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What is the Best Elkhorn Slough Wildlife Tour?

Last Updated on January 12, 2024 by Jess Grigsby

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best elkhorn slough wildlife tour

Elkhorn Slough, located in the heart of Monterey Bay, is a nationally renowned ecological treasure. 

Home to California’s largest tract of tidal salt marsh outside of San Francisco Bay, the Slough is home to hundreds of species of marine mammals and birds. 

In this blog, we’ll discuss how to choose the best wildlife tour in the Slough and what makes kayaking such a unique way to experience the area.

How to Choose the Best Wildlife Tour in Elkhorn Slough

Before you can book a wildlife tour in Elkhorn Slough, you need to find the one that’s right for you. 

Here are a few tips:

1. Consider the kind of wildlife you want to see

While wildlife is present all year round in the Elkhorn Slough, certain species are more active at certain times of the year

Sea otters, for example, are active year-round in the Slough, while harbor seals tend to give birth to pups in the spring. 

Migratory birds, meanwhile, fly through the area in the fall and spring. 

2. Think about the weather

Kayaking during the summer can be surprisingly chilly, as our marine layer pulls in cool coastal fog as the inland valleys heat up.  

It’s the perfect way to beat the heat and enjoy Nature’s best air-conditioning.  We certainly will have some gorgeous days sprinkled in, and keep in mind that mornings typically are best to beat the afternoon breezes. 

If you ask our staff their favorite time to paddle, it’s a good bet they’ll tell you “Fall.”  October, November, and December bring clear, sunny skies, warm days, and very small crowds as we welcome the migratory birds to the Slough. 

Winter paddling provides excellent opportunities to see wildlife in different conditions and enjoy relative solitude on the water.  Spring can be gorgeous with sunny mornings and the occasional rainy, cloudy day with strong afternoon winds.

In fact, kayaking during the “off-season” usually means fewer crowds and a more private experience – even if the weather is slightly cooler. 

3. Consider who you’re going to tour with

It’s important to match the tour you choose to the group you’re paddling with. 

If you’re kayaking with kids, we recommend choosing an option like our Family Adventure Tour, which is excellent for younger explorers. 

If you’re going out with adults, a work group, or friends, consider the Elkhorn Slough Wildlife Tour or the Sunset Tour, which are perfect for even inexperienced adults.  

4. Find experienced guides

No matter what kind of Elkhorn Slough wildlife tour you take, invest in a trip led by experienced guides. 

The Slough is a diverse and unique place, and only an experienced guide can help you learn about the area and the animals that call it home. 

If you’re interested in seeing wildlife, going out with an experienced guide guarantees you’ll visit all the best spots. 

Why Kayaking is the Best Way to See Wildlife in Elkhorn Slough 

kayaking is the best way to see wildlife in elkhorn slough

In the Elkhorn Slough, there are two ways to see animals: from the land and from the water. 

Here are a few reasons kayaking is the best way to see wildlife in the Elkhorn Slough:

1. Kayaking allows you to access secluded areas

Many animals in the Slough, including seabirds, like to hang out in sheltered areas where they can build nests away from trails and roads. This makes it difficult to see them on foot. 

That’s not an issue in a kayak, though. 

Kayaks are silent, maneuverable, non-motorized vehicles that make it easy to find wildlife wherever it is.

Kayaks are also small enough to maneuver into secluded, less traveled areas where wildlife breed, feed, and play and to allow you to experience the peaceful, remote areas of the slough, all from a respectful distance.

2. More photo opportunities

Being in a kayak offers a unique perspective from which to see wildlife. 

Because you’re at water level, observing wildlife from a kayak feels much more intimate and personal than viewing wildlife on foot. 

This is an excellent vantage point from which to take photos, and it can provide some truly once-in-a-lifetime memories. 

If you want to supercharge your photo opportunities, consider booking one of our popular Sunset Tours. These tours take two hours and are perfect for anyone who wants to experience the serenity and beauty of Elkhorn Slough at dusk. 

Paddle through glassy water and enjoy the chance to take photographs of feeding pelicans, foraging sea otters, and other Slough wildlife settling in for the night. 

3. Unique educational opportunities

When you book a kayak tour with Kayak Connection, you’ll go into the Slough with expert guides who are expert naturalists. 

This allows you to learn about all the animals, plants, and birds that live in the Slough and access the real-time education that you can only get from a high-quality wildlife tour. 

4. Comfort

Hiking is difficult or impossible for some people. Old injuries ache, young kids get tired, and some people simply dislike it. 

Fortunately, kayaking is easy and comfortable for a variety of people. When you book a wildlife tour in Elkhorn Slough, our experienced guides will outfit you with high-quality kayak gear that fits you perfectly. 

Our kayaks are comfortable and easy to paddle, and the Slough’s calm, protected waters are ideal for inexperienced, beginning, or nervous kayakers. 

Book your Wildlife Elkhorn Slough Tour today!

What Wildlife Will I See on My Elkhorn Slough Tour?

wildlife on elkhorn slough tour

During these tours, you’re guaranteed to see harbor seals, migratory seabirds, and Southern Sea Otters. 

Here’s a quick breakdown of each:

1. Harbor Seals

Harbor seals are some of the many creatures that call the Elkhorn Slough home. They’re common in both the main channel of the Slough, in its mudflats, and along its various sandy beaches. 

Uniquely, harbor seals live their entire lives on a single stretch of coastline, birthing and raising their pups in the same location. The seals are perfectly designed to thrive in California’s chilly waters, thanks to the thick layer of fat beneath their skin.

While harbor seals spend most of their time in the water, they’re known to “haul out” during low tide and sun themselves on sandbars or rock outcroppings. 

Harbor Seals are playful, interactive creatures and some of the most common sights during our Elkhorn Slough wildlife tours. 

2. Migratory Birds

Elkhorn Slough holds the record for the highest number of bird species (116) observed from a single point in one day. 

The area has also been identified as a Globally Important Bird Area by the American Birding Conservancy.

As you kayak through the Slough, you’ll likely see birds like Brown and White Pelicans, Cormorants, Loons, Terns, Osprey, Dowitchers, Black-Bellied Plovers, Willets, American Avocets, Marbled Godwits, and more. 

3. Southern Sea Otters

Southern Sea Otters are widely regarded as the stars of Elkhorn Slough. Playful, curious, and irresistibly cute, these furry mammals have been listed as a threatened species since 1977

Fortunately, the Slough is home to a thriving resident population of Southern Sea Otters. 

During kayak tours in the area, we commonly see groups of sea otters sleeping together, playing, or grooming one another. 

If seeing sea otters is important to you, there is no better place on the planet than the Elkhorn Slough to view them in their natural habitat.

4. Invertebrate Life

The Slough is home to an enormous diversity of invertebrate life that your guides can point out to you.  

Amazing creatures such as colorful nudibranchs, crabs, anemones, sea stars, and the world’s largest slug, the Black Sea Hare, call the Elkhorn Slough home.  

Your guides will be able to pick them out for you and explain the interplay of the ecosystem and how all the animals fit into their roles.

What to Expect on Your Tour

what to expect on elkhorn slough tour

Here’s what you can expect when tour day rolls around:

Getting fitted for rental gear

Before it’s time to hit the water, your guide will get you and every other member of your group fitted for the necessary gear, including a kayak, PFD, paddle, spray skirt, splash jacket, and anything else you’ll need to be comfortable and safe out on the water.

Next, it’s time to hit the water! Paddling a kayak is a pleasant, low-impact workout, and the boats glide silently through the marine environment. 

Since kayaks are quiet and low-profile, it’s possible to observe animals without bothering or startling them. 

Our Elkhorn Slough Wildlife Tours last three hours, and no prior kayaking experience is required. 

Real-time education

Your wildlife tour has a built-in itinerary of places you’ll go and routes you’ll paddle according to the day’s conditions, but each of our guides is also an experienced naturalist. 

As you glide through the waters of the Slough, they’ll look for opportunities to educate you and your group about the wildlife, the scenery, and more. 

By the end of the tour, you’ll have a deeper and more meaningful understanding of the Slough and its critical role in the greater ecosystem. 

Elkhorn Slough Wildlife Tour FAQs

1. How can I best prepare for my tour?

The best way to prepare for your tour is to ensure you’re comfortable. 

While your guide will ensure you have good-fitting, safe kayak gear, we recommend you prepare at home by dressing in moisture-wicking layers (avoid wearing cotton). 

You should also wear sandals or shoes you don’t mind getting wet. You may also want to read about the Elkhorn Slough to learn more about this unique natural environment before you experience it firsthand. 

2. What should I bring on my tour?

Bring sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses, a water bottle, and a snack. 

Depending on the weather, you may also want to bring an extra layer, like a fleece jacket or a raincoat. 

3. How long will the tour last? 

Our wildlife tours last approximately three hours, including gear up, from start to finish. 

The Elkhorn Slough Wildlife Tour, which is our most popular tour, will take you into all the Slough’s best areas for wildlife sightings. 

The Family Adventure Tour, meanwhile, lasts two hours and is designed for families with young children. 

Our Sunset Tours take two hours and are ideal for beginners and experienced kayakers alike. 

Book your Elkhorn Slough Wildlife Tour with Kayak Connection 

California’s Elkhorn Slough is home to some of the most diverse marine mammals, birds, and plants in the world. 

If you’re looking for a way to experience the Slough, booking a wildlife tour with Kayak Connection is an excellent choice. 

In addition to being a unique outdoor experience that the entire family can enjoy, our wildlife tours are beginner-friendly, led by expert guides, and ideal for individuals or groups who want to ensure a safe, fun, memorable experience. 

Grab your spot today!  Click here to book your Wildlife Tour online!

Author: Jess Grigsby

Since 2012, Jess has co-owned and operated Kayak Connection together with her husband Dave. She is a lawyer, coach, avid kayak enthusiast and mother of two teenage girls. At Kayak Connection, Jess oversees a team of experienced kayak guides who are all CPR certified, with many holding advanced Wilderness First Responder (WFR) certifications. Our team is composed of environmental educators, naturalists and classroom teachers with experience working with all kinds of visitors, from school groups to large corporate teams.