Experience the ocean, beaches, marshes, maritime forests, and bays at Assateague Island National Seashore. Established in 1962 to protect this unique coastal environment, this park is a fascinating destination with miles of white sand beaches, wild horse herds and a plethora of bird species to discover.
Watch the waves come in on the unspoiled beaches while RV camping and take a tour to see and learn about the two bands of Chincoteague ponies that make their home here. You can take sightseeing cruises, kayak tours, or meander along the beach to pick seashells or try your hand at crabbing. The Assateague Lighthouse on the way to the beach is a famous local site and contributes to the unique character of the park and region.
A bird watcher's paradise, some of the species you will spot in the park include piping plovers, great egrets, red winged blackbirds, and brown pelicans. You may also encounter gulls, terns, ruby crowned kinglets, white-eyed vireos, and in the winter months Bradt Geese and Northern Saw-whet Owls.
This seashore park is a 37 miles long barrier island ecosystem, which is part of the National Park Service and is located along the Atlantic Ocean spanning across the state borders of Maryland and Virginia. With 41,346 acres of land and water within the park’s boundaries, there are endless possibilities to explore.
This vast national park spans 37 miles of coastline and two states. The park itself can not be traversed by road from end to end, and has two sections that can be accessed by vehicle, the north entrance in Maryland, and the south entrance in Virginia. The north entrance can be accessed at the end of Route 611, 8 miles south from Ocean City, Maryland and provides access to the campsites. The southern entrance is located at the termination of Route 175, 2 miles east of Chincoteague, Virginia.
If you want to get to the northern part of the park from the southern, or vice versa, you will need to return to the mainland and access the alternate entrance. Both entrances require you to cross a bridge from the mainland to reach the island. On the north side use the Verrazano Bridge and on the south side the Chincoteague Road Bridge. From the north entrance take the Stephen Decatur Memorial Road south through the state park to reach the Bayside and Oceanside Campground Loops in the National Park section.
Routes to the Assateague Island National Seashore are paved and roads on the island to access the campsites are also paved so you don't need to worry about rough surfaced, muddy roads en route with your RV.
The Bayside Loop is accessible for RVs. Bayside sites have picnic tables and fire rings, and there is a generator free zone in the B Loop section for those who want a more natural, noise free camping experience. During the peak season there is access to a concession and cold water showers. An RV dump station, recycling facilities, and outhouses are also available in and near the campsite.
Enjoy this campsite on the bay which is more sheltered with trees and marshlands and has shoreline with less waves and wind. Be sure to bring insect repellent as the nearby marsh means plenty of insects. Sunscreen is also recommended for campers who will be spending time out in the elements.
Check out the “Life of the Marsh Interpretive Trail” on the south side of the Bayside Campground where you can experience and learn about the unique ecosystem along the bay of this island barrier. Drinking water is available at the campgrounds when temperatures are above freezing.
Oceanside sites are drive-in and appropriate for RV units. Campsites have fire pits and picnic tables, and generators are permitted, with a quiet time between 10M and 6 AM. Food must be stored in sealed containers to keep it safe from local wildlife. Firewood must be purchased locally and can not be brought in from out of state.
From November 16 until March 14, campsites are available on a first come first served basis, and reservations are available in the peak summer months.
Amenities include concession and shower facilities during the peak season, dump station, recycling facilities, and pit toilets. There are interpretive trails in the campground area and the Oceanside campsites provide easy access to the beach and views of the ocean. This campground is exposed and there are often strong winds off the ocean, which is good for reducing bugs and biting insects, but can result in loose gear being blown around so plan accordingly.
Several lifeguard protected beaches can be found both in the Maryland and Virginia sections of the Assateague Island National Seashore Park.
Although you can swim in the ocean at any coastal beach location, it is highly recommended that you restrict swimming activities to the designated areas where lifeguards are available in the peak season. Strong ocean currents and tides can be problematic to swimmers, especially those who are not strong swimmers or have less experience. The swim beaches in the park, where expert supervision is present, are the best option for a fun and safe swimming experience in the Atlantic Ocean.
The sheltered bays created by the Assateague Island Barrier are a perfect spot for kayakers and canoers to enjoy the water and check out the unique wildlife, including wild ponies and numerous rare bird species. Canoes and kayaks are available for rent in the summer months, and all watercraft must be launched only at designated launch sites to protect the shoreline environment.
Since this is a marine environment and subject to ocean currents, tides, and weather conditions, it is important to use caution and be aware of conditions before venturing out on the water.
Wander along the white sand beaches of Assateague Island National Seashore and collect seashells each day that the tides leave behind. Beachgoers are limited to a gallon or less of unoccupied shells. This is a great activity that is fun for all ages, and a terrific way to unwind.
You can also try your hand at crabbing or clamming along the bays and maybe catch some dinner. Check at the visitor center for information regarding limits and regulations before heading out for a catch.
There is an Over-Sand Vehicle (OSV) Zone on Assateague Island that extends for 12 miles in the Maryland section of the park and into a small section of Virginia. OSVs are restricted to ensure the preservation of the shoreline environment and permits are required for use of over-sand vehicles on park beaches and must be purchased annually.
Once you have a permit, and know the rules and regulations, what could be more fun than a drive along the beach? During the off season months, when less tourists are out and about, OSVers can really enjoy access to the beach with less pedestrian traffic, but remember to watch out for equestrians who also use the area and the wild horses who live here.
For equestrians and their four legged friends, there are campsites that can accommodate horses and a section of beach that is open in the off season to ride along.
Horseback riding is permitted in the Maryland District, Over Sand Vehicle Zone, form October 9 to May 14 during the winter months. This activity is scheduled for winter months when the risk of contracting communicable equine diseases from biting insects is minimized.
When riding along the trails and beaches in the designated area, remember that wild horses make this seaside park their home and roam freely. Unexpected encounters with wild horses may startle domestic horses so be alert and use caution.
One of the best ways to explore the island without disrupting the local ecosystem is to hop on your bike. Cover more ground in this huge natural area while still being able to take in the beautiful sights and sounds of the ocean and island barrier beaches.
Fall is an ideal time as there are less pedestrians on the trails. Paved cycling paths lead from the mainland to the island. There is a pedestrian-bicycle bridge from the Maryland mainland that leads to a bike path along Bayberry drive through four miles of island habitat. The Virginia side also has several cycling loops of varying length available that will show you different features of the park.
Choose a cycling path that best suits your skill level and don’t forget a helmet.