Treadmill Rating (out of 10): 2 out of 10
Distance: Varying Distances
Elevation Gain: 400-500 Feet
This hike offers great views of the Elkhorn Slough Estuary and the animal life. We got a map at the visitor’s center and advice from the ranger on which trail to take. We chose the short leg of the South March Trail which goes to down the hill and into the slough and ends up at Humming Bird Island. The round trip was about four miles. As we exited the visitor’s center we stepped into some pans of disinfectant that killed the pathogen that causes Sudden Oak Death Syndrome. It’s less than a quarter inch of chemical so your feet do not get wet. There are lots of Oak trees in the reserve and so far they have been able to keep the disease out using this method.
We then proceeded down the trail to the overlook where some telescopes are set up to look over the estuary. There is a great view of the slough and Moss Landing area. Then we proceeded further down hill towards the marsh area and stopped at an old milking barn from the days when the area was occupied by a dairy farm. There is a primitive restroom facility here for those that may need to use the restroom.
We continued our journey down hill until we came to a causeway across the water. There were lots of small crabs under and around the causeway. There were some students learning about the fish and other animals at the causeway when we crossed.
We followed along the shore line of a small spot of land that sticks out into the slough and reached another causeway. The kids stopped to check out several small lizards sunning themselves near the trail just before we crossed. We carefully watched the water at this causeway because the ranger at the visitor center had told us that Bat Rays from the ocean will spawn here and there is the possibility of seeing them. We did not see the Bat Rays but saw lots of little fish in the water. After reaching the other side of the causeway the trail crosses some railroad tracks and enters Hummingbird Island. Just before the railroad tracks there is another primitive restroom for those that need to use it.
Humming Bird Island is pretty and there are some places to sit and enjoy the view. The only problem with the island is that there is a lot of poison oak in some places along the trail that goes around the island, particularly around some stairs that take you to the upper portion of the island. After taking the route around the island we returned on the same path. The return trip was a little more challenging because much of it was uphill but it was not overly taxing. After returning to the visitor center we looked at some of the displays and information about the slough and the wildlife.
WHERE IS THIS TRAIL?
The trailhead is located at the Elkhorn Slough Estuary Visitor Center at 1700 Elkhorn Road Watsonville, CA 95076. On Highway 1 in the Monterey area take Highway 1 to Moss Landing and at the power plant, turn east onto Dolan Road. Drive 3.5 miles on Dolan Road and then turn left onto Elkhorn Road. Go 1.9 miles on Elkhorn Road and turn left into the Reserve gate. You must enter the visitor’s center and the trail begins there. The Reserve will require you to sterilize your shoes by standing briefly in a disinfectant solution. This is to prevent Sudden Oak death syndrome from entering the reserve. There is a charge of $4 to enter the reserve for those 16 and older but it is free if you have a California Hunting or Fishing license. There are nice restrooms at the visitor center. Although there are facilities on the trail they are pretty primitive. The ones at the visitor center were very nice. I suggest using these before you begin the hike. The hike offers the possibility of seeing many different types of wildlife including deer, bobcats, squirrels, lizards, crabs, fish, and even Bat Rays. The Elkhorn Slough Reserve is open Wednesday through Sunday 9am to 5pm.
HOW TECHNICAL IS THE HIKE?
This hike is not technical. Comfortable shoes, sun screen, and some water are all that is required. The trails are wide and easy to navigate. There are portions that are uphill but they are not overly steep. The ranger at the visitor center can provide advice on which trails to take. Some are longer than others. She recommended the one we took based on the small children that were in our group. The trails are wide and well maintained. We saw hikers of all ages on the trail from small children all the way up to seasoned citizens.
Anyone with a basic fitness level can complete the hike. We saw all ages of people on the trail.
WHEN SHOULD I GO?
This trail is open year round. The only limiting factor is weather. Rainy days are probably not a good choice. Summer is nice but the area often has fog. You may want to bring a sweatshirt or windbreaker as there may be a cool sea breeze or fog even in summer.
Walking a few miles a day is all that is needed. If you can spend an afternoon walking around the mall then this hike should be no problem.
GEAR LIST (day hike)
For gear I would choose to take some sort of water carrier such as a Camelbak. Sunscreen and possibly insect repellent are also nice. Comfortable shoes and a hat are also nice to have.