Cali Paddler Explorations - Elkhorn Slough - Moss Landing

Cali Paddlers are known for their passion of exploration. A desire to paddle our waters, and pay respects to the amazing wildlife and nature that lives in our waterways. Thank you to Bret Warner from Stand up to Alzheimer’s for exploring this great state and sharing new areas to paddle. -C.P.

Cali Paddler Explorations Elkhorn SloughI heard a rumor while working for a kayak tour company out of Santa Cruz that people laughed at the original owner of kayak connection when he opened a kayak tour and rental place at the Elkhorn Slough. “Who would want to paddle in a swamp?” was apparently a common jeer sent in his direction. Now it’s almost impossible to drive that section of Highway 1 and not see numerous paddlers heading in and out of the slough. Having paddled there many times both on my own and leading tours I don’t know how anyone could not be entranced by it.  It is miles of flat, and depending on the wind, calm water, abundant seals and sea otters, hundreds of species of birds, and that serenity you get when you venture out on glassy water far enough away from roads and people that the loudest sound is your paddle in the water.  If you paddle all the way to the back of the slough from the kayak shops you can get a little over of 12 miles out and back paddling in.

Cali Paddler Explorations Elkhorn Slough

There are two places to launch at the slough. One is west of highway one, and is used by both The Kayak Connection and Monterey Bay Kayaks. The major portion of Moss Landing harbor is just on the other side of the jetty from here, so as you paddle back into the slough you will see boats embarking into the ocean as well as fishing boats coming back into the harbor. Although questionably allowed the jetty can have great swells to play on during a windy day or a day with a solid swell. There is also Kirby Park, which is a little less than a five mile paddle back into the slough. Although less convenient to drive to, the Kirby Park launch can be exceptionally useful if you want to make sure the second half of your paddle is downwind, as the wind can consistently get over 20 miles an hour here and almost always blows towards the back of the slough.  This also means that if the wind and the tide line up you could have a fun little downwind paddle. The slough is too circuitous for a straight shot downwind, and the reeds cut down on the swell created by wind, but it can still be a lot of fun.

While the paddling is excellent here, the marine life is what makes it such a memorable spot.  As you paddle out from the launch by highway one you are almost guaranteed to see seals and sea otters lining the beach by the jetty.  Hundreds of bird species use this as a home and/or stopover place during migration; this means you will see the expected pelican diving for a fish while you paddle, or an egret balancing on impossibly small driftwood, but also see many unexpected ones flitting around. Although the law is that you have to stay far enough away from marine mammals so as to not disturb their behavior, if they follow you it is ok, and it is not unlikely that a seal will take an interest in your craft and bob its head up behind you periodically.  

Cali Paddler Explorations Elkhorn Slough

Useful facts:


8$ It’s cash only, and you leave your money in a little metal box that is attached to the outside bathroom wall. There is an extra launch fee, but both kayak shops there have told me not to pay it on more than one occasion

Although the town of Moss Landing is tiny, there are several excellent places to eat. The Whole Enchilada and the Haute Enchilada, yes they are two different places, are both good, but I would be remiss if I did not encourage you to go to Phil’s. The line will likely be out the door at this order at the counter fish place, but it moves quickly, and it would be worth it even if it didn’t.

For coffee there is Steamin Hot Coffee and Espresso right on Highway One by the Farm Fresh Produce stand. Its organic, its good, and it’ll warm you up.

Local Vibe

When in the slough everyone is relaxed and nice. Some are paid to be because they are guides for one of the two kayak shops, but everyone else is just in a good mood to be out there. There can be good surf on the other side of the dunes at Moss landing State beach and the surrounding areas, but I have heard stories of possessive surfers there.

Launch issues

The beach by the launch ramp has plenty of room to set up any paddle craft you may need. You will likely be sharing it with tours and rentals from Monterey Bay Kayaks, Kayak Connection has their own dock, but there is still enough room. Occasionally I have heard people complain of the water being a little grimy, and that may be an issue for a prone paddler, but I have paddled prone here and thought it felt fine.


Cali Paddler Explorations Elkhorn Slough

This is part of our Cali Paddler Explorations Series. We have the ambitious goal of paddling and sharing every body of water in our great state. We would love for you to share with us something by you and help us continue quest!

Team Writer Bret WarnerTeam Writer Bret Warner - Paddling truly got its hooks into me when I, on a whim, watched the 1999 Santa Cruz Paddlefest with my dad. I had kayaked a little before, but from then on the addiction was palpable. My first kayak, a purple and turquoise Necky Rip, came soon after. The following year I was that kid at UCSD who had a surf kayak in the common study area instead of a surfboard in my dorm room. I also taught sea kayaking all through college in San Diego, and up in Santa Cruz after I graduated.

When SUP came around, however, the paddling addiction became even more rabid. The garage started to fill up with different types of boards, and is now more than half full of hollow wood boards I have built myself,both for environmental reasons, and because it’s awesome to get to talk about how you built your own board when people ask you about it after a race. I love the paddle racing scene in California right now. Everyone is so stoked to be on the water competing, and the fierce competition is matched by the smiling faces when the race is over. I have gotten to paddle crafts that I never really considered before, and can see myself getting hooked all over again on something else: prone, OC-1, surfski,whatever, I just need more garage space.

Three years ago I founded the non-profit Stand up to Alzheimer’s. An organization that raises money and awareness for Alzheimer’s research through paddle races. This organization was born from lacking a tangible way of dealing with my father’s diagnosis with Alzheimer’s, but has now become a way, hopefully, for other to help cope as well. Our next event is on July 9 in Monterey at Del Monte Beach, just a little north from Monterey Bay Kayaks. Visit us at

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