These Southern Destinations Welcome Guests of the Human and Insect Varieties
Now that fall has officially arrived, there’s plenty of chatter about the amazing hues of the season. But leaves aren’t the only colorful, fluttering signs of autumn; there are also plenty of migrating birds and butterflies in the air right now, and it’s that second group that we want to focus on today. Though National Butterfly Day is on March 14, we’re choosing to celebrate these fascinating creatures today, as many of them are making their way south toward Mexico. Here’s a roundup of places where you can see an abundance of butterflies right now … or even all year round. If any of this inspires YOU to migrate to any of the featured destinations, please check in with us for more information!
Every fall, butterflies descend upon coastal Alabama as they fly from Canada down the East Coast and to the Gulf of Mexico. Though visitors to this region can see species that include the common buckeye, Gulf fritillary and viceroy, they’re especially drawn here by the prospect of seeing an astounding number of monarch butterflies. By mid-October, hundreds of the orange-and-black butterflies can be spotted along Pine Beach Trail, where they stop for a snack before they continue their flight to Mexico. But they’re not the only colorful critters in the refuge. Countless songbirds have been arriving during the past few weeks and their presence will likely peak in mid-October. As a bonus, the fall wildflowers ensure that while the winged creatures keep the skies and trees ablaze with color, the ground offers an equally dazzling display.
This luxury hotel in coastal Alabama has been welcoming human guests since 1847 … and butterflies since long before that. The hotel acts as an official waystation for the species, serving as a temporary home to hundreds of monarchs that pause on the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay so they can rest and feed, building their strength for the final leg of their journey. Since the monarch has been placed on the endangered species list, the resort’s horticulture team is committed to helping butterflies survive and thrive. They’ve dedicated a portion of one of the hotel’s gardens to plants that are especially appealing to the species, including milkweed, verbena, lemongrass and oregano. The monarchs arrive in Alabama in great flocks during the month of October, and guests who stay at the Grand Hotel during this time report hearing the hum of thousands of tiny flapping wings. Besides watching the butterflies around the property, guests can buy monarch merchandise and butterfly-shaped cookies in the Oak & Azalea gift shop. New this year, during the month of October, registered guests can also head to the hotel’s daily “Grandeur, Grit and Glory” celebration at 3:45 p.m. to get a sip of “Monarch Nectar,” a mixture of fresh lemonade, orange juice and butterfly pea flower pollen.
Situated in southeastern Louisiana, right along the Gulf of Mexico, Lafourche Parish – aka “Louisiana’s Cajun Bayou” – is a haven for all kinds of migrating species, from birds to butterflies, and the best place to see them is by the elevated boardwalk in Lockport. It opened in 2015 as a way for visitors to enjoy the natural beauty of the parish by allowing them to literally enter a swamp for a safe and up-close look at flora and fauna. The 440-foot boardwalk is open daily from dawn to dusk and attracts birdwatchers and photographers from all over the world. Countless species of butterflies can be spotted here, too, from March through May and again from August until early October. As a bonus for visitors who come to see the butterflies on their fall migration, there’s also a chance to see bald eagles in October.
Popularly known as “The Northshore,” St. Tammany Parish is in the southeastern corner of Louisiana and just a short drive from New Orleans. But it feels worlds apart, especially in the parks and preserves and along the trails that remind you that Mother Nature reigns supreme here. Northlake Nature Center is a 400-acre preserve on Bayou Castine, in the town of Mandeville. Visitors come here to hike along trails that take them through forests and wetlands as they search for glimpses of interesting plants, mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and insects … including several species of butterfly.
If you can’t make it to the Gulf Coast this fall, no worries …we know a place where you can see butterflies all year round. Families who visit the Ozark Mountain town of Branson can find plenty of fun and adventure in the Great Outdoors, from ziplining to riding roller coasters. But for those days when it’s rainy or chilly, The Butterfly Palace brings nature inside a large dome that offers a rainforest-style adventure you wouldn’t expect to find in a mountain town. The Butterly Palace is home to more than 1,000 live butterflies imported from locales around the world.
Time your visit right and you can even help release a newly emerged butterfly into the makeshift rainforest. Guests are encouraged to dress in red – the color that most attracts the 40 to 60 species of butterfly – and everyone receives a bright red silk flower with a nectar tube in it as they enter the aviary. Walk through and just wait for the butterflies to land on the flower … or you (they tickle!). Guests are issued wrist bands that are good for three days, allowing them to come and go each day for a truly uplifting adventure.
This unique cave is toured via boat, but a visit to the site doesn’t just include time underground. There’s plenty of nature to explore aboveground, too … including the Charlie Miller Butterfly Habitat. But you’ll have to put this on your to-do list for 2024, as the habitat only operates from Memorial Day through Labor Day. This indoor garden is filled with native nectar plants and is home to butterfly species like monarchs, painted ladies and giant swallowtails. As a special treat, visitors can learn how to create their own butterfly gardens at home so they can enjoy butterflies in their backyard.
Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
We’d be remiss to talk about butterflies and not mention one of the creatures’ biggest fans, Dolly Parton. She’s loved them since she was a little girl growing up in the Great Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee, and she tells stories of how she used to get in trouble because she wandered off while chasing them. She’s on record as saying that she feels drawn to butterflies because she admires their gentle nature and incredible beauty.
They have the freedom of flight but – unlike many other flying insects – don’t sting or bite, and she sees a lot of herself in those characteristics. In short, Dolly has claimed butterflies as her spirit animal, and fans can find them represented throughout Dollywood and its resorts. A butterfly appears as the “W” in the Dollywood logo, and the insect is incorporated into the décor of Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort and Spa, in everything from the weave of the hallway carpet to ornaments on the property’s signature Christmas tree each holiday season. As the park celebrates its Harvest Festival, you can even find a giant butterfly made of carved pumpkins.