What sets Assateague apart from other Islands?
The National Seashore is one of the largest and last surviving Mid-Atlantic barrier islands possessing a continuum of intact coastal habitats where the full range of natural processes occur with little or no human interference. Amidst the highly developed Mid-Atlantic region, the National Seashore’s coastal resources provide unique opportunities for nature-based recreation, education, solitude, and inspiration.
What Draws People to Visit Assateague?
Beaches, camping, over sand vehicle access, birding….but the number 1 reason, horses! Wild horses have been present on Assateague Island for hundreds of years. The seashore provides a unique opportunity to view wild horses in a natural setting, and a majority of visitors indicate that seeing horses is one of the primary reasons for visiting Assateague Island.
The natural resources of the park provide visitors with a wide variety of active and passive
recreational and educational opportunities. Expansive seascapes of ocean and bay, panoramic views, natural sounds, inviting waters, ocean breezes, and dark night skies provide a dramatic setting for an exceptional seashore experience. Visitors have the opportunity to experience the seashore in a variety of ways from driving on the beach to counting the stars by a campfire, and from ranger-guided educational activities to self-guided explorations.
How to plan your visit!
There are two entrances to Assateague Island National Seashore. Assateague’s north entrance is at the end of Route 611, eight miles south of Ocean City, MD. The south entrance is at the end of Route 175, two miles east of Chincoteague, VA. There is no vehicle access to the two entrances on Assateague Island. Vehicles must return to the mainland to access either the north or south entrance.
Assateague Island National Seashore is open year-round. Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge hours change seasonally. There is no vehicle access between the two districts on Assateague Island. Vehicles must return to the mainland to access either the north or south entrance.
Summers at Assateague are generally hot and humid. Mosquitoes, biting flies, gnats and ticks are abundant from spring through autumn. Insect repellent and/or protective clothing is recommended. It rarely snows in the winter but it is often cold, damp and windy. Sturdy hiking shoes are recommended for long walks in the sand and hard soled water shoes/sandals or for wading in bay waters.
All the ways to explore Assateague!
Biking and Hiking! First-time visitors should stop at the visitor centers to see exhibits and obtain information about the many recreational activities and natural features in the seashore. Seasonally, a wide variety of guided programs can be enjoyed to enhance your visit. There are 12 miles of beach in Maryland and a small section of beach in Virginia open to over-sand vehicles. An annual OSV permit may be purchased for $70 to $150 depending upon the type of access desired. Specific equipment is required.
Explore the bayside of the island. Enjoy kayaking, wading and swimming, clamming and crabbing in the shallow, warm bay waters. Most visitor’s go to the beach so you may feel like you have the bayside area all to yourself.
Assateague is an island on the move!
More than half of Assateague Island National Seashore’s 48,000 acres is comprised of near-shore and estuarine waters, and the interplay between these waters and the barrier island affects nearly every aspect of life in this dynamic coastal environment.
The geography of the island itself is in a state of constant flux, continuously being reshaped by the elemental forces of wind and water. Powerful storms can dramatically alter the shoreline in a matter of hours, as waves wash over the beach and reshape the island from ocean to bay. Other forces sculpt the landscape in less obvious ways. Exposure to salt spray, lack of fresh water, and isolation from the mainland are subtle, but powerful influences on the Island’s species composition. Over time, these conditions have produced a community of plants and animals uniquely suited to the extremes found at the edge of the sea.
Many visitors first learn about the Assateague horses from Marguerite Henry’s famous book Misty of Chincoteague. The story takes place during a traditional Chincoteague festival called “Pony Penning.” On the last Wednesday of July, the Virginia herd of horses is rounded up and swum from Assateague Island to nearby Chincoteague Island. On the following day most of the young foals are auctioned off. Proceeds from the sale benefit the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department.
When should you visit Assateague Island?
Assateague Island National Seashore is open year-round. Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge hours change seasonally. Summers at Assateague are generally hot and humid. Mosquitoes, biting flies, gnats and ticks are abundant from spring through autumn. Insect repellent and/or protective clothing is recommended. It rarely snows in the winter but it is often cold, damp and windy. Sturdy hiking shoes are recommended for long walks in the sand and hard soled water shoes/sandals or for wading in bay waters. Be prepared for a visit any time of year.
What you need to know before you plan your trip!
Be prepared! Day visits or camping at Assateague will be a more pleasant experience if you plan ahead! The barrier island habitat can be harsh if you are not prepared. Camping is available only in the Maryland district of Assateague Island. Campers are reminded to bring firewood (locally purchased), sunscreen, insect repellent, screen tents for shade and insect protection, and long tent stakes to anchor tents in the sand and wind. During the summer, lifeguard protected beaches are provided in both Maryland and Virginia districts. Surfing, surf fishing, mats, and floats are allowed outside the life-guarded areas. On rare occasions, the park and certain island areas will be closed due to severe weather. Insect repellent and/or protective clothing is recommended. It rarely snows in the winter but it is often cold, damp and windy. Sturdy hiking shoes are recommended for long walks in the sand and hard soled water shoes/sandals or for wading in bay waters.
During the spring and summer, certain oceanside areas may be closed due to bird nesting. Certain areas are closed during the hunting season. Please check with the Ranger Station at (410) 641-3030 for designated hunting dates. Adverse weather conditions are common during the spring and fall. Assateague Island is known for high concentrations of biting insects anytime from April through October.
What is the biggest misconception about the island?
Most people believe that Assateague Island was designated a National Seashore for the purpose of protecting the wild horses. Not so, the wild horses are an important cultural resource and are protected along with other natural resources. The purposes of Assateague Island National Seashore are to preserve the outstanding Mid-Atlantic coastal resources of Assateague Island and its adjacent waters and the natural processes upon which they depend and provide high quality resource-compatible recreational opportunities to visitors.
Three agencies manage Assateague Island; the National Park Service, the US Fish and Wildlife and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Visitors are usually thoroughly confused!
Editorial and Images Provided by Assateague Island National Seashore