Visiting Assateague Island (Wild Horses, Nature Hikes, Sunset Views)

Assateague Island National Seashore is located across state lines in both Virginia and Maryland. The two districts don’t connect, so you can either enter the northern portion from near Ocean City, Maryland or you can enter the southern portion from Chincoteague. To drive from the entry of one to the other is about 1 hour 15 minutes.

Admission:

If you have an America the Beautiful Pass ($80), you can use that here. If you don’t have a pass, it’s $10-$25 depending which entrance you use (VA or MD). We normally enter from the Maryland side which is about $25 per car for a week long pass or $45 for the year.

The Maryland district is open year round, and the Virginia district is currently shown as closed on Christmas and Thanksgiving. There is a Visitor Center in each district.

What to Do:

  • Hiking – This is my favorite thing to do in the park. The Maryland district has 3 shorter trails – Life of the Marsh, Life of the Forest, and Life of the Dunes. Each are under a mile. While they’re short, we’ve loved hiking them around sunrise or sunset for beautiful views. In the Virginia district, there’s around 7 trails and about half are over a mile long. My favorite on the south end is the shorter Lighthouse Trail.Kayaking / Canoeing – Canoes and kayaks should be launched from designated areas on Assateague so check out the website for details.
  • Beach – Check out the beach and swim in the Atlantic ocean!
  • Wildlife – If you’re not familiar, Assateague is known for having wild horses. Each time we’ve visited we’ve been able to see a few along the road, by the trails, or in the water. We’ve also seen otters here as well as a variety of birds. The best time to see wildlife is at sunrise or sunset.
  • Biking – You can bike in either of the two districts. There’s more trails you can bike on the Virginia side.
  • Over Sands Vehicles – There is an opportunity to drive out on the sand. Before doing so, check out the information on the website for fees and rules.
  • Camping – This is only available in the Maryland District. You can make reservations online and there are a few different options.
  • Horseback Riding – If you have your own horse, you can ride on either side during specific parts of the year.
  • Fishing / Crabbing – There’s also various fishing and crabbing opportunities in the park. Check out the park website for more details.

Tips:

  • Sunrise and sunset are the most beautiful here. This is our favorite time to visit. Walking the Life of the Marsh Trail to the beach area or the Life of the Forest trail from the edge of the boardwalk give some of the best views.
  • Bring binoculars if you can. There are great views from the boardwalks, and with binoculars you can see more of the wildlife.
  • Stop at Assateague Island Surf Shop for their sandwiches and coffee. I personally love their breakfast and coffee so we often stop here on our way to the Maryland district in Assateague.
  • Bring your camera or get ready to take photos. This whole area is so photographic, especially the wild horses, but stay far away from them. They are wild. Do not approach them.

Nearby:

If you’ll be in the area for a few days, some other things to do in the area are below.

  • Assateague Island State Park – This is right on the way into the Maryland National Seashore side. You can swim, surf, and fish along two miles of beach here.
  • Ocean City Maryland – This is a very popular destination for beach vacationers from surrounding states and can get very busy in the summer. There are a lot of hotels, restaurants, condos, a boardwalk, and miles of beaches you can checkout here.
  • Fenwick Island / Bethany Beach – If you’re interested in some lower key beaches on the Maryland end, these two are great. Bethany is smaller and more like a “town” but will have less amenities than Ocean City.
  • Chincoteague – On the Virginia side, this is a favorite place of mine to go to the beach. I grew up going here for a week every summer and have some of the fondest beach memories in this town. It’s got a much slower pace than the other Maryland beaches and also less amenities but to me is the more relaxing option.

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