Assateague Island National Seashore

Maryland and Virginia
Wild horses at Assateague Island National Seashore, Maryland (courtesy, National Park Service)
Assateague Island National Seashore

Contact Details
Assateague Island National Seashore
7206 National Seashore Lane
Berlin, MD 21811
MD District Visitor Information: 410-641-1441 
VA District Visitor Information: 757-336-6577


The white-sand beaches of this windswept barrier island are a major score for worshippers of sun and sea. This 37-mile-long paradise straddles the Maryland-Virginia border and derives its name from a Native American word that translates to "A Running Stream Between." The island is perhaps most famous for wild horses that have roamed the beaches since the late 17th century.

Nineteen miles of wild shore are set aside for sunbathers, beachcombers, and hikers so that they can experience the island as it existed before colonization (and SUVs). Ocean swimmers and surfers will no doubt delight in the Atlantic's playful waves, which continuously lap the shore. If you've never surfed, this is a good place to learn because you don't have to worry about 30-foot Hawaiian tsunamis taking you on the last ride of your life.

Surfcasters can expect blues and stripers to start biting in April. The kingfish and weakfish invasion begins in May. The battle of man versus fish continues throughout the summer and into autumn. Live bunker is the old-school bait of choice.

The nearest airports are Ocean City Municipal Airport and Salisbury-Wicomico County Regional Airport. Cars can access the Assateague Island National Seashore at two entrances. The north entrance is at the end of Route 611, eight miles south of Ocean City, Maryland, and the south entrance is at the end of Route 175, two miles from Chincoteague, Virginia.

Explore Dune, Marsh, and Forest
Several half-mile nature trails traverse the island's distinct ecosystems. The Life of the Dune Trail is a trudge through soft sand that offers the chance to steal a glance at a wild horse, deer, fox, or non-native elk that was imported from Japan in 1920. The Life of the Marsh Trail is an elevated boardwalk that meanders through a salt marsh teeming with waterfowl. The Life of the Forest Trail snakes its way through a forest of stunted loblolly pines gnarled by salt and wind.

Whisper to Wild Horses
Lore has it that the wild horses of Assateague swam to the island from a shipwrecked Spanish galleon. The horses are actually descendants of domesticated horses brought to the island that reverted to a wild state. Two herds roam the island, one in Maryland and one in Virginia, each around 150 strong. The annual "Pony Penning" in which "saltwater cowboys" round up the Virginia herd (aka the Chincoteague ponies), forcing them to swim across the channel at slack tide to Chincoteague is held on the last Wednesday and Thursday of July. Most of the foals are auctioned off so that the herd's numbers are maintained at 150.

Rake in a Few Clams
There's a mud lark in each and every one of us. The quiet waters of the Chincoteague and Sinepuxent Bays offer nature's bounty as hard-shell clams and blue crabs abound. At sunset, a tangerine sky gives way to lush hues of red as the surrounding salt marsh emerges in silhouette. A canoe is a great way to explore the bays because it allows you to paddle close to shorebirds and waterfowl without scaring them away. And if you don't own a kayak or canoe, several rental centers service the island.

Published: 6 Oct 2008 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


Sign up to Away's Travel Insider

Preview newsletter »