|Photo Credit Lyrinda Synderman|
Elkhorn Slough Kayak, Canoe, SUP & Kayak Fishing Information
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 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 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.
There are two main locations to launch your kayak at Elkhorn Slough. Put-ins are located at Kirby Park, on Elkhorn Road on the east side of the slough and Moss Landing Harbor District launch ramp, located on Highway 1, north of Moss Landing. Small watercraft can also launch in the Harbor of Moss Landing.
A bit farther north of the reserve, is Kirby Park, which has a pubic boat ramp and small dock you can launch your kayak into the quiet waters of the slough. It is the only other landing site (and restrooms) in the slough. From Kirby Park, the main channel continues north for a couple of miles before coming to an impassable railroad trestle at Hudson’s Landing.
Moss Landing sits at the mouth of Elkhorn Slough. Although the slough is rather calm and serene, the harbor area near the mouth poses several challenges to paddlers. Peak tidal currents up to 3 knots tunneling under the Highway 1 bridge create areas of rough water which can be difficult to paddle against.
The put-in at Moss Landing Harbor is on Highway 1, midway between Santa Cruz and Monterey, just north of the bridge over the mouth of the slough. On the west side of Highway 1, Moss Landing’s North Harbor, there are two kayak outfitters who can set you up with everything you need to explore this incredible paddling retreat.
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.