, and the lighthouse keeper’s quarters will be open on the Saturday of the butterfly festival from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for self-guided tours. Docents will be available to answer questions. (No climbing of the tower is allowed at this time.)

There are also many hikes in the area. (Start at the beautiful refuge headquarters, with a walk around their pond and into adjacent woods.)

Here’s a Florida Rambler report on St. Marks and the Wakulla Springs area. This region offers a great variety of recreational opportunities – a lovely paved bike path through the forest, one of the biggest and most beautiful springs in Florida, a picturesque river to kayak, charming small towns. You could spend days here.

More about the monarch butterfly migration in Florida:

St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge There is a $5 per car entry fee to the refuge.  St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge is at 1255 Lighthouse Road, St. Marks .

Hours of the festival are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Monarchs also migrate along the Atlantic Coast and the dunes along Amelia Island State Park in northeast Florida are also a stopover site. Here’s more information.

US Fish and Wildlife Service “Save the monarch butterfly” site.

Monarch Watch for information on monarch waystations, free milkweed and more.

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Pat VanderYacht

Saturday 25th of December 2021

Are there any butterflies in March?

Bonnie Gross

Saturday 25th of December 2021

You are likely to see some butterflies who stay in Florida or who are migrating back through Florida in March. But this is a less reliable time to spot quantities of butterflies than during the fall migration, according to several sources online.


Wednesday 26th of February 2020

Hi, I plan to visit St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in October to see the Monarch butterflies. I wanted to get some ideas about the do's and dont's. I have heard it is a beautiful sight to see so many butterflies huddled together. Do i just visit the lighthouse and observe them or are there any guidelines. Also, is OCtober the right tiem or we can spot them in September too?

Bonnie Gross

Friday 28th of February 2020

Your best bet is to call the wildlife refuge and ask for some guidance. The staff there was very helpful and friendly when I visited (which was NOT during the migration period.) St. Marks NWR provides a phone number (850) 925-6121 and a general email address [email protected] so I would contact them.

Pam Roberts

Wednesday 23rd of October 2019

Can you still experience the Monarch’s if you go on Sunday?

Bonnie Gross

Wednesday 23rd of October 2019

Yes. The monarchs migrate over several weeks so to the butterflies, there's nothing special about Saturday. It's the day the wildlife refuge biologists picked for the event so I'm sure they try to time it to the peak weekend.

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