Assateague Island

Assateague Sunrise.jpg

Photo courtesy of Eric Z. Grey

Just south of Ocean City on Maryland’s Eastern Shore is Assateague Island, one of my favorite outdoor destinations.

Assateague is a long, narrow barrier island that runs along the eastern shores of Maryland and Virginia. Home to the famous wild ponies popularized by “Misty of Chincoteague,” Assateague offers guarded public beaches amongst pristine natural beauty and wildlife.

If you’re tired of the over-developed, crowded, sleazy, smelly, boardwalk beaches of Maryland’s Eastern shore, Assateague is a wonderful alternative. Here is an overview, with details after the jump.

Destination: Assateague Island

Distance: 2.5 to 3 hour drive from DC, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

Scenery and Attractions: Rural, undeveloped ocean beach and scrub forest with wild ponies.

Wimp Factor: Wimps welcome. You can easily see the sites from your car, or hike deep into the non-toileted wilderness.

Activities: Swimming, surfing, sea-canoeing, hiking, camping, fishing, clamming, crabbing, horseback riding, hunting and off-roading. Some activities vary by season and are limited.

Cost: There is a charge for both the state and federal beaches. Passes are available.

Why it’s cool: You can see wild ponies, camp next to the sand dunes, stoke a roaring fire on the beach and enjoy a night sky filled with stars.

Words of Wisdom: Book campsites early as they fill up quickly. Bring insect repellant after June 15th and avoid the Bay Side campsites in the summer altogether– they are infested with mosquitos. Don’t feed the ponies, as they will eat you.

Assateague is part of the same barrier island system that Ocean City and Chincoteague are built on. In 1933, a massive hurricane split the then Assateague peninsula from the mainland, and Assateague Island was created. While Ocean city and Assateague are a short boat ride away from each other they, are world’s apart in atmosphere. On the east (ocean) side Assateague is a barren expanse of grass and dunes, fully exposed to the harsh Atlantic winds and waves. On the west (bay) side, Assateague is a mix of scrub forest and tidal marshlands guarding Sinepuxent bay. The bay side between June and September is bug infested, but other times offers great opportunities for canoeing, fishing and shell fishing. Do not camp on the bay side between June and September unless you love getting bitten by bugs. The ocean side of the island, especially close to the dunes and the spray of the ocean, is less of a bug hazard.

Maryland’s Assateague State Park controls part of the northern tip of the island and offers guarded, public beaches with some limited concessions (snack bar, showers and bathrooms) and a public campground. One drawback to the state park is that fires are not allowed on the ground, even on the beach, unlike the National campground.

Assateague State Park is a great place to spend the day soaking up the sun, swimming in the frigid turbulence of the Atlantic Ocean. A small snack bar and store is available at the beach, which is convenient given the lack of nearby alternatives.

The remainder of the island in Maryland is controlled by the National Park Service as part of
Assateague National Seashore. The Virginia portion of Assateague Island is a preserve maintained by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency.

The national seashore offers an array of activities: sea-canoeing, hiking, camping, fishing, clamming, crabbing, horseback riding, hunting and off-roading. Swimming is at your own risk, as there is no guard. You can camp on either the Bay or Ocean sides

The National Seashore campgrounds on the ocean side are fantastic, tucked right up against the dunes. I typically camp at the Oceanside Walk-In campsites and build a giant bonfire on the beach below the tide line. At nightfall, the sky explodes with stars and strangers offer a seat around their bonfire, share their food and drink and lend you insect repellant if you forgot it. It is literally one of the friendliest places I have ever been.

Assateague National Seashore also offers Backcountry Camping for the tougher folks who want to go to a truly secluded place. No running water, no cell phone service, no screaming kids– just roaring waves, pristine beach, and open sky. The back country Bayside campsites are also reachable by canoe, although again, it isn’t recommended in the summer due to insects. Even for those going to backcountry Oceanside Campsites, insect repellant is a necessity.

Images Here

And here

1 Comment so far

  1. SignOf4 (unregistered) on May 19th, 2006 @ 8:36 am

    Assateague Island is beautiful indeed. You’ve got me grateful that most people living in the area have discovered only two places to go to the beach: Ocean City and the Outer Banks.

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