Weekend Backpacker: Washington, D.C.
This barrier island off the coast of Maryland and Virginia offers a host of recreational opportunities, including backpacking, surf fishing, canoeing, and cycling. While camping is not allowed in the refuge, there are 15 miles of trails there for hikers, along with 10 miles of wild beach access. On the Maryland side of the island, backpackers can use both the beach route and the inner dunes route. Tent sites have been set aside for backpackers and paddlers. Recommended trip: Starting at Assateague National Seashore, you can walk south along the length of the island, stopping to camp about midway on the Assateague-Chincoteague boundary. If you can arrange a car shuttle, you can continue all the way to Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. If not, you can turn around and head back, either along the beach or along the parallel trails farther inland.
Getting there: Depending on whether you wish to start at the Chincoteague end of the island or the Assateague side, there are two ways to get to there from D.C. To get to the Assateague end, take I-95 north and then take U.S. 50 toward Ocean City, Maryland. Prior to the bridge to Ocean City, take MD 611 south to the island. To get to Chincoteague, take U.S. 50 from Interstate 95 and then follow U.S. 113 to MD 12. Follow MD 12 until you cross the Virginia state line, where it becomes VA 679. From VA 679, take VA 175 east to Chincoteague.
Permit information: Reservations are not necessary but parking permits and backcountry-use permits are required for camping and must be obtained by mid-afternoon. The nearest oceanside camp is four miles from the parking area. A reservation system is in place from May 15 until September 30 for the established Oceanside and Bayside camps in Maryland. The state park offers a campground with hot showers and flush toilets, a small camp store, and a restaurant. Summer reservations are available here for full week stays only.
Maps: Maps are available through the National Park Service.
Practical information: Because this is a barrier island, take necessary precautions. Carry sunscreen, do not hike shoeless, and make sure you leave the beach during lightning storms. Assateague is famous for its mosquitoes. Bring plenty of DEET. Also, the ponies that roam the island are wild and should not be approachedthey will bite and kick.
Recommended guides: The Official National Park Handbook: Assateague Island by William H. Amos, available through the visitors centers or through the national seashore office. The guide explains the history and biology/ecology of the island and its environments.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication