Want to know where to get started on planning your adventure to Assateague? The answer is right here! While you will find a wealth of information all over our site about visiting, we tried to sum up some of the most important “need-to-know info” in this post.
Assateague Island is a barrier island that runs along the southern coast of Maryland into the Northern coast of Virginia. There are three separate parks on the island: Assateague Island Maryland State Park, Assateague Island National Seashore (Maryland) and Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia. The state line is located on the over-sand vehicle section and the states are separated by a fence that runs from the tideline to the bayside. Therefore, you cannot drive from one state to the other through Assateague Island. To visit the Virginia side, you must drive south on the mainland and go through Chincoteague Island to access the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge.
This website focuses on the MARYLAND SIDE of Assateague and its surrounding areas. Both Assateague Island Maryland State Park and the National Seashore offer visitors unique experiences and activities.
1. Start at the Visitor’s Center
If you’re visiting for the first time, we always recommend stopping in the visitor’s center to learn about the history and unique landscape of Assateague. The visitor’s center can be found BEFORE you cross over the bridge to the island, so you’ll want to make sure you enter the correct address in your GPS (11800 Marsh View Ln, Berlin, MD 21811). Rangers there can provide you with maps of the island, any current information such as closures and beach conditions and answer any questions you may have about your visit. There’s a lot of interesting exhibits and a movie about Assateague as well. Read more about the full visitor’s center experience here.
2. Choose which park you will be visiting.
Most visitors coming for a day trip to visit the island want to go to the National Seashore, which is about a 3.5-mile drive from the visitor’s center. This will give you the full experience with hiking trails, bayside recreation areas and of course, the miles-long untouched beach. The National side also offers the popular over-sand vehicle section, which allows you to drive you car directly onto the beach for a day of fun and fishing. If you are just interested in a quick trip to the beach, you may want to check out the state park’s day-use beach area since it’s closer to the mainland. Check out our beach breakdown page to learn what each park and section has to offer.
3. Arrive early in the Summer.
This is a big one. We’ve seen the cars coming in on a Summer weekend backed up for hours along the 3.5-mile road to the National Seashore entrance. While there is plenty of parking, it does occasionally fill up so we always suggest arriving by at least 10AM to avoid the heavy crowds. While nothing beats soaking up the sun on the beach, we also suggest planning a Fall or late Spring trip to avoid the crowds and get the most out of biking and hiking around the island.
4. Coming to camp? Plan accordingly.
Camping on Assateague is a truly unique experience. The magic of waking up to the sound of the waves crashing and wild horses grazing on your campsite is something only Assateague can offer. It’s no wonder the campsites fill up so quickly during the warmer months. While all of this does sound like a dream, keep in mind that Assateague is a barrier island so it’s subject to high winds, occasional flooding after storms and LOTS of bugs. We’ve created this guide to help you navigate some of these setbacks, and provide you with some gear suggestions for camping on Assateague.
5. Don’t forget the trails and bayside recreation.
If you choose to go to the National Seashore side of the island, there are three great walking trails to check out that will give you a different perspective on what wildlife is like on a barrier island. There are also several great opportunities for bayside recreation at Old Ferry Landing and at the end of bayside drive. Check out Assateague Outfitters at the end of bayside drive for kayak and stand up paddleboard rentals. Also, be sure to pack your bikes or rent them near the visitor’s center. Assateague has a bike path that runs the entire length of the developed part of the island.
6. Respect the Locals.
The horses on Assateague island are WILD animals. There are signs everywhere on the island telling you to keep a distance of at least 40 feet (a bus length) from the horses and slow down when driving. Don’t be that guy that thinks he’s above the law. While these horses will most often be observed grazing lazily around the campgrounds and parking lots, they can be unpredictable if they feel threatened. It’s also extremely important to keep your food stored in locked containers or inside your tent or camper. If a horse approaches your campsite and you have food out, it’s too late. Back away and call a ranger to come assist if your site is being ransacked. Read more on these beautiful wild animals and what you can do to help keep them wild during your visit.
7. Planning to check out the Over Sand Vehicle beach? Do your research.
Driving onto the OSV beach is a great way to see Assateague Island in all of its absolute raw beauty. The convenience of not having to lug all of your beach equipment is also a great bonus. While the locals around Assateague Island will tell you that this is their favorite way to get onto the beach, it’s important to note that you can’t simply drive on. There is a special permit and equipment required to get onto the OSV, and we recommend reading our need-to-know guide for best practices with driving onto the sand.
8. Check out the local scene.
This is a hard one if you’re just coming in for the day, but if you’re planning on camping for a few nights on Assateague, take some time to drive off the island and check out Berlin and West Ocean City. Berlin was named “America’s Coolest Small Town” and rightly so with its old-fashioned main street buzzing with quaint shops, fun downtown events, plenty of restaurants with unique cuisine and a lively farmer’s market every Sunday during the Summer months. West Ocean City’s harbor area is a great place to grab dinner, enjoy live music while you watch the sunset and see some world-class fishermen pull in their daily catch at the scales.
A visit to Assateague Island should be on everyone’s east coast bucket list! If you’ve visited before, let us know any of your “must-have tips” for visiting in the comments below!