As California's urban growth expanded in the early to mid-1900s, the wetlands along the coast were drastically diminished. Very few of these estuaries remain intact and undisturbed by man. The Elkhorn Slough is a stretch of wetland marshes and tidal flats that is an extension of the Monterey Bay. This slough stretches for nearly 7 miles inland and encompasses over 2,500 acres.
Almost 700 different species of birds, fish, and invertebrates find refuge in this sanctuary. On October 31, 1982, 116 different species of birds were documented at Parson's Slough Overlook. This holds the record for the most bird species seen in a single day at one place. You can look forward to reaching this overlook by taking a short detour on the Five Fingers Loop. A wildlife blind has been placed not far from this location as well.
The trailhead for these two loops starts at the visitor's center in the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve. You must pay an entrance fee inside before you head out, and they only accept a debit or credit card. Water is limited here also, so it's a good idea to bring your own. Before you head out, you are asked to brush your shoes to help minimize the spread of sudden oak death. This is a plant disease found in California and Oregon that rapidly kills oak trees and other plant species.
Long Valley Loop and Five Fingers Loop combined cover the southern section of the reserve. These two trails are generally higher in elevation than the rest of the reserve, and they offer some great viewpoints. Park benches have been sporadically placed along these trails so you can sit and enjoy the scenery. Both loops have fairly easy hiking with gradual elevation changes. The trails are well maintained and clearly marked. You can choose to take these trails individually or together for nearly a 2-mile hike. At the old dairy farm, you can choose to continue north and take the South Marsh Loop for an extra 2.2-mile hike.