Places We Protect

Elkhorn Slough Reserve


Elkhorn Slough harbors the largest tract of tidal salt marsh in California outside of San Francisco Bay.
Kayak on Elkhorn Slough Elkhorn Slough harbors the largest tract of tidal salt marsh in California outside of San Francisco Bay. © The Nature Conservancy (Mark Godfrey)

An extraordinary ecosystem providing a key linkage between land and sea.

See the Otters of Elkhorn Slough - Live!



The Elkhorn Slough is a magical place full of wildlife and beauty. Meandering seven miles inland from the coast in the center of the picturesque Monterey Bay, the Elkhorn Slough harbors the largest tract of tidal salt marsh in California outside of San Francisco Bay.  Estuaries—areas where fresh water meets salt water—are among the most productive habitats in the biological world, able to support many animal species. But they are also among the most endangered. In California, nearly 90 percent have been destroyed. Elkhorn Slough hosts a tremendous diversity of plant and animal life and has been designated a Globally Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society and the American Birding Conservancy. 


Monterey Bay, Central California


More than 5,000 acres, out of a total watershed area of 45,000 acres, have been protected by The Nature Conservancy and a host of partners.

Conservancy History

In 1971, to protect Elkhorn Slough from major development, The Nature Conservancy purchased the first wetlands there for conservation. Public and private partners continued to acquire wetland and upland areas leading to the designation of the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve in 1979.

In September 2012, The Nature Conservancy transferred ownership of the majority of its Elkhorn Slough land holdings (750 acres) to the Elkhorn Slough Foundation for continued management. This was the largest single transfer of conservation lands in the history of Elkhorn Slough and cemented the Elkhorn Slough Foundation as a significant conservation leader and land trust in the central Bay Area.

Prior to this transfer, the Conservancy owned more than 850 acres in the Elkhorn Slough watershed. The Elkhorn Slough Foundation provided on-site management of those lands along with their ownership of 2,800 acres. The Elkhorn Slough Reserve, managed by the California Department of Fish and Game in cooperation with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, protects 1,740 acres, and another 728 acres are conserved as the State Moss Landing Wildlife Area. Other conservation lands are managed by the Department of Parks and Recreation, the Moss Landing Harbor District and the Monterey County Parks Department. These combined efforts have conserved more than 6,000 acres of key properties in the Elkhorn watershed.




The Reserve and Visitor Center is open Wednesday – Sunday, 9am – 5pm.

Explore our work in this region

What To See: Plants

Elkhorn Slough flows nearly seven and a half miles inland through productive farm fields of brussel sprouts and strawberries, thickets of yellow field mustard, red-stem filaree, and lavender lupine. The slough is a meandering belt of tide flats, tidal creeks, and marshes, all teeming with aquatic plant life. The uplands flanking the slough harbor coastal dunes, grasslands, oak woodlands and rare maritime chaparral with populations of four federally endangered plant species: Yadon's rein orchid, Santa Cruz Tarplant, Monterey Spineflower and Sand Gilia.

What To See: Animals

Elkhorn Slough is the second-largest remaining salt marsh in California, supporting an abundance of invertebrates that provide food for more than 100 species of fish and nearly 300 species of birds. The estuary's ever-changing environment is a nursery to some species, a lifetime home to others, and a water purifier for the coast. On any day, you might spot sea otters hunting the rich waters or, satiated, lounging on their backs. At high tide, sharks swarm in the slough's shallow waters where they feed, breed, and give birth to their young. Five threatened or endangered species are found at Elkhorn Slough: the California brown pelican, California least tern, Santa Cruz long-toed salamander, southern sea otter, and American peregrine falcon. Elkhorn Slough is one of the premier birdwatching sites in the western United States.

For more information visit the Elkhorn Slough Foundation website