Assateague Island National Seashore is an east coast, mid-Atlantic barrier island located jointly off the coasts of Maryland and Virginia. The island is 37 miles long and generally less than one mile wide. Located just south of Ocean City, Maryland, the island stretches south to Virginia’s Chincoteague Inlet (near the NASA Wallops Flight Facility) and is a great destination for individuals, couples and families.
The island’s harsh conditions make it home to specially adapted animals. Because of its proximity to salt water, the island’s grasses are generally not very nutritious. Animals that can live here have to be tough.
Undoubtedly, the most iconic of the island’s tough creatures are its feral horses. The horses descend from the horses of colonial settlers from as far back as 1669. They roam wild in the Maryland section of the park, but are privately owned and fenced in on the Virginia side.
Visitors to Assateague Island National Seashore can enjoy a variety of outdoor and “beachy” activities. Among the most popular are:
• Fishing – both surf fishing Oceanside and shell fishing bayside (for crabs and/or clams) are permitted on the island. Be sure to obtain proper permits at the entrance!
• Canoeing and kayaking – for those who want to get off the sand and into the water, small vessel boating is permitted. Both canoes and kayaks are available for rent.
• Camping – available only on the Maryland side of the island. Campsites, backcountry camping and “horse camping” (for guests with horses of their own) are permitted. Rates vary.
Other activities for beach-minded folks include bicycling one of the half-dozen bike paths and shell collecting. Guests aren’t allowed to take more than one gallon’s worth of shells, and all shells must be uninhabited.
Off-trail hiking is common, though most visitors stay out of the marsh in the summertime, as the bugs become overwhelming. Even the horses get frustrated and can sometimes be frolicking in the ocean to escape the bugs and cool off. Stay Oceanside if you want to catch a glimpse of that!
Anywhere where you can find feral horses tends to be a popular destination on the Maryland side of Assateague Island. Unfortunately, you never know where they’re going to be! If you want to explore as you search, there are several destinations you may want to check out.
The state line – located roughly two-thirds of the way down the island, the state line marks more than just the difference between Maryland and Virginia. Many of the activities permitted on the northern part of the island are restricted on the southern side. The southern half of the island is also managed by the National Fish and Wildlife Service, while the northern half is managed by the National Park Service.
The Over-sand Vehicle (OSV) zone – the middle 12-15 miles of the island are accessible by appropriately equipped vehicles. Go off-roading in your truck or SUV and try out one of the three OSV campsites.
From Maryland, take State Route 611 south to the Visitor Center.
From Virginia, take State Route 175 east to the Bateman Center.