|Photo Credit Lyrinda Synderman|
Experience the diverse wildlife of the Elkhorn Slough
Got your camera ready? The Elkhorn Slough is a spectacular destination for wildlife photographers of all skill levels. The amount of wildlife in the Elkhorn Slough is staggering. You will be amazed at how many waterfowl, harbor seals, and sea otters there are as you paddle this enchanting waterway. Shorebirds by the thousands flock to Elkhorn Slough every year. Sea otters and harbor seals also find refuge in the slough’s quiet waters.
The expansive landscapes of the Elkhorn Slough are home to sea otters which are without a doubt the most popular animal at the slough. Seals and sea otters can get inquisitive and climb up onto the top of kayaks, but it is important to keep 200 feet away from marine mammals, which can be a bit of a challenge, as otters and harbor seals may pop up out of the water right next to you.
The best way to view the wildlife in the Elkhorn Slough is from a kayak. As you glide through the sparkling waters, you’ll encounter American avocets, snowy egrets, and marbled godwits. If you keep your eyes on the lookout, you may see a few deer too. More than 200 species of birds, 400 invertebrates, and 80 species of fish have been identified in the slough, including seven endangered or threatened species.
Pelicans, herons and egrets, as well as countless fish, sharks, crabs, sea lions and otters call the slough home. In the summer, brown pelicans arrive by the hundreds to feed on the bounty of top-smelt and anchovy. It's actually pretty common to see sea otter mother and pups in the Elkhorn Slough.
The Elkhorn Slough is a tidal “arm” of the Monterey Bay that branches out into an assortment of small creeks. A slough is a shallow lake system, usually a backwater to a larger body of water. The Elkhorn Slough is set in a watershed of prairie, chaparral, and oak woodlands.The main water channel is 7 miles long, and many smaller side channels provide opportunities for exploration. Be aware of the tides, however; that small side channel you're paddling on, might recede quickly at low tide. Check tides and current wind conditions before heading out which can turn an enjoyable paddle into a marathon workout. While the main channel is deep enough at any tide level, many creeks need at least two feet of water to be navigable.
When paddling up tidal creeks during an ebb tide (outgoing), be aware that a few minutes could make the difference between paddling out and getting stuck in sticky mud. The slough's tides can give you a free ride back to your launch site, or leave you stranded on a mudflat. Know the times of tides and the direction of tidal currents before you launch.
The Elkhorn Slough is one of the most unscathed wetlands in the entire state of California. The untouched and sheltered seven-mile slough is bordered by oak studded, rolling hills winding its way along the shore of Monterey Bay, located on the coast of northern California. The main channel of the slough winds seven miles inland, feeding 2,500 acres of rich marsh and tidal flats. The main channel turns to the north just as it reaches the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve.
Home to hundreds of species of birds and marine life, the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve provides an important feeding ground for waterfowl and wildlife. With hundreds of species of resident and migratory birds at Elkhorn Slough, it's no surprise why. Elkhorn Slough Reserve has rookeries for heron and egrets that become especially active in the month of May. The reserve promotes education about and preservation of the largest tidal salt marsh outside of San Francisco Bay.
There are several areas, including the reserve, that do not allow dogs due to bird nesting and other wildlife concerns. Boats are also not allowed in the reserve’s waters, but it allows exploring the reserve on foot. Five miles of well-maintained trails make this a favorite for hikers. The hiking trails meander through a variety of habitats from oak woodlands to mudflats. The reserve does not allow bikes (or dogs) on the trails. When the reserve is closed you cannot access the trails, restrooms or facilities. The reserve is open Wednesday - Sunday, 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. There is a small day-use fee for adults, children are free. A visitor’s center at the reserve offers interpretive nature walks every Saturday and Sunday at 10:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. There are public restrooms at the reserve.