Elkhorn Slough off Monterey Bay

posted Jan 30, 2010, 10:14 AM by Richard Sevenich   [ updated Feb 6, 2010, 6:09 PM ]

On January 29, Eli and I kayaked Elkhorn Slough at Monterey Bay. Our schedule had little flexibility - the kayak shop opened when it opens and the tide had its own schedule, which meshed poorly with ours. So we battled a stiff current going into the slough - at least 2 1/2 knots. My rented fiberglass Necky Chatham 17 found it somewhat easier going than Eli's plastic Wilderness Tsunami 160. In any case, the wildlife viewing was spectacular.

Turning the first corner to enter the slough brought us past a large congregation of stinking sea lions lounging on a dock at the point, most of whom ignored us - used to humans as they are. In the slough, seals were everywhere, swimming or beached. We saw familiar birds - buffleheads, mergansers, cormorants, Western grebes, various smaller grebes, loons, Canadian geese, etc. But there were many varieties not usual to us - pelicans, curlews, snowy and great egrets, and various others we could not identify.

The slough is a sanctuary and visitors are not allowed to land except at Kirby Park (4.25 miles in), but our speed of travel against the current wasn't swift enough to get that far in our available time. We turned around after 2+ hours to ride the still falling tidal current back. An evil head wind, with attendant wee white caps, then sprang up to hinder our progress. The wind was not forecast. Nevertheless, with the current as our ally, the return trip require a mere 34.63 minutes. The more alert of the sea lions had graciously awaited our return, welcoming us loudly.

I was very pleased that my vertebrae and ribs, fractured at the end of October, were healed well enough to easily tolerate the  paddling - even the hard work into an opposing current.

The kayak shop (Monterey Bay Kayaks) has a winter rental rate of $25 per kayak per day, very reasonable. You must request an extra paddle, throwbags are not provided - this would be unacceptable/illegal in Canadian waters. They have an  enticing frequent customer offers. For example, for $100 one can get 2 months of paddling (with equipment provided, of course) any day you want to schedule. Deals this good are unusual up north and probably smart business.

Returning to the slough 2 days later on February 1, our schedule and that of the tide meshed well. Renting the same kayaks as before, we rode the rising tide past the raft of sea otters and then the sea lions and into the slough. On the way to Kirby Park, we detoured into a side channel called Rubis Creek - essentially a waterway in the swamp. With the rising tide nearing its high mark, the water was flowing everywhere in the swamp and the true channel was no longer distinct, so we bushwhacked out. There were water birds everywhere, especially on the swampy side of the main slough channel. We continued to see otters and also many seals. The only new critter was a great blue heron, but we're used to seeing those up north. 

Kirby Park is really Kirby Parking Lot, bare asphalt adorned with a large porta potty. It does, however, provide access to some trails bordering the further reaches of the slough. But for kayakers, it offers little, not even a tree for lunch in the shade. Nevertheless, the porta potty could be crucial because the slough is a no-go zone.

After an elegant lunch on the asphalt, we paddled slack water back to the Monterey Bay Kayaks facility. Our day held maybe 3 1/2 hours of leisurely paddling. Our opinion of kayaking near Monterey? The slough is definitely worth a day trip or two - more if critter watching and photography are your passions. We did not venture into the bay itself. The surf was heavy during our visit, and we're not skilled at surf launches and landings. A guided tour would have worked for us, I suppose. We are accustomed to paddling The Vancouver Island coastline in those places having much more texture i.e. a jagged coastline with lots of islands, a need for compass, charts, marine radio etc. even on fine days.