Kayaking at Elkhorn Slough has become a popular activity, so the safety of paddlers and boaters and their impact on wildlife and the environment have become urgent concerns. The best way to have a safe trip with low impact on the environment is to stay informed.
We’ve provided a map and information to help you enjoy your boating experience on the slough.
Frequently Asked Questions
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 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.
Launching and Landing
There are two main locations to launch your kayak or boat at Elkhorn Slough: Kirby Park, located on Elkhorn Road on the East side of the slough AND Moss Landing Harbor District Launch Ramp, located on Hwy 1, north of Moss Landing (near the kayak shops). Small watercraft can also launch in the Harbor of Moss Landing.
There are currently no legal landing sites in the slough except at the put-in places listed above. Please stay in your boat at all times. Please do not step onto the mudflats or marsh.
Moss Landing Harbor Safety
Be aware and safe within the Harbor Area – although the Slough is rather calm and serene, the harbor area near the mouth poses several challenges to paddlers.
Currents within the harbor area
Peak tidal currents (up to 3 knots) tunneling under the Highway 1 bridge create areas of rough water which can cause boats to capsize or be difficult to paddle against, potentially sweeping you into the pilings and docks or out to sea.
Many fishing boats and pleasure craft use the harbor entrance. Kayaks and canoes can be difficult to see. Observe the “rules of the road” and stay to the extreme right hand side of the channel or in the shallow areas entirely out of the main channel. Always turn your boat into the wake of a larger boat.[/fusion_text][fusion_text]
The Slough’s tides can give you a free ride back to your launch site, leave you stranded on a mudflat, or even wash you out to sea. Know the times of tides and the direction of tidal currents before you paddle out.
Tidal Currents and Slough Mud
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 to the gunnels in sticky mud.
Strong afternoon winds, typically out of the northwest at 10 to 20 knots can be difficult to paddle against. Plan your trip to take advantage of the winds and currents.
Low Impact Paddling
In California, over 90% of our coastal wetlands and estuaries have been destroyed. Remaining estuaries like Elkhorn Slough are extremely productive and harbor a remarkable diversity of life. For that reason, it is important that we treat this important habitat with respect.
Launch and land at designated sites only: The only landing sites are Moss Landing North Harbor and Kirby Park. Do not step out of your boat onto the mudflats or marsh – the mudflats and marsh are full of delicate life, and it takes several years for the banks to recover from a footprint.
Leave nothing behind: Haul it in, haul it out, including food items such as fruit peels etc. Please pack out your trash.
Boat in open areas only: Any waterway east of the railroad tracks are off limits. There are also posted areas on the west side which are closed to boaters.
Do not approach too near to wildlife: If an animal changes its behavior because of your approach, you are too near. The main channel of the slough is part of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Give plenty of room to Sea Otters, Harbor Seals and their haul-out sites, and to nesting birds. Observe animals cautiously. If they look in your direction and fidget, you are too close and should quietly back away.
- Keep to mid-channel or maintain a distance of 200 feet while paralleling resting seals.
- Avoid sudden changes in course and speed.
- Refrain from standing, shouting, or sudden gestures such as waving and pointing.
- Avoid directly approaching a haul out.
- Avoid boating closely alongside the levee when approaching a haul out area.
- Disruption of normal resting seal behavior may be characterized by: escape tactics such as stampeding off the haul out or slipping evasively off the mud; or nervous alarm postures such as head lifting or sitting-up.
- Continual disruption may lead to abandonment of a previously frequented area.
Please help protect all plant and animal life in the slough. Only persons with scientific collecting permits or a valid fishing license may collect specimens or fish in the slough.