Fort Ord National Monument and Elkhorn Slough add excitement to Monterey visit!

Monterey offers treasure trove of adventure destinations, with Fort Ord backcountry and Elkhorn Slough!

Headed to the Monterey area? Hikers, bicyclists, mountain bikers, kayakers or campers will find two adventure destinations within 2.5 hours of San Joaquin County, in Fort Ord National Monument and Elkhorn Slough, each adjacent to Monterey, CA.

Lace lichen cascades from oaks in Fort Ord National Monument.

Fort Ord National Monument abuts Monterey offering world-class recreation for visitors to the Central California Coast. Lands of the former army fort offer 86 miles of trail on 7,200 acres – open every day from dawn to dusk for hikers, cyclists, mountain bikers, horseback riders, wildlife/wildflower photographers and nature enthusiasts. Visitors can choose to walk or ride the narrow single track trails atop the grassland hills or the shady winding trails through oak woodlands and maritime chaparral; a variety of paved roads also make the old fort a road-cyclists dream.

Wildflowers carpet hillsides in the old Fort Ord backcountry.

The national monument’s expanses of maritime chaparral with wild lilac, manzanitas and chamise supporting diverse plant and animal species, along with black-tailed deer, turkeys, bobcats, golden eagles, coyotes, red-tailed hawks, California quail and mountain lions. Watch out for rattlesnakes and poison oak, as well!

On a recent visit, we camped in the Monterey County campgrounds that surround Laguna Seca Raceway (bordering the monument); from there, we could bike out the back of Laguna Seca, on paved Barloy Canyon Road for miles into the Ft. Ord Monument’s backcountry.

Cyclist heads down a Fort Ord singletrack trail.

Another option for a cycling or hiking day-trip, make for the Badger Hills trailhead, right off Hwy. 68; from there, follow Guidotti Road up to Skyline Road for a wide variety of trails and stunning scenery with views of the entire monument and the mighty Pacific just to the west.

Old army roads are now fire roads, and interspersed with scenic singletrack trails leading into wonderous forests of oak and lichen, manzanita and plenty of wildflowers carpeting the hills. Occasionally you’ll find evidence of the former war-time use with sandy fire trails named Machine Gun Flat, or Engineer’s Canyon, but, generally, the former army uses are hard to find.

On Ft. Ord’s west side, a portion of the 1200 mile Juan Baustista De Anza National Historic Trail roughly parallels Hwy. 68. In 1775-76, Bautista de Anza set off from Nogales, Mexico with 240 friars and soldiers, 695 horses and mules and 385 Longhorn cattle, ending in San Francisco and starting the horse and cattle business in California. Hence, you’ll find historic consequence, as well.

If you are a cyclist and want to immerse yourself in the USA’s largest bicycling event, the huge Sea Otter Bike Classic takes over Laguna Seca Raceway, utilizing adjoining Ft. Ord backcountry trails (mark your calendars, April 16-19, 2020; see:

A second adventure option is Elkhorn Slough, at Moss Landing and just north of Monterey. The slough is a wonderous seven-mile-long tidal estuary and slough off Monterey Bay in Monterey County. The slough contains the largest tract of tidal salt marsh in the state and provides habitat for hundreds of plant and animal species. With over 340 species of birds, California’s largest colony of sea otters, bob cats, deer and seasonal visitors like rays and sharks, this estuary always offers exciting viewing and photo opportunities.

A variety of trails offer vantage points, and kayaks and canoes offer a unique way to explore this aquatic wonderland (rentals on site and nearby). It’s also easy to extend your stay by exploring Salinas and the Steinbeck Center, or the stunning coast along Monterey and Pacific Grove.

Southern sea otter dines on crab at Elkhorn Slough
(photo courtesy of Elkhorn Slough Foundation)

What’s nearby: Monterey is just a few miles west of Fort Ord, with Fisherman’s Wharf, Cannery Row and the Monterey Bay Aquarium, restaurants on the water and wonderful biking/walking trails right along the Pacific, extending north to the new Fort Ord Dunes State Park with spectacular views along the Pacific. Salinas is just northeast of Fort Ord, featuring the National John Steinbeck Center (the Steinbeck Festival is early-May, for detail: as well as a host of nice motels and restaurants (less expensive than options in Monterey).

Camping: Campers can find nice campgrounds (with free showers!) surrounding Laguna Seca Raceway; contact Monterey County Parks, (888) 588-2267; for other nearby camping options, Pinnacles National Park, 30 miles south of Hollister, CA, is another fine camping and exploration option, about an hour from Fort Ord.

How to get there: Go south on Interstate 5 to Santa Nella, take Hwy 33 south, then go west on Hwy 152, then Hwy 156 to connect with Hwy 101. Go south on Hwy 101 to Salinas, then take Hwy 68 to the Ft. Ord National Monument. Elkhorn Slough is about 15 miles north of Monterey. Both are about 2.5 hours and 140 miles from San Joaquin County.

For more insight: Ft. Ord National Monument:; for Elkhorn Slough,

Contact Tim at; follow him at Happy travels in your world!

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