Fall Foliage Walks

Chincoteague National Seashore, Virginia
  |  Gorp.com

If it sounds familiar, it's probably because you remember the children's classic, Misty of Chincoteague. And indeed, the famous wild ponies are still rounded up and auctioned off in the Pony Penning Roundup, which takes place the last Wednesday and Thursday of every July.

But when Labor Day ticks past, the summer people go home, and the beaches of Chincoteague belong to the birds, the wild ponies, and the occasional dolphin swimming along the shore. Fall is the perfect season for visiting Chincoteague. The island's justifiably infamous mosquitoes and biting flies are gone (except for a few stalwart holdouts—bring bug goop just in case) and the weather is usually mild.

Some orientation is in order: Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge is the southern half of Assateague Island, the 37-mile-long barrier island that lies half in Maryland and half in Virginia. On the northern side, in Maryland, are Assateague Island National Seashore and Assateague State Park, both of which also offer walking routes and wild ponies, too. Chincoteague wins out because the nearby town of the same name offers more pleasant lodging, and because more than 6 miles of its beach is proposed to be managed as a wilderness.

Fall highlights include beautiful oranges and reds as foliage turns on the dunes—but don't look too closely, or you'll come home with a case of poison ivy, which is responsible for providing berries for birds, holding the dunes together, and playing a lead role in the fall foliage show.

Recommended Ramble
Long walks on quiet beaches top just about everyone's list of romantic idylls. Working out on a beach with a brisk walk or a jog can be every bit as wonderful. If, that is, the sand is firm and the slope is mild. On both counts, Chincoteague is perfect (as with all beaches, it's best when the tide is out; check the local paper for the tide charts). Whether your intentions run toward romance or exercise, this is a beach made for walking. Bring a wind jacket and sunglasses.

Special Extras
With more than 300 species of birds, both resident and migratory, Chincoteague is one of the most important bird refuges in America. You'll see waterfowl (especially in the Snow Goose Pool, accessible via a foot and bike trail), shorebirds, and migratory songbirds. Keep your camera handy.

For More Information
Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, (757) 336-6122. To make things confusing, Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge is actually located on Assateague Island; the town of Chincoteague is located on nearby Chincoteague Island and has a variety of accommodations, from hotels to bayside cabins. Best time for a fall visit: September, when the water is still warm enough for swimming.


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