Assateague State Park | Outdoorsy

Assateague State Park
Guide

Introduction

Assateague State Park is Maryland's only oceanfront park, and it's a destination that will enchant guests of all ages. The park's waters, beaches, and coastal zones draw RVers, bikers, kayakers, beachgoers, birders, and surfers alike. The island is also home to a famous population of wild ponies. Assateague State Park's campground rests just minutes from the waves. With just a short walk over some sand dunes, visitors can go from bunk to beach. A beautiful, salty breeze off of the Atlantic will accompany you for the duration of your stay.

Unloading your rig at Assateague State Park is just as easy as it is exciting. With this part of the trip complete, you can move on to the fun stuff - there's a lot of it here! Whether you join beachgoers to sunbathe, swim in the Atlantic Ocean, or busy yourself beachcombing, you'll find it's easy to see the day fly by. Though the ocean-facing side of the island gets most of the attention, the bay-facing side has plenty going for it too. This side is where guests have the opportunity to explore secluded coves by paddleboat or search for some of the island's diverse avifauna.

Indeed, marshy areas of the island are home to a variety of wildlife, including the famed Assateague ponies. Guests are advised not to interact with, feed, or approach the wild horses -- no matter how enticing. They are wild animals and need to be regarded with respect in order to ensure their safety as well as yours. You may find that some of the horses are quite persistent about food. Be advised to follow all food storage procedures. Another tip: bring the bug spray. There are a lot of biting flies and mosquitoes that frequent the island. Instead of letting them spoil your trip, come prepared.

Though Assateague can get quite busy during peak season, it's campground provides ample accommodations. There are over 350 campsites here, most of which can fit trailers or RVs.

RV Rentals in Assateague State Park

Transportation

Driving

From the mainland, access to Assateague Island is gained by crossing the Verrazano Bridge (that's the Maryland Verrazano Bridge, not the New York City Verrazano Bridge). There are two roads that extend the length of the state park and one that continues on to the National Seashore. The two-way road leading into the campground passes through all available site loops. Once your loop is found, expect a one-way horseshoe to take you to your destination.

All roads to and within the state park are paved, flat, and lack any sharp turns. Driving should be worry-free, even if you're in a large RV or hauling a sizable trailer. Do be sure to check the weather forecast before heading out, though. Nasty storms can occasionally make their way up the coast, causing torrential rains and flooding, and making driving difficult or impossible. The park may also close if it is at capacity and only open as space becomes available, so keep that in mind if you are traveling during the peak season.

Parking

Day-use lots offer a few parking options at Assateague State Park, but your best bet, if you're traveling in an RVs or trailer, is to book one of the over 300 campsites available. One-way loops create horseshoe sections in the campground that lead to relatively spacious sites. All sites are back-in (no pull-throughs here) and only those parked in G or I-Loop will have electric hookups. The campground is an ideal place to park. A short trek over the sand dunes leads you right to the beach. The campground also puts you within walking distance of bike paths, and great fishing spots and kayak put-ins along the coast.

Public Transportation

Campgrounds and parking in Assateague State Park

Campsites in Assateague State Park

Reservations camping

Assateague State Park Campground

Assateague's sandy campground puts visitors just a stone's throw away from the Atlantic Ocean. Beach grasses and other plants add some stability to the small dunes adjacent to many campsites, and you may see crabs or sandpipers darting through the vegetation. Just a bit further on, a slightly higher line of dunes runs parallel to the beach and partially protects campers from the winds coming off the ocean (the keyword here is "partially"- Assateague's campground can still get plenty windy, so make sure your tent is well-staked, and your RV is oriented away from the wind). Beyond that line of dunes is a lovely stretch of beach and the expansive Atlantic.

From mid-April through the ending days in October, most campsites in Assateague State Park's campground are available for reservation. While reservations are not required for your stay, they are highly recommended, as this park receives many visitors during the peak season. Though the state park is open year-round, Memorial Day through Labor day see the biggest crowds.

The campground is large, hosting a whopping 350 sites. Each spacious site has a picnic table and fire ring, and electric hookups are available to guests staying in G-Loop as well as some in I-Loop. Each individual campground loop has either a bathhouse within it or in close proximity. The center is an awesome way to get up close and personal with some of the area's local wildlife. Visitors will find a playground and basketball court here as well.

Family-friendly and pet-friendly, this park is an ideal destination to set up your rig. Who knew such a busy campground could be so quaint? Guests are reminded to always be mindful of the resident ponies. While the ponies themselves are one of the Assateague State Park's biggest draws, it is important to note that they are wild animals. Approaching, feeding, or attempting to pet the ponies is not permitted, or advised.

First-come first-served

First-Come, First-Served Camping

While reservations are not required in order to camp at Assateague State Park, they are highly encouraged. This is a rather popular vacation destination, drawing lots of visitors from nearby Washington D.C., Baltimore, and Philadelphia. The park offers a unique seaside escape, with stretches of coastline unlike anything else in the state.

Think you'll get lucky? You may just find space to park your RV or camper trailer if you've stopped here on a whim. Any spots that aren't already reserved are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Alternate camping

Assateague Island Parks

If you've discovered the state park's campground is filled to capacity, you don't have to worry about turning away and heading back across the bridge. This island has much more to offer visitors, with accommodations available at neighboring Assateague Island National Seashore. Visitors can register at any time, day or night. If the ranger station is closed, you can sign into an available site and then pay the next morning. If you're arriving when the ranger station is open (usually between 8:30 AM and 10 PM), then you can head there to register. Assateague requires all registrations to be made in person - there is no online system.

The National Seashore doesn't share all the same comforting amenities as Assateague State Park. There are showers and chemical toilets, and the park is pet-friendly. There are two day-use entrances from the campground to the national park, and trekking over a nearby dune leads to a beautiful, breezy beach. It's a pleasant alternative for a stay and another fantastic setting for Assateague Island fun.

Walk-In Campsites

A handful of "walk-in only" sites are situated in Loop-J, at the far southern end of the campground. You'll have to pack your tent and supplies in, but you'll be rewarded with some extra quietude. These sites are set away from the bustle of the main campground. Once situated, with vehicles parked in an adjacent lot, visitors can simply trek over the dunes and head toward the Atlantic Ocean.

Seasonal activities in Assateague State Park

Off-Season

Assateague Wildlife and Ponies

A unique draw at Assateague is the park's resident population of wild ponies. The island's herd is well over 100 strong, and it's not uncommon for visitors to spot some of these stout but beautiful creatures ambling along the beach or munching on the marsh. You'll have the best chance of spotting them if you walk along the nature trails or the beach. Don't get to close to them, and make sure to stay at least 40 feet away at all times for your safety and theirs.

Wildlife biologists are still unsure about the ponies' exact provenance, but they're believed to have lived on the island for at least two centuries (and possibly much longer). Whether they were survivors of a shipwreck or escapees from nearby pastures, the island's abundant food and lack of predators has allowed their population to flourish, and today they're certainly some of the most photographed critters in all of Maryland.

But ponies aren't the only animal residents here. If you're out biking, hiking, kayaking or swimming, you'll almost certainly come across some of the other fascinating fauna that call the park home. Over 200 species of birds can be found on the island, with species ranging from sandpipers and plovers to cormorants and terns. There are also two species of deer on Assateague, the native white-tail and the introduced Sika.

The bay and ocean surround the state park and these waters teem with life too. Fish, including sea trout, puffer fish, flounder, rockfish, and bluefish, are plentiful, and dolphins are even spotted from time to time.

Ocean Kayaking

Whether you're out for a short paddle or a long voyage, kayaking is one of the best ways to explore Assateague's scenic coast. Soak up some sun and breathe in the salty sea air - with miles and miles of shoreline, the possibilities are endless. You can launch a kayak from anywhere along the beach at Assateague, with the exception of the swimming area (which itself is not always closed to kayakers; it's only closed during peak season, when lifeguards are on duty).

While summer brings the best weather, spring and fall can also be great times for paddling, as the waters around Assateague are usually far less busy then. The park advises paddlers to wear a life jacket be worn at all times, as the surf can be strong. Even seasoned kayakers can (and have) been caught off guard.

Kite Flying

You may be surprised by how many kites you see soaring through the air above the beaches of Assateague. Steady, strong breezes make the coast here an ideal place for kite flying. In the off-season, the crowds are sparser and the beaches are quieter, so you don't have to worry about bumping elbows with other beachgoers.

Fishing

Fishing in the off-season is a popular pastime for visitors. The beaches tend to be a lot less populated, meaning there are more opportunities for surf-fishing You can expect to throw a line in either at the marina or directly on the beach. The only places where surf-fishing isn't permitted are designated swimming areas (you're probably not trying to catch a human, after all).

Whether you're looking to get a few bites from the bay or are lured out to sea on a boat, you're sure to get some good fishing in. Popularly fished-for species include black and red drum, striped bass, and summer flounder. State regulations apply to all shore fishing, and they may differ depending on your catch. Regardless, make sure you have a valid Maryland State fishing license. If you do reel in a bit one, a fish cleaning station is available at the marina.

Biking

Sometimes, getting around on two wheels is much more fun than getting around on two feet. If you've brought your bike along on your journey, you'll be delighted to find that you can ride just about anywhere in the park. The Bayberry Drive bike path is perhaps the area's most popular. This four-mile path takes riders down the length of the island. Along the way, they'll have the expansive Atlantic on one side and rich coastal habitats on the other. A ride along Bayberry is a great way to take in all the sites Assateague has to offer while also getting some great exercise.

If you bike all the way south, past the Virginia line, you'll find routes that connect you with another great series of bike paths at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. Always be sure to stay within designated bike lanes, if you're on multi-use roads. Maryland law also states that children, up to age 16, are required to wear a helmet in order to ride. The rest of the state's bicycle laws, as well as a biking map, can be obtained at the Ranger Station.

In-Season

Ocean Swimming

Assateague State Park's lifeguards station themselves on the beach from 10 AM until 5 PM, between Memorial Day and Labor Day weekend. Visitors are encouraged to swim in these guarded areas, though, you can technically swim anywhere along the ocean. The swimming sections are clearly designated with flags, and they're big enough to keep most swimmers occupied.

Though lifeguards are present during much of the peak season, swimming at Assateague is still at-your-own-risk. Currents along the shore can be unpredictable, and sometimes the surf picks up quickly. Don't head too far out, unless you are a very confident swimmer.

Junior Beach Patrol

Assateague State Park has a host of kid-friendly activities, so if you're traveling with the whole family, be sure to stop by. Kids are invited to join the Assateague State Park Beach Patrol through a training program with the lifeguards. Participants, ages 7-15, get to learn about all the different aspects of being a lifeguard, including lessons on ocean ecology, the beach, basic surf rescue techniques, fitness challenges, and more. The Beach Patrol program is a great way for kids to learn about natural history while becoming more confident in and around the water.

Sunbathing

Assateague State Park lies between both the Sinepuxent Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. This magnificent stretch of beach lends itself perfectly to sunbathing. Oceanside, visitors can get a wonderfully expansive view, with summer's sweet sunny rays attracting all sorts of beachgoers. The sand and surf are quite popular here, but the park can still seem like a remote getaway when compared to Maryland's busier beaches. Lather up that sunscreen and be sure to bring a towel, umbrella, chair, and any other beach necessities. You'll be surprised how quickly even the long days of summer can pass here.

Beach Yoga

While park guests are welcome to practice yoga along the beach at any time, visitors are also encouraged to join in with the featured yoga program. You can check out the weekly program schedules at the Ranger Station. The setting is truly ideal. Feel the sand beneath your feet and listen to the softly crashing waves as you move through your poses. What better way to start the day than with some relaxing yoga on the beach?

Nature Center

Set aside some time to visit Assateague Island Visitor Center. Run by the National Park's Service, the visitor center is located just a short drive from the park, on the mainland side of the Verazzano bridge.

Here, you can get up close and personal with some of the area's fascinating critters. Aquariums at the Nature Center are full of native sea creatures, including crabs, whelks, seahorses, horseshoe crabs, and all sorts of fish. Some native terrestrial animals, such as snakes and owls, can be found here too. There are also several great exhibits on the area's ecology and geology. If you're looking to learn more about how dunes form or why the beach looks the way it does, the Nature Center is where you'll find some answers.

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