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Legend has it the famous original Chincoteague ponies escaped a shipwreck in the 17th century and swam ashore onto Assateague Island where they have lived ever since. Since the 1830s, the ponies have made an annual swim to the Virginia mainland, where they are rounded up for auction. The event has turned into a popular one for tourists to witness, perhaps in part thanks to Marguerite Henry, who authored the Misty of Chincoteague book series. The event usually occurs on the last Wednesday of July, and as of 2010, it regularly draws over 50,000 spectators.
The closest town is Chincoteague, VA, which has a couple of small grocery stores, a wide variety of gift shops and artists’ galleries, and a museum. Several buildings and homes in the town are historic, dating back to the early 1800s. Search for an RV in Worcester County, MD, and get ready to embark on an RV camping vacation of a lifetime.
The Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge is found on the southern end of Assateague Island; it covers around 14,000 acres of marshes, maritime forests, dunes, and shoreline. The northern half of the island is committed to Assateague Island National Seashore and Assateague State Park, which encompasses nearly 10,000 acres combined. The Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge maintains several miles of paved paths that are open to pedestrians and bikers and trails for hiking.
Naturally, the island beaches are a popular draw for many visitors. Visitors can go crabbing, clamming, or fishing provided that they obtain the appropriate licenses. There are several miles of beaches for beachcombing, shell-hunting, and horseback riding (visitors must bring their own horses). The southern portion of the island is open to vehicles, too. The beaches are wide, flat, and usually hard-packed. Call ahead and check on the conditions though, sometimes after storms with strong winds, the sand turns into what’s called “sugar sand” conditions, and many vehicles struggle to get traction. Vehicle access to the beach is often restricted on those days.
Opportunities for wildlife observation and photography are endless. Dolphins frequently frolic in the waves just offshore. The marshes are known habitats of several animals, including a few endangered ones like peregrines, falcons, and snowy owls. Horseshoe crabs, which are endangered, occasionally crawl ashore. Swan Cove is populated by long-legged, spindly herons and egrets. Wild ponies have free roam of the island, and their grazing habits are not predictable. They can usually be found in the marshes but will occasionally venture onto the dunes or beach. Visitors can borrow binoculars from the visitor’s center.
Skip the hotel by renting a camper and listen to the sound of waves crashing ashore and cry of gulls as they soar overhead. While camping on Virginia’s side of Assateague Island is not allowed, Maryland’s half has a few campgrounds. Assateague State Park RV campground has over 350 sites, and several have electric hookups. All sites have fire rings or grills. There are bathrooms with hot showers. Open year-round; reservations are highly recommended during the summer months, particularly in late July because it coincides with the annual swim event. Between October and April, the campground operates on a first-come, first-serve basis. Heads up, pets are prohibited.
Should space runs out, there are a few other options very close by. The KOA in Chincoteague, VA, has several family-friendly amenities that may appeal. In addition to full hookups, free wifi, and shuttle access, it also has a jumping pillow, a rec room, and planned activities.
Alternatively, Frontier Town RV Resort & Campground near Berlin, MD, boasts over 500 sites for campers to choose from. Hookups range from primitive to full, and some sites have waterfront views or are dockside. All sites have a fire ring, which is terrific for roasting s’mores on a balmy evening. Frontier Town RV Resort and Campground also has a few unique features like a genuine shark that was used as a prop in the movie Jaws, an arcade game room stocked with vintage games, and shuttles to Assateague Island and Ocean City.
Hop into a rental motorhome and roll into the bustling town of Ocean City, MD. Between family-friendly activities and adult-oriented fun, there’s plenty of things to do and see in this town. Ocean City has 17 world-class golf courses, dozens of museums, an old-fashioned beachside amusement park, charming boardwalk stores and cafes, museums, and nightclubs.
The small towns scattered across Maryland’s coast have interesting attractions, quirks, and flair for visitors to discover with the help of an Airstream rental. The Ward Museum of Waterfowl Art in Salisbury, MD, is one of the more unique niche museums in the country. Its displays are geared toward featuring wildlife art and crafts, and it has one of the largest collections of waterfowl carvings in the world. Nearby Snow Hill, MD, has several homes and buildings that are registered on the National Register of Historic Places, including a home that is believed to have been owned by George Washington, the United States’ first president.
Rent a travel trailer and retreat to Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. The fresh sea air and an abundance of outdoor recreational fun make for a fun RV camping trip to Maryland.