The Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve has five miles of trails that meander through beautiful oak woodlands, calm tidal creeks and freshwater marshes. There are tours on the weekends and special events throughout the year. Pets, camping, biking, horseback riding, boating, hunting and fishing are not allowed within the boundaries of the Reserve. The Reserve is open Wednesday – Sunday, 9am – 5pm.
Beyond the Reserve
With five state beaches, several parks and preserves, and two wildlife areas nearby, the Elkhorn Slough area offers even more places to go hiking (with and without your dog), birding, fishing, horseback riding, camping or boating. If you are looking to take a boat tour or go kayaking, a quick google search will help you find what you are looking for.
Moss Landing sits at the mouth of Elkhorn Slough. Once a prominent whaling center, Moss Landing is now home to great restaurants, antique shops, galleries and the harbor which provides a home base for research, sightseeing and fishing vessels as they venture into the Slough, Monterey Bay and beyond. For more information please visit the Moss Landing Chamber of Commerce website.
Frequently Asked Questions
Below you will find answers to some frequently asked questions about the area. Our most asked question: “How can I reserve a spot on the boat tour?” The answer is – you’ve come to the wrong website! There are two privately owned boat tour vendors in Moss Landing: Elkhorn Slough Safari and Whisper Charters. A quick internet search will give you more details.
Fishing is not permitted at the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve. Along with those restrictions, a large part of the Slough waterway is a State Marine Reserve, making it closed to all fishing and protecting all marine life and plants.
Click here for a map of the slough showing the protected areas. You’ll notice Kirby Park is not included in the State Marine Reserve, so fishing is permitted at Kirby Park, but please take note of the nearby restricted areas.
Below are the regulations from California Fish & Wildlife:
Elkhorn Slough State Marine Reserve.
(A) This area includes the waters below mean high tide within Elkhorn Slough lying east of longitude 121° 46.400’ W. and south of latitude 36° 50.500’ N.
(B) Area restrictions defined in subsection 632(a)(1)(A) apply.
Elkhorn Slough State Marine Conservation Area.
(A) This area includes the waters below mean high tide within Elkhorn Slough east of the Highway 1 Bridge and west of longitude 121° 46.400’ W.
(B) Area restrictions defined in subsection 632(a)(1)(C) apply, with the following specified exceptions:
1. The recreational take of finfish by hook-and-line only and clams is allowed. Clams may only be taken on the north shore of the slough in the area adjacent to the Moss Landing State Wildlife Area [subsection 550(a)].
For more complete up to date information visit the Fish and Wildlife website: https://www.dfg.ca.gov/marine/mpa/ccmpas_list.asp
We do not rent kayaks at the Reserve. There are kayak companies in Moss Landing, Santa Cruz and Monterey that rent kayaks, stand up paddle boards and other boats for use in the Elkhorn Slough. A quick internet search will get you started.
The Elkhorn Slough Safari runs boat tours of the Elkhorn Slough out of Moss Landing; contact them directly to make reservations.
Dogs are not allowed at the Elkhorn Slough Reserve. We also ask that you do not plan on leaving your pet in your vehicle while you are visiting. Our parking area does not have any shade.
Dog friendly areas
There are many areas (like the Reserve) that do not allow dogs due to bird nesting and other wildlife concerns. Salinas River National Wildlife Refuge’s Dog Brochure lists dog friendly areas in Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties.
While not allowed at the Reserve, hunting is allowed in certain parts of the Elkhorn Slough during the waterfowl season. Please educate yourself about all the rules and regulations before attempting to hunt at the Slough.
or contact the Monterey Office of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife: (831) 649-2870.
We have provided this information as a courtesy to you. You are responsible for knowing where these areas are, when hunt days and times are, what species are permitted, and when the season is open. There is no hunting on private lands and no hunting at the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve areas of the Slough. Please also be aware of the many people who use this area for kayaking, birding and other recreational uses. Safety and caution is of the utmost importance.
As of 2013-14 season the Regulations are as follows (subject to change):
Moss Landing Wildlife Area
Type C Area 783 acres
Location and Access: Access by boat only. Located adjacent to the north bank of Elkhorn Slough, approximately 1-1/4 miles north of the town of Moss Landing on Highway 1. Daily Hunter Capacity: No limit. For information call (831) 649-2870.
(A) Method of Take Restrictions: No rifles or pistols may be used or possessed.
(B) Hunt Days: Saturdays, Sundays, and Wednesdays during open seasons for authorized species. Campfires are prohibited.
(C) Authorized Species: Waterfowl, coots, and moorhens.
(D) Camping and Trailers: Not allowed.
(E) Special Restrictions: Closed to all hunting on New Years Day. The Salt Ponds are closed to hunting.
You can find more information here: https://www.dfg.ca.gov/lands/wa/region4/mosslanding.html
- The Reserve’s Visitor Center is fully accessible. They have accessible restrooms as well as an accessible Research and Education Lab. There is a short paved trail to an overlook area, but the rest of the trails are composed of uneven terrain not suitable for most wheelchairs and strollers.
- Kirby Park has the only wheelchair accessible slough-side trail in the area.
*Note* that the road to Kirby Park is damaged and may still be closed. Please check ahead before visiting. It is managed by the Moss Landing Harbor District.
- Moss Landing State Beach has a paved road that is adjacent to the Slough for easy birding and otter viewing.
The Slough has abundant wildlife and birds year-round but since you asked: Spring and fall will bring more abundant birds as they migrate. Spring will also bring green hills, wildflowers and baby animals such as sea otters, harbor seals and nesting birds. Summer is great time to visit and escape the heat of the Bay Area. Fall is a wonderful time of year as well with abundant birds, sea otters, harbor seals and perhaps more baby otters. We also love the weather in the fall – typically the fog of summer lifts and we enjoy a week or two of beautiful weather before winter rains arrive. Our winters are marked by breathtaking sunsets, but it’s harder to plan ahead for clear weather.
We love kayaking in Elkhorn Slough year-round, but there will be differences based on weather, bird migration and even time of day. Always check the current conditions for wind and tides.
You’ll find restrooms at the put-in sites in Moss Landing and Kirby Park, but not along the way. Plan ahead!
Currently, beyond the put-in sites at Moss Landing North Harbor and Kirby Park, there are no places to haul out your boat along the slough waterway. The land along the waterway of Elkhorn Slough is owned and managed by many different organizations and private owners that do not permit people to land on their property. Beyond private property restrictions, there are sensitive marsh and mudflat habitats that can be damaged by trampling and sensitive wildlife that can easily be disturbed.
We do not permit kayaking within the Reserve boundaries. Check out our kayaking page to see the areas where boating is permitted. You can launch kayaks or other small boats at the North Harbor of Moss Landing, located on Highway 1. Kirby Park is closed right now due to storm damage.