Sycamore Canyon: Where the butterflies roam


Sycamore Canyon, Point Magu State Park, Malibu

Nature doesn’t cooperate. It is not its job.

You might see a pattern in these posts where I venture out into nature for a purpose. It doesn’t always turn out the way I had hoped. Waterfalls have dried up and the wildflowers that were there a week ago are shriveled up and have become fertilizer for next year’s flowers. Nature can be near misses and no shows. You can find wonder in a place even though it doesn’t turn out the way you wanted it to.

The intention for my trip to Sycamore Canyon was to photograph the over-wintering monarch butterfly population.The Santa Monica and Sierra Nevada mountains draw a migration path for the western* population of monarchs on their way south. The areas around Sycamore Canyon and the larger Point Magu State Park is the spot where thousands of monarchs make a pitstop. If you search for photos of this area, you will see the orange and black insects hanging like garlands on the pepper and eucalyptus trees. It was in hope of capturing this, that a group of us set out with our cameras to photograph trees lit aflame in orange.

Like the Solstice Canyon Loop in neighboring Solstice Canyon, the hike into Sycamore Canyon is pretty flat and leisurely. The trail forks into other paths that lead you up to some pretty awesome views from cliffs overlooking the PCH and the ocean. None of which we took that day due to the improper footwear of one of the participants. This ended up being fine because the trees we were looking for are down in the canyon and the non-butterfly attracting Yucca and Chaparral are up in the mountains.

Like Solstice, this area is filled with sage and wild fennel making for a very sweet smelling hike. We were all on the lookout for monarchs, walking slowly, trying to detect any hint of flutter or orange. Our walk yielded one singular monarch that dashed quickly into a heavy thicket, where no human could follow. We were at least hopeful with the one sighting that if we continued farther into the canyon we would find more.

We branched off the the Serrano Trail. Serrano is a heavily shaded trail that zig zags across a creek that ultimately disappears into rock formations reaching for the sky, or what Star Trek taught us to be an alien landscape.

There were no more butterflies that day, but I had the opportunity to explore an area I hadn’t before that although close to home, feels a million miles away. I need to go back this October to see if my luck will change.


When: The canyon and park is open all year round, but the best time to see butterflies are in October or November.

Cost: There is a cost for parking and to use the campground, but no entrance fee to the park itself

Ages: All

*the butterflies east of the Rocky Mountains travel to Mexico to spend their winters.

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