Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve - Monterey County
  • Hwy 101 to San Miguel Canyon Rd, left on Castroville Blvd. Right on Elkhorn Road.
  • Reserve is 2.2 miles down Elkhorn Rd on the left.
  • Open Wednesday - Sunday, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
  • Closed Monday and Tuesday.
A CDFW Lands Pass is required for non-hunting recreational purposes on Elkhorn Slough Ecological Reserve.


Docent-led walks available every Saturday and Sunday, 10:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. Groups of 10 or more are encouraged to schedule a separate tour. Binoculars and bird books available to borrow at no cost.

Outdoor California Articles:Visitor Center and Main Overlook are fully accessible. Day Use Fee of $4.32 per person ages 16 and older. NO FEE required for children under 16, and for those possessing a valid California hunting or fishing license.

Estuaries: a nursery ground, a resting place, a smorgasbord; where rivers meet the sea. If you're a nature enthusiast you've probably heard this description before. But what exactly does it mean? And what in the world is a slough anyway? A visit to the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve (ESNERR) is a great way to find all this out, and much more.

Elkhorn Slough is a seven-mile arm of the Monterey Bay located half way between the cities of Santa Cruz and Monterey. This arm has a bend in it as it extends inland, and at the "elbow" lies ESNERR. ESNERR is owned and managed by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and it operates in partnership with the federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the local, non-profit Elkhorn Slough Foundation. It is one of 22 national estuarine research reserves around the country that serve as representative estuaries for research, education and habitat stewardship.

The 1,400 acres that comprise ESNERR include salt marsh, mud flat, freshwater pond, oak woodland, and grassland habitats. A stroll on any one of the three loop trails reveals a variety of both wetland and upland wildlife. It is not uncommon for a black-tailed deer to be foraging in the oaks while a grey smoothhound shark is gliding through the backwater shallows just below in search of a meal of mud crabs.

Trails range in length from just under a mile to a little over two miles. Along the way visitors will find marsh boardwalks, a wildlife viewing blind, and scenic overlooks to enhance their wildlife watching. Elkhorn Slough is renowned for its outstanding birding opportunities especially during fall, winter, and spring. But before you hike, you will want to stop in to ESNERR's visitor center to see The Unseen Slough!

Student Experience

Each year, about 10,000 students experience this outdoor classroom as part of a school field trip. Teachers wanting to be an Elkhorn Slough naturalist must attend a two-day workshop. Afterward, they can choose to do a variety of field activities from plankton sampling to bird monitoring. Another targeted audience for education is the coastal decision makers of the region. Local, state, and federal planners and regulators as well as elected officials who make decisions that affect Elkhorn Slough may take a series of workshops on the slough and its watershed. The workshops get the decision makers out into the field and to keep them current on important Elkhorn Slough issues. For families, friends, and individuals, there are guided walks every weekend, and several exciting special events throughout the year.


Over 150 people of all ages and from different walks of life volunteer their time at Elkhorn Slough. All volunteers complete a nine-week summer training course that covers many aspects of the Reserve's operations, and natural and cultural history. Once graduated, volunteers lead tours, host the Visitor Center, assist with maintenance and restoration, aid researchers with field work, help with office work, and more.

Main Office Central Region:

Dr. Jeffrey R. Single
Regional Manager - Central Region
1234 E. Shaw Avenue
Fresno, CA 93710
(559) 243-4005 ext. 151
Fax: (559) 243-4022

Contact Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve - Monterey County

Contact Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve - Monterey County

Dave Feliz
Reserve Manager
1700 Elkhorn Road
Watsonville, California  95076
Phone: 831-728-2822 ext. 302
Fax: 831-728-1056


Service Area

Services provided in:
  • Monterey County, California