Visitors from all over the World flock to Assateague in the Summer to get a glimpse of the wild horses, but many also come just to spend a day on the wide, untouched beaches that run 37 miles along the Atlantic Ocean. The most popular day-use beach is the National Seashore.
Entrance to the Park
The National Seashore Entrance Station can be found at the end of Stephen Decatur Memorial Road, which is the first right turn after crossing the Verrazzano Bridge from Route 611. There is no fee to bike or walk in and a 7-day vehicle pass that’s good for everyone in the same car is $25 for the week or $45 for the year. Visitors also have the option of purchasing the America the Beautiful pass for an annual fee of $80. This includes entrance to all National Parks across the country. There are lower prices for seniors over the age of 62, and military veterans or dependents of active military members can enter all National Parks for free with appropriate military IDs.
Parking for the Day-Use Beach
After entering the park, you will immediately see a large parking lot on your left. This is the main North Beach parking lot that includes three sets of restrooms, four long boardwalks for easier beach access, a covered pavilion with a water fountain and picnic tables and plenty of room for parking.
If you arrive later during the Summer weekends, note that all of the beach parking in the National Seashore section may be full and you cannot park in the campgrounds or along the roads. Your best bet is to always arrive as early as possible – we recommend no later than 10AM. We’ve seen cars backed up waiting to get through the main entrance as many as 4+ miles, which can mean hours of waiting. If you can’t make an early arrival, come after 4PM when beachgoers begin packing up for the day and enjoy the last few hours of daylight and a bonfire on the beach, which is permitted on the national side.
Getting to the Beach and Amenities
As we stated earlier, the beaches on the National Seashore side of the island are wide and pristine. The boardwalks from the parking lot will allow you a smooth walk about halfway to the ocean to carry your beach items, but we highly recommend a heavy duty beach wagon, like this one, to carry your items through the soft sand closer to the ocean. Be sure to check the tide charts before you settle in so you know if the waves will be coming up to crash after you’re fully set up. There are four bathrooms equipped with showers and feet washing stations near each beach access point.
In the center of the North Beach parking lot is the Assateague Outfitters Beach Hut which offers various provisions for a perfect day at the beach including firewood and ice, towels and umbrellas, beverages and snacks and of course, sunscreen and bug spray.
If you continue down the boardwalk, you will be greeted with the beautiful beaches of Assateague Island. The beaches are wide from left to right and if you arrive early, you will be able to select your perfect spot for the day to relax and enjoy the sounds of the Atlantic Ocean. Surfing is popular on Assateague and depending on the time of day and the time of year, there may not be lifeguards present. Check the “Beach and Surf Safety” section of the National Park’s website to find the lifeguard schedule on the beaches.
Remember that your day at the beach doesn’t have to end when the sun goes down! Bonfires on the beach in the National Seashore are permitted, and do not require a permit. The park, parking lots and beaches are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, however, you must have a designated camping spot to camp. This is by far one of our favorite activities in the Summer as a local, and we’ve put together a list of essentials and things to know before you go to make your ultimate bonfire on Assateague.
Alternate Beach Access
If the North Beach parking area is very crowded, there are other options for accessing the beach if you’re not camping on the island. If you continue down to the end of Bayberry Drive, you’ll run into the parking for for the Life of the Dunes trail and the South Beach access. This gravel/shell parking lot is also open for beach goers and the beaches on this end tend to be less crowded because the parking area is smaller. There is one boardwalk for beach access here as well as one restroom.
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Over Sand Vehicle Entrance and Access
The entrance to the Over Sand Vehicle Beach is next to this parking lot, so there may be some traffic due to cars waiting to access the OSV. There is a limit of 145 vehicles at all times on the OSV, so during the busy season, there will be a line outside the entrance gate waiting for a “one vehicle off,-one-on” exchange.
The Over Sand Vehicle Beach is accessible by permit only to cars that have 4-wheel drive and have the necessary equipment to drive onto the sand. This is a popular way of getting onto the beach because of the privacy it allows visitors and the ease of having all of your beach equipment right next to you. However, it’s important to do your research before you attempt to drive onto the beach here. Check out our post on accessing the OSV for more information.
Another option for a day at the beach is the small bayside beach located at the end of Bayside Drive, after passing the bayside campground. This area includes picnic tables, grills, a restroom and is also host to Assateague Outfitters kayak, paddleboard and bike rentals. A family with young children may find this beach preferable because the water on the bay here is very shallow and there are no waves.
Wherever you decide to park to access the beach at the National Seashore, you won’t be disappointed. Millions of visitors flock to the beaches of Assateague every year and it’s easy to see why. Assateague Island is a true escape from the neighboring tourist towns and the beaches here provide guests with a true sense of relaxation.
Have you spent the day on the beach at Assateague Island? Drop us a comment below to share your experience!