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Assateague Island National Seashore

Size: 37 miles long; 18,000 acres

Places Nearby: Assateague State Park, Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, Pocomoke State Forest, Shad Landing Area State Park

Features: Long even beaches with dunes protecting extensive marshlands along Chincoteague Bay. Diverse and rich wildlife, including wild horses, sika deer, piping plover, herons, and egrets

Activities: Surf fishing, Camping, Backcountry Camping, Wildlife & Birdwatching

Assateague Island is most famous for its wild ponies, publicized by the novel "Misty of Chincoteague". There are two herds of ponies, one on the Maryland side of the island, the other residing in Virginia. The ponies can often be seen by the road, on the trails, in the marsh, and on the beach. The horses have lived on the island for at least two centuries, living in the wild, and they have adapted well to their environment.

Every year the Volunteer Fireman of Chincoteague assist in the annual pony swim. The entire Virginia herd, including colts and foals, swims across the shallow bay at low tide to Chincoteague Island. From there they are driven to the Firemen's Carnival Grounds to rest, and the next day, many of the ponies will be sold at auction to interested buyers. This helps keep the number of ponies manageable and prevents various problems associated with overcrowding. The remaining ponies swim back to Virginia's Assateague.

Wildlife is plentiful on Assateague, to the delight of many nature lovers. You may find Sika deer, otter, muskrat, raccoon, piping plover, pelican, herons, egrets, bitterns, and various other varieties of birds and mammals.

Visitors are implored not to feed the ponies or any other animals on Assateague. Doing so can endanger the animals as well as people, as some animals may bite or kick. Fines may also be levied against those who violate this rule.

Nature trails are abundant on Assateague and a great way to relax. There are short trails on the Life of the Marsh, Life of the Forest, and Life of the Dunes. Longer hikes can be taken on the off-road vehicle zone or on the beach.

Guided walks and children's activities are available through the Barrier Island Visitor's Center. The visitor's center is located on Route 611, just before crossing the Verrazano Bridge. Inside, there is a museum that features a small aquarium, a touch-tank, and a beachcombing exhibit. The museum also offers telescopes, films, and a bookstore the further explain the role Assateague Island plays to Ocean City. For more information, please call the visitor center at 410-641-1441.

Another wonderful activity in Assateague is fishing. Surf fishing is permitted anywhere on the beach except beach patrol guarded beaches, and designated surfing beaches. There are fishing areas on the southernmost point of the island, however, an ORV permit is required to drive a 4WD drive vehicle to those areas. Clamming and crabbing is also permitted on Assateague's bayside. The best methods are raking while wading for clams, and crab net with baited line for crabbing. Please be cautious of drop offs.

Canoes may be rented at the Bayside Picnic Area daily during the summer, and on the weekends in spring and fall. Car-top boats may be launched from the Old Ferry Landing or the Bayside Picnic Area, as the bay waters are perfect for sailing and canoeing. Larger boats must use public boat ramps in West Ocean City, at the end of South Point Road. There are shallow areas, so any boats with motors should exercise extreme caution.

Bicyclists will also enjoy Assateague, as there is a new bridge exclusively for bicycles and pedestrians near the Visitor's Center. The bridge leads to a 3.5 mile bike trail on the island. Lock-ups for bikes can be found near the camping and nature trails, as well as at the entrances to both parks.

In the summer season, there is a snack bar and camp store that rents canoes, bikes, and clam rakes. All visitor's centers, bathhouses, exhibits, and most nature trails are accessible to people with disabilities.

To retain visitor safety and protect Assateague's natural state, guests to Assateague are reminded to abide by the rules and regulations. Do not feed the wild animals, including the ponies. It is damaging to their health and also encourages them to loiter near the highways where motorists may collide with them. Do not litter. Trash is often deadly to animals who become entangled in it.

Drive slowly, as there are many animals, cyclists, children, hikers and even other drivers who may not be paying attention on Assateague. Pets are prohibited in the State Park, on the nature trails and all of the back country campsites. Pets are permitted in other areas of the island provided they remain on a leash shorter than six feet.

Hunting on Assateague is highly restricted. Only specific game species and waterfowl may be taken, and hunters must abide by state and federal regulations. For more information, contact the National Seashore Headquarters at 410-641-1441.

There are several off-road vehicle trails on Assateague Island, and vehicles who meet certain requirements may obtain a permit and drive on the 13 mile oversand beach route. Vehicles must remain clear of vegetation and sand dunes. Permits can be obtained from a ranger station at a cost of $60 per year. For more information, call the ranger station at 410-641-3030.

Visitors should have protection from mosquitoes, ticks, and poison ivy, since all are in abundance on Assateague. Visitors are urged to swim near a lifeguard. Tubes and mats are not permitted in guarded beach areas, and surfing is also not permitted.

For more information, visit assateagueisland.com