Vacation Guide To Assateague Island

The Assateague Island National Seashore is a 48,000-acre wildlife refuge lacing the sides of the East Coast. It’s predominantly wild beaches are amongst the largest remaining mid-Atlantic barrier islands that have a continuously intact coastal habitat. In fact, the Assateague Island seashore is so long, it spans across two states – Virginia and Maryland. And it requires 3 authority bodies to govern it – The National Park Service (NPS), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

What makes the Assateague Island such an intriguing beach is the fact that its shores host some of the last remaining herds of wild Spanish horses in the US.

The wild horses of Assateague Island

The 50-odd miles of sandy beaches of the Assateague Island were once the shores for heavy tides and dangerous waters. As the result of such extreme tidal conditions, the area became a junction for shipwrecks.

assateague island
Photo Credits: KaraSuva (Pixabay)

It was ever since one major shipwreck way back in the 1500s that the wild horses of Assateague Island came to inhabit the place. These breeds have been tested and are found to be of Spanish origin, thus, believed to have been onboard a Spanish ship. Somehow, the horses managed to swim ashore and save themselves while the rest of the crew perished.

These fierce creatures lived in isolation for many decades, and in turn, have created a secluded environment just for them. Some of the horses have even mated with donkeys and evolved in size and structure. It is because of their isolation that travellers are asked to exert caution when around them. They are untamed and prone to disease, which if contracted, can wipe out their entire remaining species.

The wild horses of Assateague Island spend most of their days sleeping or grazing and moving slowly in small herds from one feeding area to the other. You can see these horses in their habitats with guided tours. It’s not advised to seeking them out on your own.

Wildlife conservation at the Assateague Island

Assateague Island beaches have become an apt environment for rare and migratory birds (like the brown pelican and the bald eagle). The natural landscape of the island – a mosaic of forest, dune and marsh, offers the perfect nesting ground for shorebirds, waders, songbirds, waterfowl and raptors. Due to the intense wildlife conservation efforts in the area, the island has been able to attract and conserve the habitats of piping plovers, egrets, northern harriers and the great horned owl.

assateague island
Pic Credits: JamesDeMers (Pixabay)

Parts of the beach also close down occasionally when certain endangered birds begin to nest in the marshes around it. To be updated on the status, check out the NPS official website here.

The waters around Assateague Island are rich with biodiversity. When swimming in the greenish blue ocean, you’ll be sharing space with millions of phytoplankton. There’s also a natural chorus of frogs and toads echoing through the island. You’ll also come across nocturnal ghost crabs scurrying around at night and fiddler and blue crabs inhabiting the brackish marsh waters of the surrounding swamps during day. If you’re lucky, you may also catch a glimpse of river otters and red foxes.

Because these beaches are largely uncommericalized, they are particularly popular to wildlife and photography enthusiasts.

Assateague Island activities

Sand driving is extremely popular on the Assateague Island beaches. You’ll need to obtain OSV (Over Sand Vehicle) permits in advance from the visitor center (or you can order them online!) and enter from either the Ocean City side in Virginia, or the Chincoteague Wildlife Refuge in Maryland. Note that though both these areas form part of the same beach, they are not connected by roads or pathways through the sandy shore area. You will have to return to the main road to access the other side of the beach.

Other Assateague Island beach activities include clamming, surfing, kayaking and fishing. Watch our video explaining the top attractions and unique activities you can do at Assateague Island to make your visit to this seashore memorable:

Seclusion on the beach

For many, Assateague Island is a sweet escape from its noisy crowded neighbor, Ocean City. The beaches of Assateague Island are often vast and unhabituated by humans altogether, so this gives you lots of space to camp out by yourself. Families often enjoy large areas of sand and beach for themselves without the disturbances of other prying eyes. And with the water being a comfortable 70 degrees, you’ll find yourself wading towards miles and miles of glorious greenish-blue ocean open just for yourself.

Accommodation around Assateague Island

Assateague Island is just a few miles away from Ocean City. Plenty of hotels and resort chains have set up shop there. Also, AirBnBs offer fantastic ocean-front homes and rooms in the apartment complexes nearby. But for the complete beach experience, consider camping overnight at the Assateague State Park. You can also rent a trailer or RV and camp out at the beach while enjoying the nocturnal chirps of crickets and croaks of toads under a brilliant starry night sky.

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