The most notable feature of Assateague National Seashore in Maryland and Virginia is its swimming wild ponies. While the area is famed for the annual July pony swim to neighboring Chincoteague (precursor to a herd-thinning pony auction), it's not necessary to fight the pony swim crowds to experience the wonder of wild ponies paddling through pristine waters. Whenever you visit Assateague, the 160 resident ponies will be there, often swimming in small groups, as described on the National Park Service website.
One enjoyable way to experience not only the ponies, but also the island's other abundant wildlife, including dolphins and migratory birds, is to take a sunset wildlife cruise. If independent exploration is more to your liking, you can pop over to Chincoteague and rent a kayak at the dock.
The offseason is the best time for a visit to avoid crowds, mosquitoes, and sweltering summer heat. In May to early June and mid-September through mid-October, the weather is typically accommodating enough for outdoor activities and even camping.
The landmark red and white Assateague lighthouse has been in service since 1867 . Visitors are allowed to climb this lighthouse and explore the lantern room, although the Chincoteague Natural History Association cautions that ongoing construction sometimes means closures.
If you're looking to experience a bit of island life, try clamming or crabbing on the bayside. Watch for the clam signs as you enter the national park. Oyster Bay Tackle says there are two areas set aside for clamming. Many crabbers find good catches from the bridge leading into the national seashore.
The quiet roads and marsh boardwalk of Assateague make for peaceful family bike rides. Besides the
4-mile paved path along Bayberry Drive, there are several smaller bike-accessible trails through the marsh close up to wildlife. These include short circuits suited to families with young children as well as slightly longer, non-circuitous stretches.
Need to Know Before You Go
You'll also have to trek over to Chincoteague for restaurants, as there are none on pristine Assateague. If you're looking for a break from the solitude of Assateague, cheap eats are plentiful and the nightlife is rowdy along Ocean City's boardwalk, 23 miles away.
There's a $10 vehicle entrance fee to Assateague National Park. You can avoid this fee by leaving your vehicle behind and entering the park on foot or by bike.
Over-sand vehicles are permitted in select areas and require a pricey permit.
Lifeguards are on duty during high season from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.