How to Spot the Wild Horses on Assateague Island

How can I see and photograph the wild horses on Assateague Island? While there’s no set answer because well, these are WILD animals, we can offer our advice on how to make the most of your visit and try to get you that epic photo of our most beloved island inhabitants. Please remember to follow the park rules and stay at least 40 feet away from the horses, and allow even more space if there’s a new foal.

1. Stay the night.

If you’re planning a visit to the island specifically trying to catch a glimpse of the horses, we highly recommend spending as much time as possible on the island and camping overnight. There are multiple options for camping as you’ll see here, and even if you stay just one night, you’re much more likely to get an intimate view of the horses and the way the interact with each other and their surroundings. Camping reservations can be tough to make because everything books up so far in advance. However, if you’re flexible and not picky about which campground you spend the night in, we recommend checking in periodically throughout the day on the State Park’s reservation system and the National Park’s reservation system to see what cancellations pop up that might work for you.

2. Take a walk or go for a run.

As a local that’s lucky enough to live within 10 minutes of the island, I try to make my morning run on the island as often as possible, and it’s during the early morning hours on my run that I get the most intimate encounters with the wildlife. Whether you’re camping on the island, or you’re just visiting for the day, I highly recommend walking or jogging along the bike paths, checking out one of the three trails in the National Seashore and walking around the campgrounds (just be respectful of quiet hours and campsites). Want that epic photo of the horses snoozing at sunrise on the beach? You have to get up early and will likely have to hike a few miles down the beach before you spot them.

You can park at the Visitor’s Center any time and walk over the bridge to the island, then meander along the bike path through the state park campground and along the beaches there. Note that this will results in at least a 3-5 mile walk round trip. Alternatively, you can drive into the National Park and park at the North Beach parking lot and walk along the bike path through the Oceanside campground loops, or head to the other side of the island and walk through the bayside campground loops. Again, it’s important to be respectful of people that are camping and the wildlife, should you stop to look at the horses taking a nap in one of the campsites.

Assateague horses on the beach at sunrise

3. Check out the trails.

One of our absolute favorite ways to encounter the horses is by coming across them on one of the trails in the National Seashore. The Life of the Forest Trail, Life of the Marsh Trail and Life of the Dunes Trail all offer a secluded setting where you can watch these incredible animals in their most natural setting, as opposed to grazing alongside a parking lot or lounging next to an RV. While not as common as coming across the horses in the more developed areas, it’s still worth a look to check out at least one trail each day you are on the island.

Assateague horses on the Life of the Marsh Trail

4. Go for a bike ride.

The bike path for the National Seashore runs from the Visitor’s Center to the entrance of the OSV, about four miles along Bayberry Drive. You can also go over the bridge through the State Park entrance and ride the bike path along the campground, which is a little over 3 miles. While riding along these paths, keep your eyes peeled for deer, turkeys, rabbits and of course, the horses. If a horse is blocking the bike path, simply lift your bike over the short fence, and ride around it. Don’t try to continue past it as it may spook the horse and force it out into the road, or it may rear and kick or bite you or anyone nearby.

5. Set up camp on the beach and wait.

This is certainly not a guaranteed way to see the horses, especially if it’s a cooler Summer day. However, if the temperatures are scorching and the bugs are bad enough, the horses can be forced out to the beaches. On days like this, they will roam up and down seeking the ocean breeze and the cool salt water waves for relief. You may be able to spot a band of horses slowly walking along the shoreline. Just make sure you watch out for the famous “Assateague nuggets” that they will inevitably drop along the way!

6. Take a slow drive through the island.

If the weather doesn’t cooperate the day of your visit or you’re unable to walk or bike along the paths, a slow drive through almost always results in at least one horse sighting, especially during the Summer months. Keep in mind, however, if you don’t arrive before 10AM on a Summer day (especially Saturdays and Sundays), you will likely end up sitting through traffic just to get through the gates of the National Seashore. Once you do get through, traffic may be slow going down Bayberry Drive and Bayside Drive with other tourists hoping to catch a glimpse. The other issue with sightseeing by car is that it stopping to take photos is not permitted, so if you’re driving solo, you might miss having a moment to take it all in.

Assateague Island is a beautiful, natural wonder in and of itself, but the horses certainly add that extra magic to the wildlife found here. People come from all over the country to try to spend just a few moments with these creatures, but we want to remind you to PLEASE do your part when you visit and help the park and its volunteers keep them wild. Enjoy looking from at least 40 feet away (a bus length), keep food locked up tight in a container or your vehicle or camper and don’t try to force the horses out of the way if you encounter a traffic jam. If you see someone breaking the park rules, you can call a ranger to report the incident and let them handle it.

Have you been lucky enough to spend some time with the wild horses of Assateague Island? Do you have any additional tips for finding them on a visit? We’d love to hear more advice in the comments!

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