Fall Monarch Migration in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The national park and parts of North Carolina are on one of the natural migration routes. Learn more about the annual monarch-tagging event.
Author:
Publish date:

Each year, monarch butterflies migrate from the northern reaches of the continent down to central Mexico. It's a bit of a mystery. Five generations of monarchs are born each summer; most only live a few weeks. It's the last-born of the summer that make this 2,000- to 2,500-mile migration trip.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park and parts of North Carolina are on one of the natural migration routes. It's national parks and other public lands that protect milk weed, the poisonous plants that host monarchs.

When will Monarchs Fly Over the Smokies?

The peak of the monarch migration in Great Smoky Mountain NP (Latitude 35.6) is Sept 24 through Oct 6. (www.monarchwatch.org/tagmig/peak.html)

A monarch butterfly on a milkweed flower.

A monarch butterfly on a milkweed flower.

Monarch Tagging Events

To learn more about the monarch, the Tremont School in Great Smoky Mountains National Park holds an annual monarch-tagging event. Park visitors head over to Cades Cove to catch butterflies with nets and put a tiny sticker (aka tag) on the critter's wing.

When a tag is discovered at the end of the line, the migration is tracked. Once such tag was found on a forest floor in Mexico 13 years later!

The Cades Cove tagging event is open to the public but you must reserve your spot because participation is limited to 16 people per day. Most years, the events are held from mid-September to late-October. Check with the Institute at Tremont website for dates. gsmit.org/monarch-tagging-and-butterflymoth-identification

Related

Fireflies lit up at night.

June Firefly Watching in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

For about two weeks each year, Elkmont in Great Smoky becomes the site of the most magnificent synchronized firefly gathering in the world.

A male elk called a "buck."

Elk in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The park’s largest animal, elk can weigh 700 pounds and reach 5 feet at the shoulder.

Entrance sign to Great Smoky Mountains National Park at Gatlinburg

Park Entrances to Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The majority of visitors enter through the Sugarlands entrance on the park’s north side by driving through Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

Black bear nursing her cubs in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Where Can I See Wildlife in Great Smoky Mountains National Park?

There are many types of animals in the Great Smoky Mountains, but dense forests can make them difficult to spot. Here’s a guide to better your chances.

Spotted Salamander. Photo courtesy John P. Clare on Flickr

Salamanders in Great Smoky Mountains Park

Thirty species of salamanders can be found in and around the creeks in the park, from the 3-foot-long hellbender to the 2-inch-long pygmy salamander.

Bobcat. Photo by Grant Ordelheide

Bobcats in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Bobcats, thought to be the only felines that live in the park, are solitary, reclusive creatures.

Bull elk grazing near the Palmer Chapel in Cataloochee Valley in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

48 Hours in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

It’s our nation’s busiest park, so here are tips on how to see the best of Great Smoky in just two days. Make the most of your time by visiting some of our favorite spots in both the Tenn. and N.C. sides of the park.

Map of location of Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North America

Where is Great Smoky Mountains National Park?

Great Smoky is in the eastern part of the United States on the Tennessee-North Carolina border. Gatlinburg, TN is the most popular gateway town.

A bear stops traffic in Cades Cove

How Close Can I Get to Bears in Great Smoky Mountains Park?

The general rule is to stay 50 yards away from bears. Never feed wild animals because it may cause them to lose their fear of humans. Watch this video