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Assateague Island Camping (Epic Guide) 8 Campgrounds, 9 Hikes, Attractions

Posted in: Where to Camp, Where to Hike

Planning a camping trip to Assateague Island? In this epic guide, you'll learn about Assateague Island camping, hiking, campgrounds, attractions, weather, when to visit, and much more. Plus, lots of photos and videos of Assateague Island.

Assateague Island camping

Table of Contents

Assateague Island Camping (Visitors Guide)

Assateague Islands is a barrier island located off the east coast of the Delmarva peninsula. It is 37 miles (60 km) long.

The northern two thirds of Assateague Island are in Maryland and the southern third is in Virgina.

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In this guide, you'll learn about camping, hiking, attractions, weather and when to visit. Plus, I answer 30+ common questions about camping in Assateague Island.

Map of Assateague Island

There are 8 campgrounds to choose from when planning your trip to Assateague Island. The first four are in the National Seashore and State Park Campgrounds. The final four are regional campgrounds.

Assateague Island entry sign

4 National Seashore and State Park Campgrounds

1. Oceanside Drive-in (National Seashore)

  • Dates: Open Year Round
  • Number of Sites: 38
  • Elevation: 4 feet
  • Reservation System: Reservations available March 15 to November 15. Otherwise, first-come, first-served basis
  • Cost per night: $30
  • Features: Potable water, picnic tables, upright grill, dump station, chemical toilets, cold showers, group sites available
  • Services: Swimming, hiking trails
  • Accessible sites: No
  • Distance from Ocean City: 10 miles
  • More info: Oceanside Drive-in 

If you’re looking for Assateague Island camping right on the beach, you can’t beat the campgrounds inside the national park. The Oceanside Drive-in campground features RV-only sites that you can drive up to and park. There are no hookups, but picnic tables and grills, cold showers, chemical toilets and a dump station are available here.

Sites are situated right on the beach, and wild ponies have been seen here. For these reasons, the Oceanside Drive-in campground is the most popular Assateague Island camping site.

2. Oceanside Walk-in (National Seashore)

  • Dates: Open Year Round
  • Number of Sites: 60
  • Elevation: 8 feet
  • Reservation System: Reservations between March 15 and November 15. Otherwise, first-come, first-served basis
  • Cost per night: $30
  • Features: Picnic table, upright grill, chemical portable toilets, cold showers, potable water
  • Services: Swimming, hiking trails
  • Accessible sites: No
  • Distance from Ocean City: 10 miles
  • More info: Oceanside Walk-in

A tent-only campground with sites right on the beach, the Oceanside Walk-in offers the same features as the Drive-in campground.

The only difference here is that you’ll need to park your car in a common lot and carry your gear to the tent site.

3. Bayside Drive-in (National Seashore)

  • Dates: Open Year Round
  • Number of Sites: 47
  • Elevation: 5 feet
  • Reservation System: Reservations between March 15 and November 15. Otherwise, first-come, first-served basis
  • Cost per night: $30
  • Features: Picnic table, ground fire grill, dump station, chemical toilets, cold showers, potable water
  • Services: Swimming, hiking trails
  • Accessible sites: No
  • Distance from Ocean City: 10 miles
  • More info: Bayside Drive-in

The Bayside Drive-in features sites on the bay side of the national park, offering accommodation for tents, camper trailers and RVs. You can drive up to and park at these sites. There are no hookups, but each site has a picnic table and ground fire grill. Showers and chemical toilets are nearby.

More reading: Chef's Guide to Campfire Cooking

4. Assateague State Park Camping

  • Dates: April 24 – October 28
  • Number of Sites: 342
  • Reservation System: Campsites can be reserved from the last week of April through the last weekend of October.
  • Cost per night: $30 for primitive sites and $40 for sites with electricity
  • Features: Picnic tables, fire rings, warm showers, potable water, flushing toilets
  • Services: Gift shop and grill restaurant, swimming, hiking trails
  • Accessible sites: Yes
  • Distance from Ocean City: 8 miles
  • More info: Assateague State Park Camping

If hot showers and flushing toilets are important to you when Assateague Island camping, the state park campground is where you want to camp.

Some of the 350 sites here offer electric hookups. These sites fill up quickly, so reservations can be made between April and October.

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4 Maryland and Virginia Regional Campgrounds

1. Chincoteague Island KOA (Virginia)

  • Dates: April 5 – October 31
  • Number of Sites: 400
  • Reservation System: Reservations can be made between April and October
  • Cost per night: $29 to $89 depending on site type
  • Features: Community fire pit, outdoor pool, playground
  • Services: Dog park, activities center, complimentary trolley to beach, and firewood for sale
  • Accessible sites: No
  • Distance from Chincoteague Island: 1 mile
  • More info: Chincoteague Island KOA

There are no campgrounds on the south side of the island, so if you’re looking for Assateague Island camping in Virginia close to attractions, the Chincoteague Island KOA is a great option.

Located in Chincoteague just one mile from the south entrance into Assateague Island National Seashore, this family-friendly, waterfront campground offers everything from primitive tent sites to luxury RV sites as well as deluxe cabins.

The whole family can enjoy fun with an outdoor pool, playground, activities center, dog park and a next-door waterpark with a lazy river and thrilling water slides. You’ll find food, firewood, and other camping gear at the on-site camp store. You can also rent bikes, kayaks and golf carts as well here.

Like comfort? You'll love these 6 Must-Have RV Gadgets

2. Pine Grove Campground (Virginia)

  • Dates: April 1 – December 1
  • Number of Sites: 150
  • Elevation: 4 feet
  • Reservation System: Reservations can be made online or by phone
  • Cost per night: $30 to $40
  • Features: Fire ring, picnic table, bathrooms/showers, electric, water and sewage hookups
  • Services: Outdoor pool, public boat ramp and crabbing dock, camp store
  • Accessible sites: No
  • Distance from Chincoteague Island: 1.7 miles
  • More info: Pine Grove Campground

The Pine Grove campground is situated within 37 acres of pine trees with six ponds that are home to more than 50 species of waterfowl such as geese, ducks and swans. This is another nice campground on the Virginia side that’s just minutes away from Assateague Island and the wildlife refuge.

Pine Grove offers accommodations for tents, campers and RVs. All of the camper and RV sites feature electric, water and sewer hookups, and some of the tent sites do as well. What’s more, all the sites here have a fire ring and picnic table and are centrally located to the bathrooms/showers and an outdoor pool.

3. Frontier Town RV Resort (Maryland)

  • Dates: Open April 12 – December 1
  • Number of Sites: 542
  • Elevation: 7 feet
  • Reservation System: Reservations required
  • Cost per night: $37 to $66 from primitive to electric/water hookups to waterfront sites
  • Features: bathrooms/showers, picnic tables, fire rings, laundromat, camp store, restaurant, ice cream parlor, and sites ranging from primitive to waterfront sites with electric/water/sewage hookups
  • Services: Arcade, gift shop, dog parks, playground, recreational facilities, beach shuttle, trash removal
  • Accessible sites: Yes
  • Distance from Ocean City: 5 miles
  • More info: Frontier Town RV Resort

If you’re looking for Assateague camping in Maryland close to the north entrance of the park, you should check out Frontier Town RV Resort. Located on the Sinepuxent Bay just five miles from Ocean City, this award-winning campground is an attraction in and of itself. It features a Western theme park, water park, miniature golf, zip line, arcade, playgrounds, dog parks and recreational ball courts.

You’ll have your choice of primitive tent sites to luxury RV sites. Electric, water and sewer hookup sites are available. All sites have a picnic table and fire ring.

Bathrooms/showers are handicap accessible. A camp store, restaurant, ice cream parlor, laundromat and beach shuttle are all available.

4. Castaway RV Resort (Maryland)

  • Dates: March 30 – November 30
  • Number of Sites: 343
  • Elevation: 12 feet
  • Reservation System: Reservations required by phone
  • Cost per night: $49 to $82 depending on the type of site. Rates increase during the summer from $88 to $137 per night.
  • Features: Water, electric and sewer hookups, Wi-Fi, cable, picnic tables, fire rings
  • Services: Fishing pier, cafe, snack bar, dog park, camp store
  • Accessible sites: Yes
  • Distance from Ocean City: 5.5 miles
  • More info: Castaway RV Resort

Also located in Maryland, Castaway RV Resort is a state-of-the-art, waterfront campground on the Sinepuxent Bay just five miles from Assateague Island. All sites have a fire ring, picnic table, Wi-Fi, cable and hookups for water, electric and sewer.

While camping here, you can enjoy on-site family fun with fishing, crabbing, clamming, kayaking, paddleboarding and Jet-skiing. There’s also a dog park, camp store, snack bar, cafe, and ice cream parlor on-site.

Assateague Island trails

4 Attractions in Assateague Island

1. Beaches on Assateague Island

  • Type of attraction: Beaches
  • Distance from Chincoteague Island: 2.5 miles
  • Cost: Free with park entrance fee. OSV permit: $70-$150
  • What you’ll see/do: Swimming, surfing, fishing, sunbathing, paddleboarding, seashell-collecting
  • More info: Beaches in Assateague Island
Assateague Island beach

Assateague Island is home to 37 miles of beautiful, white-sand beaches where you can enjoy loads of fun in the sun with activities like swimming, sunbathing, beachcombing, seashell-collecting, paddleboarding, surfing and fishing.

You’ll find lifeguards on duty at the state park’s section of the beach during the summer. At the national park, lifeguards are present from mid-July to the end of August and on holiday weekends.

2. Wild Ponies of Assateague Island

  • Type of attraction: Nature/Animal
  • Distance from Chincoteague Island: 2.5 miles
  • Cost: Free with park entrance fee
  • What you’ll see/do: Wild horses

The wild ponies are probably the biggest attraction on Assateague Island.

Assateague Island horses

While there’s no guarantee that you will see them, most visitors do get a glimpse of them at some point. One of the best ways to see the wild horses is to take a scenic boat tour.

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If you plan to visit in the summer, you can attend the Pony Penning Day (the last Thursday in July) to watch the Chincoteague firefighters (“Saltwater Cowboys”) as they swim-herd the ponies from Assateague Island to Chincoteague Island.

Watch on YouTube

3. Assateague Lighthouse

  • Type of attraction: Architectural landmark
  • Distance from Chincoteague Island: 3.3 miles
  • Cost: Free
  • What you’ll see/do: Historic lighthouse and panoramic views
Assateague Island Lighthouse

The historic Assateague Lighthouse is the most famous landmark on the island. Built in 1867 after numerous shipwrecks along the Atlantic Coast, the lighthouse now stands 22 feet above sea level on a natural bluff about five miles off the Chincoteague Inlet. It has a rotating beacon that is visible for 22 miles.

The lighthouse is open for tours between April and November where you can climb the iron staircase inside the brick tower up to the lens tower and enjoy the sweeping views of the area.

You can access the lighthouse from the first parking lot on the right after you enter the island on the Chincoteague Island side.

4. Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge

  • Type of attraction: Nature
  • Distance from Chincoteague Island: 2.3 miles
  • Cost: National Park admittance fee
  • What you’ll see/do: Outdoor activities, wildlife tours, guided programs and workshops
  • More info: Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge

Located on the Virginia side of the island, Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge is a large preserve that is home to a wide variety of plants, migratory birds and other animals.

You can enjoy many outdoor recreational activities such as kayaking, boating, crabbing, clamming, birding, fishing, hunting, biking and hiking. You can see wildlife, including the wild ponies, by taking a bus or boat tour.

The refuge visitor center offers guided programs, workshops and demonstrations for both adults and children like building beach campfires, crabbing, surf fishing, photography hikes, bird walks and much more.

Assateague Island hiking

9 Assateague Island Hikes

Best time of year: Spring and fall

Things to remember: Trails are subject to closure due to maintenance or hunting. Remember to protect yourself against the sun and mosquitoes when hiking.
If you don't love mosquitoes, you should check out our Campers Guide to Essential Oil Bug Repellent.

1. Life of the Marsh Trail

  • Distance: 0.5 miles
  • Skill level: Easy
  • Features: Elevated boardwalk with an observation platform
  • What you’ll see: The salt marsh habitat, a variety of birds and other wildlife

This half-mile trail is a hiker-only trail because it’s an elevated boardwalk that goes out over the salt marsh. It’ a great place to see a variety of bird species, and there’s even an observation platform with scopes where you can get a good view.

The Marsh Trail is located off the northern end of the Wildlife Loop Road which is open to cars in the evening. If you’re driving or biking along the Wildlife Loop Road and wish to check out the Marsh Trail, there is a parking lot and bike rack at the end of the Wildlife Loop Road trail.

2. Life of the Forest Trail

  • Distance: 0.5 miles
  • Skill level: Easy
  • Features: Gravel and boardwalk path with viewing platforms
  • What you’ll see: Sinepuxent Bay, salt marsh and wildlife

The Forest Trail is a new out-and-back trail that was created after being destroyed by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. You’ll find it at the first parking lot on the right after driving into the north entrance (on the Maryland side).

The trail is well-marked with signs, leading through the forest on a gravel path that turns into a boardwalk where you’ll soon see the Sinepuxent Bay and salt marsh. There are several viewing platforms where you can spot birds and other wildlife.

3. Life of the Dunes Trail

  • Distance: 0.75 miles
  • Skill level: Easy
  • Features: Sandy trail with directional markers
  • What you’ll see: Plants, wildlife, historic road

Walking in sand isn’t always easy, but this trail is short, so you probably won’t find it difficult. It has numbered markers along the way that correspond with a trail guide that you can pick up at the Assateague Visitor Center.

You’ll also find information panels along the sand dunes trail that explains interesting details. You can also see a variety of plants, wildflowers and insects that grow in this area. You might even see the hognose snake here, but don’t be afraid of it because it’s harmless to humans.

On this trail, you’ll see the remains of an asphalt road. Believe it or not, this is a historic feature which is all that’s left of the 1950s plan to develop the island into a residential community.

The plans never came to fruition because a 1962 storm swept everything away except the asphalt road which is known as Baltimore Boulevard.

4. The Wildlife Loop Road

  • Distance: 3.25-mile loop
  • Skill level: Easy (hiking or biking)
  • Features: Paved road, wheelchair accessible
  • What you’ll see: Wildlife, especially wading birds and waterfowl

Located on the Virginia side at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, the Wildlife Loop Road offers the best place to view wildlife, especially wading birds and waterfowl.

This giant loop is really a paved road that is open to vehicles from 3 pm to dusk. Hikers and bikers can travel it at any time. The road is also wheelchair accessible.

During the summer months, the hot temperatures can make the asphalt on this road brutal for walking, so you could bike or drive instead.

5. The Lighthouse Trail

  • Distance: 0.25 miles
  • Skill level: Easy to Moderate
  • Features: Unpaved, uphill trail through the woods
  • What you’ll see: The Assateague Lighthouse

Accessed from the main road into the Virginia district of the national park, the Lighthouse Trail is a quarter-mile footpath through woodlands. It’s the only trail in the park that’s not flat because it climbs uphill to the lighthouse which stands 140-feet tall on a hilltop. However, it’s still an easy trail for hikers and bikers with signs along the way.

The trail is best known for its destination of the Assateague lighthouse, one of the most popular attractions on the island. You can climb the lighthouse to enjoy fantastic views during spring, summer and fall.

6. Swan Cove Trail

  • Distance: 0.75 miles
  • Skill level: Easy (hiking and biking)
  • Features: Paved, wheelchair accessible
  • What you’ll see: Beach and the occasional otter or muskrat

The Swan Cove Trail is a spur trail that branches off of the Wildlife Loop. It's a paved, wheelchair-accessible road that’s available for both hikers and bikers.

Even though the trail itself is only about half a mile, you’ll need to hike a few miles to the trailhead after parking your car. However, the trail offers you a reward by ending at the beach.

If you’re biking the Swan Cove Trail, there is a bike rack just before you reach the beach where the pavement ends.

7. Black Duck Trail

  • Distance: 1 mile
  • Skill level: Easy (hiking or biking)
  • Features: Paved road, wheelchair accessible
  • What you’ll see: Variety of birds, marsh

The mile-long Black Duck Trail mainly serves the purpose of providing access for hikers and bikers between the Woodland Trail and the Wildlife Loop Road.

It’s a paved road that is primarily exposed to the sun, making it really hot in the summertime, and the closest parking lot is at the start of the Woodland Trail. The nice thing about the Black Duck Trail is that it runs along the marsh, giving you a good chance to see a variety of birds that inhabit the area.

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8. Woodland Trail

  • Distance: 1.5 miles
  • Skill level: Easy (hiking or biking)
  • Features: Paved, flat road with shady trees, wheelchair accessible, parking lot
  • What you’ll see: Birds, wild horses and other wildlife

Found right off the main road going into the Virginia district of the Assateague Island National Seashore, the Woodland Trail leads through shady pine forest with some open spots as well. There is a parking lot at the trailhead.

The Woodland Trail is a great trail to spot birds and other wildlife, but best of all, it offers you a good chance of seeing the wild ponies.

The trail branches off to a short boardwalk that reaches an overlook facing the marsh where the wild ponies are often seen by visitors.

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9. The Bivalve Trail

  • Distance: 0.25 miles
  • Skill level: Easy
  • Features: Unpaved, hikers-only path that leads through the marsh
  • What you’ll see: Toms Cove and Old Harbor Life-Saving Station

The Bivalve Trail is unpaved, so it’s only accessible to hikers. It's a short, off-the-beaten-path trail branching off the Woodland Trail.

What’s special about this trail is that it’s the only one in the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge that gives you access to Toms Cove.

Once you come to the end of the trail, you’ll see a broad stand of marsh grass with a worn path through it where you can see fiddler crabs or have fun clamming. Nearby here, you can check out the historic Old Harbor Life-Saving Station.

Assateague Island Weather

Best Time to Visit Assateague Island

The best time to visit Assateague Island is from late spring to late summer, especially if you plan to be camping on the beach at night.

Summers are known for hot and humid weather as well as heavy populations of mosquitoes, so protective clothing and bug repellent are recommended.

Lots of travelers use a combo sunblock / bug repellent, like this Bug Guard Plus Insect Repellent by Avon.

Because strong winds and thunderstorms can suddenly blow in from the ocean, you should come prepared with rain gear and tent stakes. Here are the best camping tarps for dry camping.

Spring and fall can be chilly and occasionally rainy but often present a good time for hiking and biking. Winters are really cold, damp and windy which is why most people don’t visit during this time. If you decide to visit, you'll probably want a portable heater.

Here are our picks on the best time to visit Assateague Island:

  • Best for hiking and biking: Spring and fall
  • Best for weather: Spring, summer and fall
  • Best for avoiding crowds: Early spring, late fall and winter
  • Best time to see wild ponies: Summer

Thinking about winter camping? Check out our Sub-Zero Winter Camping Guide.

Assateague Island Weather: Monthly Averages

January Weather on Assateague Island 

  • Average high/low temperature: 46° / 30° F (8° / – 1° C)
  • Average rainfall: 4 inches

February Weather on Assateague Island 

  • Average high/low temperature: 48° / 32° F (9° / – 0° C)
  • Average rainfall: 4 inches

March Weather on Assateague Island 

  • Average high/low temperature: 53° / 36° F (12°/ 2° C)
  • Average rainfall: 5 inches

April Weather on Assateague Island 

  • Average high/low temperature: 62° / 45° F ( 17°/ 7° C)
  • Average rainfall: 3 inches

May Weather on Assateague Island 

  • Average high/low temperature: 71° / 53° F (22°/ 12° C)
  • Average rainfall: 3 inches

June Weather on Assateague Island 

  • Average high/low temperature: 81° / 63° F (27°/ 17° C)
  • Average rainfall: 3 inches

July Weather on Assateague Island 

  • Average high/low temperature: 85° / 68° F ( 30°/ 20° C)
  • Average rainfall: 4 inches

August Weather on Assateague Island 

  • Average high/low temperature: 85° / 68° F ( 30°/ 20° C)
  • Average rainfall: 4 inches

September Weather on Assateague Island 

  • Average high/low temperature: 80°/ 63° F (27°/17° C)
  • Average rainfall: 4 inches

October Weather on Assateague Island 

  • Average high/low temperature: 70° / 52° F (21°/ 11° C)
  • Average rainfall: 3 inches

November Weather on Assateague Island 

  • Average high/low temperature: 60°/ 43° F ( 16°/ 6° C)
  • Average rainfall: 3 inches

December Weather on Assateague Island 

  • Average high/low temperature: 50° /33° F (10°/ 1° C)
  • Average rainfall: 4 inches
Assateague Island campgrounds

About Assateague Island National Park

Is Assateague Island a national park?

Yes, part of Assateague Island is a national park.

The entire barrier island is owned and managed by three different agencies:

  1. Assateague National Seashore
  2. Assateague State Park
  3. Chincoteague Wildlife National Refuge

The northern part of Assateague Island is located in Maryland and contains the national seashore and state park while the southern part of the island is located in Virginia and contains the wildlife refuge.

Why do they call it the Assateague Island?

Assateague was the name of the Native American tribe that once inhabited the island long before white explorers ever arrived.

This tribe lived on the mainland but went over to the island during the summer to catch fish and other wildlife to preserve for the winter.

What does Assateague mean? The word “Assateague” means “swiftly running water” or “place across the water.”

What is Assateague Island known for?

Assateague Island is best known for wild horses.

But it's also known for its lighthouse, pristine beaches and coves, marshes and bays that provide a home for a diversity of wildlife – which is one of the most important stops for migratory birds.

What is the closest airport to Assateague Island?

The closest airport to Assateague Island is Ocean City Municipal Airport (15.7 miles).

Also nearby is Salisbury-Wicomico County Regional Airport (23.7 miles).

How do I get to Assateague Island?

Besides arriving by plane, you can drive by car from the mainland, but there are only two entrances to the island of which I’ll discuss below.

How many entrances does Assateague Island have?

Assateague Island has two entrances from the mainland: north and south.

  1. You can access the north entrance eight miles south of Ocean City, Maryland, at the end of Route 611.
  2. You’ll find the south entrance two miles east of Chincoteague, Virginia, along the end of Route 175.

There is no car access between these two entrances, so you’ll need to return to the mainland if you want to get from one entrance to the other.

Which Assateague Island entrance is best?

The answer to this depends upon which direction you are coming from and what you plan to see and do.

If you’re coming from the north and/or want to hit the island’s beautiful beaches, the north entrance is best.

On the other hand, if you’re traveling from the south and/or plan to see the wild horses or explore the wildlife refuge, the south entrance is best for you.

What should I bring to Assateague Island?

Your packing list depends on what you plan to be doing during your visit to Assateague Island.

If you’re going to spend time on the beach, make sure you bring swimwear, beach shoes, sun hats, sunscreen, sunglasses and coolers to keep drinks and snacks cool. You should also bring a beach chair and beach umbrella or something to shade you from the sun.

If you plan to do some hiking, make sure you bring long sleeve shirts and pants to protect your arms and legs as well as sturdy shoes.

If you intend on Assateague Island camping, don’t forget your tent, sleeping bags, and other camping gear. You should also bring long tent stakes or sand anchors because it can occasionally get really windy or stormy on the island.

Make sure you bring enough food for your entire stay on Assateague Island because there is no food here unless you want to catch it and cook it. Otherwise, you’ll need to go into Ocean City (MD) or Chincoteague (VA) for food.

Other items you don’t want to forget to include are your camera (for photographing the horses!) and bug repellent because the mosquitoes can be horrible in the summer. You may also want to bring your bike because there are lots of places in the park you can cycle but not drive.

You won’t be allowed to bring your own firewood into the park because of possible beetle infestation, so be prepared to buy it locally.

Is there cell service in Assateague Island?

Cell service is limited on the island, and depending on your carrier, it may be difficult to get a good signal.

You’ll find public WiFi available only at visitor centers. If you have an emergency, you can use a landline phone at the visitor centers and ranger stations.

Can you drive on Assateague Island?

You can drive on Assateague Island but only in limited areas.

For example, on the Maryland side, the national park allows Over Sand Vehicles on the beach with permits, but only 145 of these vehicles can be on the beach at one time. The state park allows you to drive a car from the park on a 2-mile stretch of road that connects you to National Seashore.

In the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, you can drive on the Wildlife Loop Road between 3 pm and dusk.

Can you drive across Assateague Island?

No, it’s not possible to drive from one end of the island to the other. You’ll have to return to the mainland and travel to the opposite entrance to access the other part of the island.

Is Assateague Island pet friendly?

Pets are allowed in the Maryland section of the National Seashore, but they are required to be on a leash (no longer than six feet) at all times. Pet owners are responsible for cleaning up their pets’ waste.

Pets are entirely prohibited from these areas of Assateague Island:

  • Nature trails
  • All backcountry campsites
  • Beaches protected by lifeguards
  • Assateague State Park
  • All of the Virginia section of the island (Pets aren’t even allowed in cars here.)

What can you do on Assateague Island?

Things to do on Assateague Island are plentiful.

Kayak touring along the calm bay is a popular way to view wild horses, water birds, marine life and other species of wildlife.

Hiking along dunes, marsh and forest trails is another way to spot wildlife and enjoy nature.

Swimming, surfing, seashell collecting, clamming, crabbing (opens pdf), fishing, bird watching, biking, and hunting are other fun activities.

What should you not miss in Assateague Island?

A few attractions that you don’t want to miss on Assateague Island include the wild horses, the gorgeous beaches, and one of the nation’s most notable lighthouses.

Where can I hike in Assateague Island?

There are several hiking trails on the island in both the national and state park as well as the wildlife refuge.

All of the trails are easy and mostly flat. Some are paved and wheelchair accessible.

Some trails wind along the marsh over a boardwalk while others go through woodlands and sand dunes. You’ll have the chance to see a variety of wildlife and some historic features.

Can you swim on Assateague Island?

Yes, you can swim on Assateague Island. You can swim anywhere in the ocean, but there is a lifeguard beach in both Maryland and Virginia.

The lifeguards are on duty in the summer between 10 am and 5 pm.

How much does it cost to go to Assateague?

In addition to your gas or airline ticket required to reach Assateague Island, there is an entrance fee.

When entering on the Maryland side, the entrance fees are as follows:

  • Individuals on foot or bicycle: Free
  • Motorcycles: $15
  • Private vehicle: $20

When entering on the Virginia side, the entrance fees are as follows:

  • Individuals on foot or bicycle: Free
  • Private vehicle: $8 for a single day or $15 for seven days

If you’re a frequent visitor or intend to be, you may wish to opt for an annual pass that covers entrance into the Assateague Island National Seashore and Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge which is $40.00.

What animals live on Assateague Island?

Wild horses are the most famous animals on Assateague Island, but there is a wide variety of other animals as well such as mammals like deer, red fox, squirrels and raccoons.

More than 320 bird species call the island home, including egrets, pelicans, bald eagles, peregrine falcons, great blue herons, gulls, terns, sandpipers, and the threatened species, piping plovers.

You may also see snakes, frogs, fiddler crabs and mud snails in the bay area or dolphins and stingrays in the ocean.

How many horses live on Assateague Island?

There are two herds on Assateague Island that are separated by a fence on the Maryland-Virginia border.

Controlled by the National Park Service, the herd in Maryland is maintained usually around 80, and the Virginia herd has around 150 horses.

Chincoteague Island Pony Auction

A foal up for auction by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company. Learn more about the auction.

What beach has the wild horses?

The beach near Chincoteague, Virginia.

What kind of horses are on Assateague Island?

The horses on Assateague Island are considered wild, or feral. Local legend says that these horses are the descendants of domesticated horses that survived an 18th-century Spanish shipwreck.

Sometimes, they are called wild ponies, but their genetics declare them to be horses. It’s believed that over time, their stature was stunted due to the low-nutrient diet of saltmarsh grasses.

Where can I go to see wild mustangs?

In addition to Assateague Island, some of the best places in the USA that you can see wild mustangs, or feral horses, include:

  • Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota
  • Pryor Mountain Wild Mustang Center in Lovell, Wyoming
  • Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, Montana
  • Reno, Nevada (just east of Reno)
  • Little Book Cliffs Wild Horse Area, Colorado
  • Oatman, Arizona

Does anyone live on Assateague Island?

Although people have tried to live on Assateague Island with no success due to salty soil that can’t support crops, there are no residents today in either the Virginia or Maryland sections.


Camping on Assateague Island

Can you camp at Assateague Island?

Yes, you can camp on Assateague Island but only on the Maryland side.

If you want to camp closer to the wildlife refuge, you’ll need to find campgrounds in Virginia near Assateague Island.

How much does it cost to camp at Assateague Island?

For Assateague Island camping in the national park, rates are as follows:

  • From Oct 16 – April 14: $16/night
  • From April 15 – Oct 15: $20/night
  • Group site: $30/night

In the state park, the rates are:

  • $30 for primitive sites and $40 for sites with electricity

What is the best Assateague Island campground?

The answer to this question is determined by your personal preferences and other factors. Here is a comparison between the state and national park campgrounds to help you make your decision:

Campgrounds in the State Park

  • Flushing toilets and hot showers
  • Electrical hookup sites available
  • Family friendly (Drinking is prohibited)

Campgrounds in the National Park

  • Significantly cheaper rates
  • Group sites with no limit on the number of individuals
  • Open year round
  • Available campsites on the beach
  • Less crowded

Do you need a permit to camp in Assateague Island?

You only need a permit if you’re backcountry camping.

The permit is $10 per person and $20 per vehicle for a 7-day period. You can obtain permits at the Toms Cove Visitor Center in Virginia or the Ranger Station in Maryland.

Does Assateague Island allow dogs?

Dogs are allowed on the Maryland side of the national seashore, but they must be on a leash no longer than six feet at all times.

They are not allowed in these areas:

  • Nature trails
  • All backcountry campsites
  • Beaches protected by lifeguards
  • Assateague State Park
  • All of the Virginia section of the island (Pets aren’t even allowed in cars here.)

Is there fresh water on Assateague Island?

There are many freshwater ponds scattered across the island from which the wild animals drink, but drinking water for people is limited.

There are water fountains at the visitor centers, and there may be bottled water at some kayak rental places or at the Herbert H. Bateman Educational Center in Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. To be on the safe side, it’s best to bring your own bottled water.

What is the best time to go to Assateague Island?

The period from spring through fall is a good time to go to Assateague Island. Winters on the island are usually too cold. Spring and fall can sometimes be chilly and rainy while summers are hot and humid with mosquitoes galore.

Chincoteague pony

Hungry for more? Check out our guide to the best places to camp in the United States.

Your Turn

Which Assateague Island campground are you planning to visit? Have a question about your upcoming trip? Join me in the comments!

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Meet the Author

Dena Haines

Dena Haines is co-editor of GudGear - and is working to make it the best resource for outside gear. She is a travel blogger and content marketer. She is also co-founder of ClickLikeThis (GoPro tutorial blog) and Storyteller Media (content marketing for travel brands). Work with Bryan and Dena.

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