Around Santa Cruz County | Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve

Birding, hiking, kayaking, shopping and fishing are just a sampling of the activities on offer at the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve.  Halfway between Santa Cruz and Monterey, the slough is home to five miles of trails that ramble through magnificent woodlands, tidal creeks and freshwater marshes.  It is one of 28 field laboratories established in the US for scientific research and the study of estuary life (a water passage where the tide meets a river current).

The Elkhorn Slough (pronounced “slew”) boasts the biggest area of tidal salt marsh outside of San Francisco Bay in the state of California.  This habitat provides a home for hundreds of species of birds, animals and plants. The reserve endeavors to protect this environment and educate the public about this ecological treasure.

Visitor Center

A great place to begin your exploration of the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve is at the Visitor Center.  Here you’ll see a display of native oysters, watch videos featuring the reserve’s endearing otters or check out the new blooming plants on the plant table.  Prepare for tick season by seeing the center’s collection of taxidermied ticks so you’ll know what to be on the look out for. Or chat with a naturalist to know the best places to see bat rays, chickadees, and turtles.  At the Visitor Center you can also buy merchandise to benefit the reserve.

Otter Watching

One of the favorite activities of visitors to the reserve is looking for otters.  The southern sea otter calls this area home year-round, and they can be found in open water or in the mudflats of the main slough channel.  Although they can be found anywhere, most are spotted in the North Harbor area.  The best way to find them is by water on a kayak or boat.  For those that prefer to stay on land, get the best views from Moss Landing State Beach, Moss Landing Wildlife Area and Moss Landing Harbor.

Bird Tours

Grab your binoculars and join the reserve on a birding tour.  These happen the first Saturday of every month and are a great way to learn about the birds at the reserve.  Did you know that there are over 340 different kinds of migratory and resident birds on view here at different times of year?  Tours begin at 8:30am and admission is $4.00.

Kayaking and Boating

If you’re looking for a fun way to see the slough, try kayaking or boating.  You just might see a sea otter or a harbor seal up close, or catch a grebe diving for fish.  Launch sites are available at Kirby Park and the Moss Landing Harbor District Launch Ramp.


Take a leisurely hiking tour of the slough and visit the variety of habitats this area has to offer.  With over five miles of trails you’ll have plenty of time to unwind and enjoy the natural beauty of the reserve.

Visiting Information

The Reserve and Visitor Center is open Wednesday – Sunday from 9am to 5pm.  Admission to walk the trails is $4.00 per day for adults, children are free.  Binoculars are available for loan and there is no extra charge for tours.  For more information, please visit

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