Goleta residents have much to love about the winter months – crisp weather, spectacular sunsets, and the return of monarch butterflies to Ellwood Mesa. The City of Goleta monitors butterfly populations at Ellwood to provide insight into population trends, behavior, migration patterns and ecological health.
On November 14, 2023 nearly 11,000 monarchs were counted in the Ellwood Mesa Butterfly Grove. This is a significant increase from the extremely low numbers seen in 2019-20 and 2020-21, but not yet reaching the maximum we saw during the 2021-22 and 2022-23 seasons. Monarchs continue to arrive every day and we expect the population to peak around the first week of December.
Monarchs that come here for the winter are part of the western monarch population, a distinct group that is separated from the eastern population by the Rocky Mountains. They migrate from the inland Pacific Northwest and Great Basin regions out to the California and Northern Baja California coastlines every fall. The separate population of monarchs east of the Rocky Mountains migrate to spend the winter in Mexico. Monarchs cluster in groups at Ellwood Mesa and similar areas that provide the specific conditions needed to survive the winter months—humid, protected from wind, and the right amount of shade. The best butterfly viewing area locally is the Ellwood Main Grove.
Viewing the monarchs at Ellwood is a magical experience for children and adults. When visiting the monarchs, please be respectful of their habitat by staying on marked trails, not throwing objects at clusters of butterflies, and keeping your dog on leash. The Goleta Butterfly Grove is open from sunrise to sunset with no admission fee. Free parking is available at the Ellwood Mesa Open Space & Sperling Preserve parking area, 7729 Hollister Avenue, across from Ellwood Elementary School. The Ellwood Main Grove is a half mile walk on a dirt path from the parking lot, following the butterfly trail markers. For a printable map, go to https://tinyurl.com/hex8fpaf.
To track the population counts and learn more about monarchs, visit the Goleta Butterfly Grove Visitor Information page at GoletaButterflyGrove.com.
If you visit, you will notice the eucalyptus forest has suffered significant damage from extended drought and severe winter storms. The City is actively clearing dead and dying trees for public safety, fire prevention, and in preparation for habitat restoration. Learn more about the City’s plans to improve monarch butterfly habitat, reduce wildfire risk, and repair basic public infrastructure at Ellwood Mesa at https://www.cityofgoleta.org/play/parks-recreation-open-spaces/ellwood-mesa-and-monarch-butterfly-habitat/ellwood-improvement-projects.