Elkhorn Slough Nature Tour, Monterey Bay

5 Wildlife Day Trips near Silicon Valley

TripSavvy / Cassie Kifer

One of the best places to see marine wildlife in California is right here on the Monterey Bay. Elkhorn Slough is one of the state's largest wetland preserves and it's one of the best places in the world to get up close to wild sea otters.

I recently went out on Elkhorn Slough Safari, a guided boat tour of this wetlands preserve. The company offers two different tours--regular group tours on their 27-foot pontoon boats, and smaller group tours geared toward photographers, with only half the guests, so each photographer gets their own row to shoot over the edge.

Click the arrows above for a photo tour of Elkhorn Slough.

Find out more information about Elkhorn Slough Safari on their website, or call for reservations: 831-633-5555.

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Sea lions in the Moss Landing Harbor

Sea lions in the Moss Landing Harbor: Elkhorn Slough Safari
Cassie Kifer

As the boat passed to and from the Moss Landing Harbor, we watched barking sea lions call to us from the docks.

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Sea lions, lounging in the sun.

Sea lions at sunrise: An Elkhorn Slough Tour
Cassie Kifer

Book one of the first morning tours for the best light and wildlife activity. 

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The Elkhorn Slough Landscape

An Elkhorn Slough tour: The landscapes! Monterey Bay, California
Cassie Kifer

The Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve is one of 28 National Estuarine Research Reserves in the United States. These wetland reserves are living field laboratories for scientific research and public education. Many of these natural wetlands have been destroyed by human activity and scientists are studying these preserves to protect and restore these environments for the wildlife who depend on them.

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Sea otters

Sea otters in Elkhorn Slough: Elkhorn Slough Safari Tour, Monterey Bay
Cassie Kifer

For many people, Elkhorn Slough's main draw is the southern sea otter. Elkhorn Slough is home to as many as 5% of all the sea otters off the coast of California. They gather in these shallow protected waters to give birth and feed. Conservation efforts in this area have helped this local population thrive though overall, the species is threatend.

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Feeding in the shallow waters

Sea otters in Elkhorn Slough
Cassie Kifer

Sea otters eat about a quarter of their weight in food each day, so you'll see many of the otters busy cracking into small marine life like clams, crabs, oysters, abalone, and other local delicacies.

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A pelican in flight

A pelican in flight: An Elkhorn Slough Safari Tour
Cassie Kifer

The pontoon boat stopped periodically to turn the motor off, so as to not disturb the wildlife and give us a chance to take photographs. When the boat was still, birds like this pelican would fly right over our heads.  

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Harbor seals (close-up)

Two harbor seals, Moss Landing, California: Elkhorn Slough Tour
Cassie Kifer

Two harbor seals looking curiously at our boat.

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Seabirds in the Moss Landing Harbor

Seabirds in the Moss Landing Harbor: Elkhorn Slough Safari Tour
Cassie Kifer

Spotting seabirds like seagulls and cormorants on our way into and out of the Moss Landing Harbor.

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Photography on the Elkhorn Slough Safari

Photographers on board the Elkhorn Slough Safari tour.
Cassie Kifer

Wildlife photographers are welcome on these tours. Book one of the (smaller) group photography tours so that you have space the whole bench to yourself for easiest access to your perfect shot.

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Other Tours of the Elkhorn Slough

An Elkhorn Slough Kayak Tour
Cassie Kifer

Several other companies and organizations offer tours of Elkhorn Slough. Several small-group guided kayak tours leave from the Moss Landing Harbor. To explore the area on land, the nonprofit Elkhorn Slough Foundation offers guided Elkhorn Slough hikes through the reserve.

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