Elkhorn Slough Estuarine Reserve


What? : The Elkhorn Slough at Moss landing is one of the top water wildlife viewing destinations in California. The Slough is a 7-mile-long tidal salt marsh and provides much-needed habitat for hundreds of species of plants and animals. It has been designated as a protected Ramsar site since 2018.

Popular activities on the slough area hiking and bird watching, kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding.

You can find here sea otters, sea lions, seals, brown pelicans, cormorants, egrets, and many other birds can be seen in this area.

This blog post is all about my hiking visit at the east side of the slough in Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve.

I also have another blog I wrote on my few Kayaking trips:


Where? : Elkhorn Slough is located halfway between the cities of Santa Cruz and Monterey.

From the small harbor town of Moss Landing on Highway 1 take Dolan Rd east, after driving east for 3.4 miles turn left into Elkhorn Rd, after driving north for 2.1 miles you will see the entrance on your left.

Google Map Link

When? : Year round, spring is the preferred season for best wildlife viewing.

I saw that the opening hours are Wed to Sun, 9:00 am - 5:00 pm


Due note 1: I visit here only one time during late fall 2022 (November), It was rainy at night and early morning, and I came here mid-day. During my long hiking I did not see up close any birds, or marine wildlife.


Due note 2: No fees are and plenty of parking near the large visitor center.


Due note 3: You can find Restrooms at the visitor center.


Due note 4: No pets on trails, in picnic areas, or in the Visitor Center. Fires, camping, boating, fishing, hunting, and firearms are not permitted.


Due note 5: The trails are flat and easy to “navigate”. For most of the trails there is no shade. Bring enough water and use sunscreen on hot summer days.


My thoughts: Although I did not see birds, or marine wildlife during my visit here (unlike my kayaking experience) it was a fan day, the trails are good and without climbs and I find it to be relaxing visit.



The visit:


The approximately 1,700 acres that comprise the reserve where the fresh rivers water meets the sea, and the tides are getting into the marshes.

This combination of salt see water creates the salt marsh, mud flat, freshwater pond, oak woodland, and grassland habitats. A stroll on any one of the three loop trails reveals a variety of both wetland and upland wildlife.

The main activity in this section of the reserve is hiking and wildlife viewing.


I had time so I decided to do a 5 miles long loop hike that covers both the north and south sections of the reserve, but you can do much shorter easy walks.

The trails are in good condition and overall flat, with many viewing points with explanation bords, so they are also good for families with kids.

My hike:

I started at the visitor center and headed west to the high overlook, from there I went down and at the first old barn I turned right.

The trail following the pond outline, keep to the right and do not walk into trails turning left (marked as employee only).

After 1.1 miles the trail heading straight line west and at 1.25 miles mark you will see a turn to the right that led to north viewing point.

I hiked all the way to the end of the trail (1.63 miles from the starting point) and saw the lake on the north.

From this point I hiked back and turned right into the direction of Hummingbird Island.

After carefully crossing the railroad, this is an active track so be careful here !!!.

I climbed the small hill of this island (this is 2.43 miles from the hike starting point).

From here you can see the main river that creates the Elkhorn Slough Estuarine Reserve.

Unfortunately, when I was here (Nov. 2022) I did not see any birds up close, maybe because it was mid-day with high tide…


I kept walking, hiking back on the same trail, crossing back the train tracks and after a short walk I took the trail to the right.

From here the trail crosses over the large pond into the direction of the Big Barn. When I was there the Boardwalk was under construction and was closed for access.


From the small barn I did not hike up to the visitor center but rather took the trail to the right. This trail leads to the south section of the reserve.

I walked up to the high open meadows and turned right walking all the way to the south end viewing point.

From here I turn around and hike back straight to the visitor center.

Overall, this was 5 miles long hike but as you can see on the map you can make it a lot shorter if you want.









Additional Pictures:



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