CA, Monterey Bay: Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine

This 1,400-acre reserve protects wetlands and uplands for scientific research, public education, and visitor enjoyment. Five miles of steep trails over rough terrain lead through oak woodlands and grasslands to viewpoints overlooking wetlands and the main channel of Elkhorn Slough. 

Only the short Overlook Trail is considered accessible. It leads from the visitor center to an overlook with sweeping views of the slough complex. Other dirt and grassy trails, especially Parson’s Slough Overlook Trail, may be accessible to motorized wheelchairs and manual chair riders with good upper body strength, if they can handle a rough ride. Parson’s Slough offers some of the best bird-watching in Monterey County. Thousands of shorebirds stop here on their annual migration along the Pacific Flyway. 

Docent-led tours, offered Saturdays and Sundays at 10 am and 1 pm, may be at least partly accessible, depending on your abilities. Call for more information. No reservations needed. To prevent the spread of sudden oak death, reserve staff members spray wheelchair tires with an antiseptic.

Visitor Center: Exhibits demonstrate water flow through the watershed and tidal effects. Other displays feature marsh bird specimens and flowers found blooming that week on the reserve. Docents have access to spotting scopes and will help visitors with them. 

Elkhorn Slough Overlook Trail
see access criteria for definitions
Trailhead: Behind visitor center
Length: Under one mile total
Typical Width: 4 ft. & above
Typical Grade: Gentle
Terrain: Hard
Asphalt is slightly worn and bumpy in places

Description

From the visitor center, follow the paved main trail .25 miles through grassy fields to an overlook atop a knoll with expansive views of the slough. There’s a lowered telescope, but the height, which is not adjustable, may not work for some wheelchair riders, so binoculars are highly recommended. 

Five Fingers Loop Trail
see access criteria for definitions
Trailhead: From the visitor center, follow the paved main trail less than .25 miles. Look for the trail marker on the left.
Length: 2-4 total miles
Typical Width: 4 ft. & above
Typical Grade: Mostly level or gentle
The grade to continue out to Parson’s Slough Overlook is steep. After finishing the loop and connecting back to the main trail, there is a very steep grade to return to the visitor center
Terrain: Moderately Firm
Grasses cover the trail but are kept mowed. In April, we found this trail uncomfortably rough but otherwise usable.
Obstacles: Sand may be an issue in some spots. The trail will be impassable in wet-weather months. The rough terrain may be problematic for people sensitive to jostling.

Description

The first half-mile is lined on both sides with coast live oak, then opens up to grassy meadows and gently rolling hills. Listen for birdsong amongst the whispering grasses. In another half-mile you come to a signpost where you can go right to follow the loop or continue straight another one-third mile down a steep grade to Parson’s Slough Overlook. The overlook is on a point with an expansive view over water on three sides. Wading birds and ducks were plentiful on our visit. Backtracking to the loop, we saw a kite attack a hawk that had ventured too close to its nest in one of the tall eucalyptus trees that dot the hillside. Binoculars are an asset, as overlooks are high above sea level. The remaining mile of the loop dips and climbs past a eucalyptus grove. At one point tall grasses obscure the views from a wheelchair, shifting one’s attention instead to the critters rustling about in the grass. The climb back to the visitor center is steep.

Accessibility Details
The facilities listed below meet all of our access criteria unless otherwise noted.

Accessible Visitor CenterYes
Accessible ParkingYes
At visitor center
Accessible RestroomYes
At visitor center
Accessible Picnic TablesYes
At visitor center

Other Things of Interest

We learned at the visitor center that some wheelchair riders have hiked the South Marsh Loop Trail (2.2 miles), which drops steeply to the marsh at its entrance, then travels along the water’s edge. Except for the first steep descent, it is mostly level hard-packed dirt. 

You can also experience the slough by water. Launch sites for kayaks and other small craft are at Kirby Park and Moss Landing Harbor. Elkhorn Slough Safari (831-633-5555) offers guided tours from Moss Landing Harbor in a pontoon boat. You need to be able to transfer to a seat and leave your wheelchair on shore or in your vehicle. 

From nearby Kirby Park, at the northeast end of the slough, a mile-long wheelchair-accessible trail extends out over the mudflats.

 

Bonnie Lewkowicz Bonnie Lewkowicz (59 Posts)

I has worked for more than 30 years advocating for, and educating about access to outdoor recreation and tourism for people with disabilities. I hold a degree in Recreation Therapy and was a travel agent specializing in accessible travel for many years. In this capacity, and now as Associate Director at Wheelchair Traveling, I consult with the travel industry about accessibility, conducts disability awareness trainings and writes about travel and outdoor recreation. I also authored a book titled, A Wheelchair Rider’s Guide: San Francisco Bay and the Nearby Coast, about accessible trails and has produced several access guides to San Francisco. My most current project is a website of accessible trails along the entire California Coast (www.wheelingcalscoast.org). My extensive experience as a wheelchair rider combined with her professional experience has provided me with in-depth knowledge about inclusive tourism and outdoor recreation.


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