Escape To Assateague!
Written: Jul 15, 2002 (Updated Jul 15, 2002)
a Very Helpful Review
by the Epinions community
Pros:Wild horses, sea shells, horseshoe crabs, dunes, and marshes.
Cons:On a still and hot day, don't forget the insect repellent.
The Bottom Line: Catch a crab, climb a dune, swim in the surf, watch the wild ponies, or bike through the marshes. The choice is yours on Assateague Island, Maryland's seashore treasure!
It's only natural that during the sometimes unbearably hot summer months, a large percentage of the Washington D.C. Metropolitan Area's population escapes to the ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, that is. More often than not, the destination of choice is Ocean City, Maryland's busiest seaside resort, located within relatively easy reach from Washington's throbbing downtown area.
We, on the other hand, have long grown tired of this popular vacation spot, where space on the beach is often limited to the size of your blanket, where traffic is a nightmare, and where the boardwalk consists of a sea of people frequenting restaurants and shops charging enormous prices for mediocre food and wares.
But don't get me wrong. There is plenty of fun to be had in this bustling town. Business is booming, which attests to the fact that the general public loves it here. But I find it incredible, that few visitors take the time to explore what lies just beyond this somewhat mind-numbing beach scene, less than a one hour drive to the South.
Assateague Island, which can easily be accessed via Rt 50 and Rt 611, is still what I call 'pristine', where wild horses, sika deer, and over 200 species of birds inhabit the beach, dunes, salt marshes and forest.
Before crossing the Sinepuxent Bay Bridge on the way to the Island, make sure you stop at the Barrier Island Visitor Center on the right, always featuring interesting exhibits. But most importantly, pick up a map and information about daily activities which often include guided walks, even canoe trips through the marshes. The staff is always helpful and usually includes a naturalist as well as several Park Rangers.
Nearly 700 acres of this island are operated by the State of Maryland as a State Park (entrance fee is $2) which in turn borders the Assateague Island National Seashore, which is managed by the National Park Service (entrance fee is $5 and good for 7 days). Even further south and across the Virginia State Line is the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge with it's own Visitors Center, which is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It can easily be accessed from Virginia via Rt 13 and Rt 175.
What sets Assateague Island apart from other barrier islands is the presence of the wild horses, or 'ponies', who call this often harsh seashore environment their home.
Especially in late spring, when accompanied by playful foals, the small herds are a delight to watch. They can be seen feeding on marsh and dune grasses, or taking a stroll along the water's edge. It's important to remember that these are 'wild' ponies and must be respected as such. Do not feed or attempt to pet them! Especially the stallions can be cantankerous at times and it is best to keep your distance to avoid injury.
Assateague's 37 miles of beach are ideal for extensive walks, surf fishing, crabbing, shell collecting, swimming and surfing, although the surf is usually mild. Clamming is best in the shallow waters on the Bay side of the island, at the Old Ferry Landing.
We always bring our bikes (although bike rentals are available) to explore the many trails leading through the marshes and along fresh water pools, areas which reveal a myriad of bird life, including the threatened Piping Plover, whose nesting areas are protected.
There are no accommodations on Assateague. Both the State Park and the National Seashore offer campgrounds, of which some are available year around. The State Park's facilities are the nicest and offer hot showers, flush toilets, even electric outlets for hairdryers. A bait and tackle shop and small snack bar are open during summer months only. The facilities at the Natl. Seashore are far more basic with cold showers and chemical toilets.
Since we are not much on camping, we usually visit Assateague for a day, especially since we have friends in the area who are willing to put us up. Our favorite time to go is in late spring or early fall, when the beaches are virtually deserted, yet Ocean City is already, or still, bursting at the seams. In fact, you might encounter more ponies than people, and don't be surprised if your first 'pony sighting' occurs in the parking lot, a tell tale sign that, unfortunately, some visitors have ignored the "do not feed the ponies" signs! Feeding them is strictly prohibited and threatens their very survival, which goes for all other wildlife on the island.
Both the State Park and National Seashore offer lifeguarded beaches during peak season only. Make sure you check at the visitor center about regulations for pets, which are prohibited in some areas of the island. Observe the speed limit if touring the island by car, always keeping your eyes open for ponies crossing the road. There have been some unfortunate incidents, either killing or severely injuring the animals. It takes a little over an hour to drive from one end of the island to the other.
Sunblock is a must, there is not much shade to be found, and be prepared for insects if you are exploring the marshes, especially on a hot and still day. On the ocean side of the island, a pleasant breeze keeps the insects at bay, another reason the ponies can often be found wandering on the beach.
So, I urge you to grab your bikes, pack a picnic and enjoy an adventure filled day on this scenic barrier island. You owe it to yourself and to your children to experience the many treasures Nature holds in store for you. Shopping, fast food, roller blading, and a crowded beach can wait another day. Plus, you'll find that a visit to Assateague is considerably kinder to your pocket book!
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Best Suited For: Families
Best Time to Travel Here: Mar - May