Assateague Island Camping Reservations & Permits
Camping reservations for Assateague Island campgrounds are required from March 15 through November 15. Reservations are available six months in advance, but be aware that nearly all reservations for weekends are filled the first day reservations become available.
Sites are $30 per night and can be made by calling 1-877-444-6777 or on Recreation.gov here.
Once youve made your reservation, you can grab your permit at the entrance of the campground upon arrival. Leave your Assateague Island camping permit in your car in the windshield or somewhere thats easily noticeable for park rangers.
For off-season camping on Assateague Island, campsites are first-come-first-served between November 16 through March 14. Sites are $30 per night and walk-in sites are closed.
Watch The Wild Ponies
The famous Chincoteague ponies actually live on Assateague Island and are divided into two herds- one lives on the Maryland side of the island, and the other lives on the Virginia side of the island. The Virginia herd is the one that is rounded up for the annual Pony Swim to Chincoteague.
Assateague NS has a couple pony viewing areas. We were able to see them from the Woodland Trail loop as well as from Beach Road, the road that goes to the beach near Toms Cove. Theres a pull off area next to the road near an area the herd frequents, and we were able to get a better view of the ponies from there than from the lookout spot on the hike.
We werent able to get super close, but we did see the wild ponies!
Things To Do On Assateague Island
This beautiful and rural island is an oasis for outdoor lovers, especially people who love the water and the beach. Assateague Island beach camping is surely a highlight of the trip, however, you can also enjoy miles of biking and walking paths that wind around the island. Choose from the Wildlife Loop, Woodland Trail, Black Duck Marsh Trail, or others. Bird-watchers make sure to bring your binoculars since Assateauge Island is home to an amazing diversity of bird life and activity.
Visitors can even choose to bike onto the island. From Maryland, cyclists can travel to Assateague over a bicycle-pedestrian bridge and follow a paved bike path along Bayberry Drive through 4 miles of island habitat. From Chincoteague, Virginia, a paved path leads bicycles from Chincoteague to Assateague.
There are also self-guided nature trails,surfcasting , crabbing in the Bay, and of course, swimming, kayaking, and windsurfing. More information on watercraft outfitters & rentals can be found on the NPS website.
If youre traveling with small children you can also find the beach lifeguard schedule online.
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History Of Assateague Island The Pony Swim And Pony Penning
In 1950, construction began on Assateague for a private resort community called Ocean Beach, Maryland. But the Ash Wednesday Storm of 1962 destroyed the road, Baltimore Boulevard, and structures on the island. Realizing the land was too unstable to build upon, the land was sold to the federal government.
Established in 1965 to preserve the barrier island and surrounding waters, and provide recreational opportunities, Assateague Island National Seashore is a unit of the National Park Service system of the U.S. Department of the Interior, and operated in cooperation by the National Park Service, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, and Maryland State Parks.
The northern two-thirds of the island belong to Maryland, while the southern third of the island belongs to Virginia. The Maryland section contains the majority of Assateague Island National Seashore.
The Virginia side contains the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge and is home to the Pony Auction held as a fundraiser for the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department. About 60 foals are born each year and the sale assists with population control.
Local saltwater cowboys round up the ponies and sort those to be removed from the island. This causes the exciting Pony Swim and on the next day, the Pony Penning. Maryland horses are given birth control to limit the horse population. Their goal herd size remains 80 to 100 horses.
Children get involved as shown in this documentary.
See The Historic Main Street Merchants
The Historic Main Street Merchants can enhance your enjoyment and can provide unique experiences for those traveling to Chincoteague!
They are a group of businesses located on the main street in the town that partners together for the pleasure and satisfaction of those visiting from out-of-town. They host events such as scavenger hunts, Death by Chocolate, Search for Shamrocks, and more.
There are also markets and other cool events throughout the year and it is crucial to check what is on their calendar during your Chincoteague trip!
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Things To See In Chincoteague And Assateague Islands
You and I own all of Assateague Island, which is completely occupied by the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge and the Assateague Island National Seashore, and thus jointly administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service. Of the island’s 37 miles, 12 are in Virginia. Wildlife on this end is afforded a higher degree of protection than in the Maryland sector. In fact, a fence at the state line keeps Maryland’s wild horses and other critters away from the Virginia side.
Bird-watchers know Assateague Island as a prime Atlantic Flyway habitat where sightings of peregrine falcons, snow geese, great blue heron, and snowy egrets have been made. The annual Waterfowl Week, generally held around Thanksgiving, takes place when a large number of migratory birds use the refuge.
The Wildlife Refuge — You first enter the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, which is open May through September daily 5am to 10pm, April and October daily 6am to 8pm, November through March daily 6am to 6pm. The refuge accepts the America the Beautiful entrance passes issued by federal agencies otherwise, admission is $5 per vehicle for 1 day, $15 per vehicle for 1 week, free for pedestrians and bikers.
For information about the national seashore, contact the Superintendent, Assateague Island National Seashore, 8586 Beach Rd. , Chincoteague Island, VA 23336 .
Virginia’s Barrier Islands Center & Museum
Check Out The Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge
If you want to experience the wildlife of this unique area up close, you should start by visiting the Herbert H. Bateman Educational and Administrative Center to learn more about the island and the wildlife programs available to visitors.
Not only will you learn more about these programs, but you will also be able to ask volunteers and the staff your questions while having the opportunity to check out videos. There is also a souvenir shop on-site.
From there, you should head out and explore! You can either hike the many trails through the National Wildlife Refuge or you can rent a bike and cycle them. The trails run through woodlands and marshes and you will have the chance to spot several species of birds and other animals .
You can find the Herbert H. Bateman Educational and Administrative Center in Chincoteague and it is $10 per vehicle to enter the Refuge.
The Chincoteague Wildlife Refuge is open 7 days a week and its hours are:
- 5:00 A.M. 10:00 P.M. from May through September
- 6:00 A.M. 8:00 P.M. the months of April and October
- 6:00 A.M. 6:00 P.M. from November through March
The Herbert H. Bateman Educational and Administrative Center can be found at 8231 Beach Road on Chincoteague Island and its hours are as follows:
- 9:00 A.M. 5:00 P.M. in the Summer
- 9:00 A.M. 4:00 P.M. in the Spring, Fall, and Winter
It is closed December 24, 25, 31, and January 1. to learn more.
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Double Bonus: Watch A Rocket Launch
Check the main Wallops website for upcoming launches . There are many great viewing sites at the visitor center, in Chincoteague and the surrounding areas. Be prepared for larger crowds when a larger rocket is launching than when a sounding rocket is going up.
Have you visited Assateague and Chincoteague? What was your favorite free activity? I also wrote a post with other fun things to do that will cost you a bit more than the activities on this list.
Assateague Island Rv Camping
For those who are planning to RV camp on Assateague Island and want to be close to the beach, youll want to reserve an Oceanside Drive-in campsite. There are no hook-ups at these sites but there are picnic tables and fire pits available to use.
Bayside Drive-in is essentially the same campground as the Oceanside Drive-in and is another option for RV camping on Assateague Island, however, it is located away from the ocean and closer to the bay. A Generator-Free Zone is located in the Bayside B Loop.
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Assateague Island National Seashore Campground
If you have the chance to camp on the island during your visit, we highly recommend Assateague Island Camping. It was nice to be a few minutes from the beach we were on the sound side and we had so many more opportunities to see the Assateague Island horses. We saw them every day in the campground and even woke up to evidence that they had been right outside our motorhome.
There are state park and national park campgrounds. The campgrounds do fill up, so it is a good idea to make your reservations in advance. The Assateague Island State Park camping has hot showers and flushing toilets, but pets are not allowed. The national park campground has cold water and chemical toilets, but pets are allowed. Amenities vary at each loop within the campgrounds.
Camping Options Are Available
Staying overnight on Assateague requires a camp permit. Car camping sites are available by reservation online. Reservations open 6 months in advance and book quickly, especially for weekends and holidays.
Options include drive-in, horse camping, and back-country camping. All camping is on the Maryland side of the park. You can choose oceanside with quick access to the beach, or camp west of the main dune on bayside campsites with better views of the wetlands and grazing horses. There are six backcountry campsites, four of which are bayside and can be accessed by hiking, canoe, or kayak. Hike into the two oceanside backcountry sites.
Its critical to know there is no fresh water available at any of the backcountry sites. Youll have to bring your own.
Pets are prohibited except from a very small part of the National Seashore and State Park.
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Where To Stay In Chincoteague
There are a lot of house rentals on the island and going through a realty company, VRBO, or AirBnB will give you plenty of options. If youre staying for more than a long weekend, these houses are probably more budget-conscious options. We did a mixture of both a hotel and renting a house with family.
We stayed at the Best Western Chincoteague Hotel. The location is right near the bridge to get to Assateague Island . Their COVID policies made us feel comfortable throughout the hotel which is very important to me. Included in our stay were breakfast, wifi, and a pool! We had to wear our masks and gloves that were provided by the hotel. We were able to bring our breakfast to our room to keep our distance. The pool was refreshing and the plants outside made it feel like it wasnt right on the main road.
For a Bay View hotel, check out Comfort Suites Hotel. You can stay on main street at the for views of boats coming and going! If you prefer to stay in a home instead of a hotel, then check out this townhome with potential pony views right from the deck!
Camping On Assateague Island
There are 350 campsites in the state park, each with a fire ring and picnic table. You can tent camp or bring your camper. There are electric hook-ups on one loop. Youth group camping permits and areas are also available. There is primitive camping in the State Park from November through April and permits only cost $10/night. You must be in a self-contained camper to use these areas as no tent camping is allowed where bathroom facilities are not available. For more information, check the DNR website: or to make reservations, call 1-888-432-CAMP for reservations.
Camping is also available in the National Seashore where there are many camping options. All campsites include access to cold-water showers, chemical toilets, and drinking water. From 10/16-4/14, campsites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. The cost per night is $20 and discounts are available.
You can get more information by calling the office at 641-3030. An overview of the different types of camping follow:
Visit our camping page for more information.
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Online Assateague Foal Naming Contest Raises $3350
ASSATEAGUE A new foal born into the herd of wild horses at Assateague on the Maryland side in August has a new name this week after another successful naming-rights raffle.
The Assateague Island Alliance , the friends group of the Assateague Island National Seashore, which advocates on behalf of the islands most famous residents, each year hosts naming rights contests for foals born into the herd on the Maryland side. Often, the contests are held as auctions through e-Bay, or other creative contests such as raffles.
Such was the case for the new foal heretofore known only as N2BHS-CKT born in August to Johnnys Star, also known as N2BHS-CK. The likely sire is Mr. Frisky Hooves. Decades ago, the National Park Service began assigning alpha-numeric names to the wild horses on Assateague to better track to which bands they belong and the areas on the island they tend to frequent.
However, the AIA for years have been hosting naming rights contests for the new foals. The contests achieve the parallel goals of assigning a familiar name to the horses by which supporters and advocates can identify them. The contests also help the AIA raise funds for its advocacy programs for the wild horses.
Backcountry Camping On Assateague Island
If youre up for even more of an Assateague Island camping adventure, you can opt for a backcountry campsite. These sites require a 2.5 to 13-mile hike or paddle in depending on which site you choose. There are 2 oceanside backcountry campsitesand 4 bayside backcountry campsites available.
Youll need to get a 7-day backcountry entrance fee permit for $10 a person and $25 per vehicle if youre driving in. No fresh water is available at backcountry campsites and pets are prohibited.
More information on backcountry camping at Assateague Island can be found here.
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Junior Ranger Program And Ranger
are great for learning about whatever national park site youre at. They usually have a requirement to participate in a ranger-led activity, and we have learned a lot from those as well. On this occasion we walked through the salt marsh next to the visitor center and looked for signs of native animals.
Sunshine and River with their junior ranger pins and stickers
Human Use Of The Island
The National Park Service allows off-road vehicles with permits in certain areas. Car camping sites are available in both the National Seashore and Assateague State Park by reservation. Backcountry sites are also available from the National Seashore. There is no camping available from the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. Pets are prohibited in all areas except certain parts of the National Seashore and parts of the state park. Kayak touring is a popular way to see the wildlife, especially on the calmer bay side. Summer months are known for heavy mosquito populations, particularly on the bay side.
Assateague State Park comprises almost 800 acres and lies in Maryland within the National Seashore. The state park is the most developed area on the island with 350 campsites. Most of the water around the island is within the boundaries of the national seashore. The island has a land area of 24.4 square miles and has no resident population in either Maryland or Virginia, though a few retained property rights until 2006. These were mainly hunting camps.
Large populations of birds inhabit the island, including American oystercatcher, great blue heron, and snowy egret. There are over 320 species that are known to inhabit the island during some portion of the year. These include gulls, terns, and other shorebirds along with raptors, waterbirds, and waterfowl. The piping plover is a threatened species that nests on Assateague.
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Bathrooms And Showers At Assateague
The best part of Assateague Island is the fact that it has both toilets AND SHOWERS. Normally beaches like Ocean City, Rehoboth, Dewey, etc, do not have showers or public restrooms. But because Assateague is a State and National Park with no restaurants or boardwalk, the park system provides bathrooms and showers. Id say these amenities are worth the $20 fee.
The bathrooms and showers near the day-use parking lot get quite busy and there was a line to use them when we went.
But if you go to one of the bathrooms or showers in the beach camping area there are no lines! I didnt see one person using them when I was there.
Meet The Local Horses
Wild horses have been present on Assateague for hundreds of years they were originally descended from domestic horses that survived a shipwreck off the Virginia coast in the late 17th century . Youre better off catching them on the Maryland side of the island, since thats the side that contains free-roaming horses. Wildlife tours, offering a comprehensive look at the many species that call this island home, are available too.
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