Elkhorn Slough represents the largest tract of tidal salt marsh in California outside of San Francisco Bay. Located in the middle of the Monterey Bay shoreline near Watsonville, the slough provides a much-needed habitat for hundreds of species of plants and animals as well as a stunning and unique recreation opportunity for those fortunate enough to have a SUP or kayak (or who are willing to rent one). There is a great public put-in at the Moss Landing Harbor, and there are two kayak rental shops that are very helpful.
After launching from the boat ramp or the rental dock, it is a short paddle past many barking sea lions to the Highway 1 bridge. Passing under this bridge opens up a world apart from the nearby crashing waves and speeding cars on the highway. Paddling further into the slough, the sea lions are replaced by harbor seals that grunt and haul out on the muddy shores. Many sea otters also paddle around, rolling in the water and breaking shells on rocks that they hold on their bellies. It is important not to come within 100 feet of any animals, but it is okay to stay still and observe the animals that approach you. Some otters become very curious and can get quite close. The bird life is also rich in this estuary, with snowy egrets and great blue herons standing out along the shore and vast numbers of smaller birds partaking of the rich food supplies in the tidal marsh.
Much of the land on the south shore is private, including a dairy farm about 2 miles up the channel, and the shore mud is soft and deep, so it is not advised to leave your boat or paddleboard. The huge Moss Landing power plant is a dominant landmark, and the dairy farm is testament to the long tradition of agricultural use of the land in this area. It is possible to paddle up to about 6 miles into the slough, but most people turn around between 2 and 3 miles, which makes a good 3- to 4-hour trip. Winds and tide can influence how difficult it is to paddle back to the coast, so be aware of current conditions and make sure you leave enough time for the return trip.