Assateague Island National Seashore- All you need to know!
If you are on the east coast of the USA, and you are looking to go somewhere off the beaten path, I would strongly recommend Assateague Island National Seashore!
The picturesque, almost untouched island is a part of the US National Park System and lies in both Maryland and Virginia. Other than its pristine beach, the island is also known for its wild horses! Consider yourself lucky if you spot a herd strolling on the beach as you sunbathe!
The Ocean Side- Picturesque and popular with tourists
The ocean is beautiful, with its turquoise waves foaming white at its soft sand beach. It is a lively place to be over the weekends, as visitors come out with their kites and surfboards making for great people watching both on land and sea!
The Bay Side- Calm and secluded
The Bay side of the island is not as popular with tourists, but is great if you want a quieter place to be one with nature. The water is shallow and calm, and is ideal for younger children.
The vibe at the bay side is more relaxed; kayaking, kite surfing, and stand up paddle boarding are popular here. There is a rental shop by the water where you can rent all the equipment you need.
The shallow waters here are great for crabbing and clamming- there is nothing like some freshly caught sea food for the grill!
How to explore Assateague Island
Guided Kayak Expeditions
On a guided kayak expedition, you are led by an expert through the warm bay waters of Assateague to parts of of the island where it is most likely to spot wildlife, almost ensuring you spot a herd of wild horses grazing!
The Kayak Tour by Assateague Explorers is available from April to October. The price for a 3 hour Kayak tour that starts from Chincoteague Island, is $59.
Wildlife Tour by Boat
If you don’t want to do any of the heavy lifting, and just want a relaxing day of spotting bald eagles, wild horses, and other wild life that the island is known for, then take a guided boat tour- The 1.5-2 hour Pony Express Nature Cruise will cost you $43.
Is Assateague Island Pet Friendly?
YES! The Maryland side of Assateague is pet friendly. This is a great place for your furry friends to enjoy the sun and the ocean, but keep them on a tight leash, and don’t leave them unattended, as they may disturb the wildlife of the island.
Pets are PROHIBITED in the entire Virginia portion of Assateague Island, nature trails, lifeguard protected beach, all backcountry campsites, North of the State park towards the Ocean City inlet, and portions of Assateague State Park.
Check the restrictions on the area you plan to visit beforehand.
The Wild Horses and where they came from
The horses on Assateague Island have been there for centuries. It is said that they were domestic horses that were stranded on the island after a shipwreck off the coast of Virginia in the 17th century, but there are no records to prove this theory. The most plausible explanation of the horses’ presence on the island is that they were brought here, in the 17th century, from the mainland to avoid fencing laws and taxation of livestock.
Where to spot the free roaming horses
The free roaming horses are on the Maryland side of the island, and when you go, be prepared with your cameras, as there is nothing more beautiful than a herd of beautiful horses on a white sand beach!
Keep in mind that these are wild horses, so don’t try touching or feeding them. Do keep a safe distance, as they may be unpredictable. There are warning signages as you enter the beach reminding patrons to keep a safe distance from the horses. There have been many cases of visitors being kicked and bitten by the horses as a result of them getting too close.
Where to ride the horses
The Virginia side of the island allows for horseback riding all year round. On the Maryland side, there are restrictions on horseback riding during summer and early fall due to the presence of disease causing, biting insects.
Chincoteague Pony Penning
The pony Penning festival occurs in June/July every year. It is a week of festivities with the horses of Assateague taking centre stage. To kick off the festival, the horses are rounded up and swum from Assateague Island to Chincoteague Island. It is a fun event quite like any carnival with great food, music, rides, raffles, and fireworks! The foals are auctioned off during the carnival, and at the end of the week, the horses are herded to the water, for their swim back to Assateague Island.
If you are in the area around mid June- mid July, keep an eye out for the carnival! Do check the following link for the updated dates and timings for this year’s carnival.