Elkhorn Slough Wildlife Reserve in California

Elkhorn Slough Wildlife Reserve in California: 3 Ways to View Wildlife Animals and Take Photos on Family Trips

On the Central Coast of California between Santa Cruz and Monterey lies the Elkhorn Slough wetlands which is a part of the National Estuarine Reserve. Only a small piece of Elkhorn Slough is visible from a car on Highway 1.

At this significant feeding ground sanctuary, visitors may view birds and mammals by hiking, kayaking, and on the Safari Boat tour.

The Wildlife Reserve is 1,400 acres with an estimated 5 miles of hiking trails and is controlled by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and managed by the California Department of Fish and Game.

These lands are used for research and education.

This is a photographer’s heaven were a variety of birds like the Western Grebe, Snowy Egret, and Great Blue Heron, in addition to sea otters and harbor seals are found.

There is always a natural change in this reserve as different birds migrate to the Elk Horn Slough throughout the year. A tip is to use the “Kids Corner” link located on the Elkhorn Slough website for information and images to print the different animals’ species found on trips.

Activities at Elkhorn Slough Reserve

The Visitors Center and starting points of the hiking trails on the Reserve are located at 1700 Elkhorn Road, Watsonville, CA, open to the public Wednesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The Center is free with several educational exhibits and is staffed by Naturalists for questions.

The fee for adults to hike (16 years and older) is $2.50 per person and children are free.

Docent tours are led by volunteers every Saturday and Sunday at 10:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. Pets and bikes are not allowed on the trails.

Kayaking is available at Elkhorn Slough and the rules should be closely adhered to with specific attention to the tides and weather of Elkhorn Slough.

A recommendation is to reserve a tour from one of three companies on first and second visits to learn the details of how to manage trips.

Elkhorn Slough Safari

A fun activity for individuals 3 years and older to see the wildlife up close and to take photo images is the Elkhorn Slough Safari located at Moss Landing.

Advance reservations are requested by calling (831) 633-5555 and the price of adult tickets are $32, children (ages 3 – 12) tickets are $24, and seniors tickets (65 plus) are $30.

This is a safe 2-hour tour on a 27-foot pontoon boat given by Captain Yohn Gideon, a Coast Guard licensed captain.

There is a Naturalist on board to help guide through the Slough. The tour is interactive with activities such as keeping the total number of sightings of each of the different species of birds, sea otters, and harbor seals on trips.

People learn that an Estuary is where saltwater comes together with a river and a Slough (pronounced “slew”) is a waterway with muddy banks.

They see the nearly extinct sea otters forming “rafts” to protect themselves and feeding on clams found in the muddy banks, harbor seals, and uncommon bird species like the golden eagle, red knot, and black skimmers.

If there is a specific interest in birding or photography, Captain Gideon will ensure close views for people to see.

Hiking, kayaking, and the Safari Boat tour are three ways to learn about the different wildlife at Elkhorn Slough on Monterey Bay on family vacations.