In fall and winter, up to 150,000 monarch butterflies come to Natural Bridges State Park in Santa Cruz from the northern United States and southern Canada to roost and mate. During these months you can see thousands of butterflies fluttering through the park’s eucalyptus groves or hanging from the trees in clusters.
Across from the visitor center is the Monarch Trail, an accessible interpretive boardwalk that travels down through the Monarch Butterfly Nature Preserve for about an eighth of a mile to an observation deck. It’s mostly shaded by eucalyptus trees and has numerous rest areas with benches. On warmer sunny days the butterflies take flight, and against the background of green branches they look like airborne stained-glass ornaments.
Even when the butterflies aren’t visiting, there is plenty to do here. You can hike through coastal scrub to a vista point or visit the beach, where you will see the last of the three “bridges”—natural formations carved by waves from the sandstone bluffs the park was named for (the others have fallen). Two prominent observation areas, one at the end of West Cliff Drive, the other a few hundred feet from the entrance, are good places to watch the sun set and waves crash ashore, and possibly catch a glimpse of a whale during migration season, mid-October to March.
Visitor Center: Interactive displays here provide information about monarch butterflies and about marine life and tidepools. Outside is a milkweed display that demonstrates the monarch’s lifecycle. The center is open most weekends and some weekdays; call (831) 423-4609 for hours and event information. A wheelchair is available for use on the Monarch Trail.
Moore Creek Trail
see access criteria for definitions
Trailhead: If you drive, enter at West Cliff Drive and park at the visitor center, then travel past the center several hundred feet on Natural Bridges Drive (closed to cars) to the trailhead on your left. If you take transit, use the pedestrian-only entrance at Natural Bridges Drive and Delaware Avenue, and proceed .25 mile to the trailhead.
Length: Less than .5 mile
Typical Width: 4 ft. & above
Typical Grade: Gentle
Terrain: Moderately Firm
Mostly firm with some bumps, rocks, roots, and small gopher-size holes. May be impassable in the rainy season.
Obstacles: The Delaware Street entrance gate has a clearance of about 25 inches, and a 90-degree turn may make it challenging to maneuver some wheelchairs.
You can pick up a brochure for self-guided tours at the visitor center. The Moore Creek Trail travels for about .25 mile through low bushes across somewhat rough terrain to a lovely vista point with benches. The ocean and natural bridge can be seen in the distance. From here the trail becomes inaccessible as it travels steeply downhill to the beach. This part of the park is great for bird-watching and nighttime star-gazing.
The facilities listed below meet all of our access criteria unless otherwise noted.
Accessible Visitor Center: Yes
Beach Wheelchair: Yes
Call to reserve, (831) 423-4609
Accessible Parking: Yes
Next to the visitor center and .25 mile past the boardwalk. Free street parking is along Delaware Avenue and at the intersection of Swanton Boulevard and West Cliff Drive. The lot serving the beach boardwalk and the one before the park’s entrance have no designated accessible parking spaces.
Accessible Restroom: Yes
At the visitor center/museum This restroom offers the best access. The restroom by the picnic area has grab bars and a wide stall but no maneuvering space.
Accessible Picnic Tables: Yes
Picnic area has water, barbecue grills, and shade
Hours: Daily, 8 am-sunset; monarch tours on weekends, mid-October through February. Visitor center: Sat.-Sun.,10 am-4 pm
Map: See here.
Dogs: Dogs allowed on paved roads and in parking lot only; must be under owners’ physical control, on leash that is 6 feet or less
Public Transportation: Santa Cruz Metro