Here is the complete guide to Assateague Island National Seashore, including things to do, when to visit, where to camp, and so much more.
Assateague Island National Seashore
Assateague Island is a barrier island stretching 37 miles off the coast of Maryland and Virginia. This stunning seashore is famed for its wild horses, soft sandy beaches, salt marshes, and beautiful maritime forests.
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About Assateague Island National Seashore
In addition to all the classic beach day activities, Assateague Island National Seashore offers up an abundance of fun outdoor recreational activities for visitors.
You can hike through marshes as you search for wildlife, participate in a ranger program, bike and horseback ride along the multi-use trails, or try to catch some fish and crabs.
The park is separated into two regions: the Maryland District to the north and the Virginia District to the south.
Visitors should note that there is no road through the park to connect these areas, so you’ll need to travel back through the mainland if you want to reach the other side of the park.
Both districts have similar offerings, including hiking trails, wild horses, and beach access. Camping is only available in the Maryland District.
Is Assateague Island National Seashore worth visiting?
Absolutely! Assateague Island National Seashore is an epic destination that deserves a spot on every traveler’s bucket list.
Where else can you observe wild horses, hike through maritime forests, and camp on the beach all in the same day? The park has tons to offer every type of traveler.
While an island may seem like a hassle to get to, Assateague is a barrier island that you can drive to.
So, no need to worry about ferry timetables or lugging your camping gear long distances! In short, do not miss Assateague Island National Seashore!
History of Assateague Island National Seashore
Assateague Island wasn’t always an island. Before 1933 it was connected to Fenwick Island, and since the 1850s the area played host to several small communities.
The largest of these communities was Assateague Village, located in the current day Virginia District.
The village had a school, and residents tilled vegetable gardens and raised domestic animals (including what is thought to be the ancestors of the horses that roam the island to this day).
But by the 1920s, these communities had dwindling populations, and the massive storm that made Assateauge an island was the final nail in the coffin for these villages.
In the 1950s, developers had their eye on Assateague Island and plans were made to create a resort town along this stretch.
Some roads were constructed, but after another large storm tore through the area in 1962, plans were deserted. The idea of a resort town being built here was considered futile, and the island remained wild.
Shortly after the storm, the federal government purchased the land, and in 1965 the island became a National Seashore for all to enjoy.
Things to know before your visit to Assateague Island National Seashore
7-day single-vehicle park pass - $25
Entrance into Assateague Island National Seashore (MD) & Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge (VA). Valid for 7 days. Purchased at Assateague Island National Seashore (MD) and the Toms Cove Visitor Center (VA).
1-day park pass - $10
Planning a National Park vacation? America the Beautiful/National Park Pass covers entrance fees for an entire year to all US National Park Sites and over 2,000 Federal Recreation Fee Sites.
The park pass covers everyone in the car for per vehicle sites and for up to 4 adults for per-person sites.
Buy on REI.com and REI will donate 10% of pass proceeds to the National Forest Foundation, National Park Foundation and the U.S. Endowment for Forestry & Communities.
Learn more about National Park Passes for parks that have an entrance fee.
Free Entrance Days -Mark your calendars with the five free entrance days the National Park Service offers annually.
Eastern Time Zone
Pets are permitted in specific areas of the park only in the Maryland section.
Pets are prohibited in the following areas to protect wildlife, habitat and visitors:
• The entire Virginia portion of Assateague Island *
• All backcountry campsites
• Nature trails
• Lifeguard-protected beach
• Portions of Assateague State Park
• North of the State Park to the Ocean City inlet
*Pets are prohibited in the entire Virginia portion of Assateague Island, even in your car.
Cell service was spotty and hit or miss depending on where you are in the park.
The park is open 24 hours a day. Visitor services hours depend on the time of year.
Public Wi-Fi is ONLY available at the Assateague Island Visitor Center in the Maryland district. There is no public Wi-Fi at any other building, beach, or trail.
Insect repellent is always a great idea when outdoors, especially if you are around any body of water.
We use Permethrin Spray on our clothes before our park trips.
Make sure to bring your own water bottle and plenty of water with you. Plastic water bottles are not sold in the park.
Large parking lots are available at both visitor centers. There are also some smaller lots located near various trailheads and other points of interest.
There are no restaurants within the park.
There are no gas stations within the park.
Drones are not permitted within National Park Sites.
National Park Passport Stamps
National Park Passport stamps can be found in the visitor center.
Assateague Island NS is part of the 1989 Passport Stamp Set
Electric Vehicle Charging
There are no EV charging stations inside the park, but there are several places to charge your vehicle just outside the park in the nearby Ocean Shores and Chincoteague.
Details about Assateague Island National Seashore
Size - 41,320 acres
Check out how the park compares to National Parks by Size.
January 1, 1965
In 2021, Assateague Island NS had 2,662,716 park visitors.
In 2020, Assateague Island NS had 2,481,660 park visitors.
In 2019, Assateague Island NS had 2,344,536 park visitors.
National Park Address
7206 National Seashore Lane
Berlin, MD 21811
National Park Map
Where is Assateague Island National Seashore?
Assateague Island NS is located along the coasts of Maryland and Virginia.
Estimated distance from major cities nearby
Ocean City, MD - 9 miles
Chincoteague, VA - 3 miles
Norfolk, VA - 106 miles
Annapolis, MD - 112 miles
Williamsburg, VA - 143 miles
Baltimore, MD - 141 miles
Washington DC - 144 miles
Philadelphia, PA - 152 miles
Richmond, VA - 191 miles
Estimated Distance from nearby National Park
Shenandoah National Park - 218 miles
Great Smoky Mountains National Park - 545 miles
New River Gorge National Park - 442 miles
Congaree National Park - 495 miles
Cuyahoga Valley National Park - 482 miles
Mammoth Cave National Park - 800 miles
Where is the National Park Visitor Center?
Assateague Island Visitor Center
Located in the Maryland District of Assateague Island before the Verrazzano Bridge entrance into the park.
11800 Marsh View Lane
Berlin, MD 21811
Toms Cove Visitor Center
Located in the Virginia District within the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge
8586 Beach Rd.
Chincoteague, VA 23336
Getting to Assateague Island National Seashore
Ocean City Municipal Airport
Salisbury-Wicomico County Regional Airport
Reagan International Airport (DCA)
Philadelphia International Airport (PHL)
Baltimore International Airport (BWI)
There is no public transportation available to Assateague Island NS
Assateague Island is a 37 mile long island along the coasts of Maryland and Virginia.
There are two entrances to Assateague Island National Seashore.
Assateague's north entrance is at the end of Route 611, eight miles south of Ocean City, MD.
The south entrance is at the end of Route 175, two miles east of Chincoteague, VA.
There is no vehicle access between the two entrances on Assateague Island. Vehicles must return to the mainland to access either the north or south entrance.
Best time to visit Assateague Island National Seashore
Because Assateague Island is really just one long sandy stretch, prime beach season is the best time to visit the national seashore (late spring through summer).
The off-season can be a hit or miss when it comes to weather at the park, but at least the crowds will be sparse!
The weather can change rapidly at the national seashore, so dress in layers and be ready for rain no matter which season you choose to visit.
Weather and Seasons
Spring at the park is generally a bit cooler than it is back on the mainland, with highs in the 60s and lows in the 40s.
The wind is also a bit stronger, so be sure to dress in layers. Late spring is usually more pleasant, but as the temperatures rise, so do the crowds.
Summer is the best time to visit the seashore. Temperatures allow for all the classic beach day activities, though be warned - many people have the same idea, and the park can get extremely crowded during the warmer months.
Unfortunately, people aren’t the only ones who love this time of year at Assateague Island - mosquitoes, biting flies, and ticks also turn out en masse.
Luckily, the sea breezes make the beach bearable, but be sure to pack the bug spray if you are exploring other areas of the park.
Fall at Assateague Island National Seashore is typically warmer than it is on the mainland, meaning that beach days can be extended for a few months.
Highs are usually in the 70s, while lows dip into the 50s.
Although the park is open year-round, winter is not an ideal time to visit Assateague Island. Conditions are cold, wet, and windy, with highs in the 40s and lows in the 20s.
If that weren’t reason enough to skip a winter visit, you might not see as many (or any!) wild horses if you visit during the cold season.
Best Things to do in Assateague Island National Seashore
Whether you’re looking for a relaxing beach getaway or an ocean adventure, there are many nature activities available for recreation.
Cycling and hiking are some of the most popular activities. The trails are easy, with varying distances, so they are fun for even the youngest travelers.
Take a kayak trip through the marshes, or even simply relax on the beach.
Sportsmen will also enjoy hunting and fishing at Assateague Island National Seashore. Check the website for details, rules and regulations, especially if traveling in to the island from out-of-state.
The wild horses of Assateague Island are the main draw to the seashore, so be sure to seek them out while you’re here.
It is believed that the herds are descendants of domestic animals, but the truth is that no one knows for sure where these wild horses came from.
There is one herd on each side of the park, and you’ll likely have no problem finding them - simply head to the beach!
These horses are used to people, and they’re not really shy. That being said, they are still wild animals, so keep your distance and never approach - no matter how cute and friendly they may seem!
The best time for viewing Assateague Island’s wild horses is from April through October.
There are great boat tours offered from Chincoteague to see the wild horses and epic views of the seashore.
Assateague Island Sunset Boat Cruise - Explore the pristine coastal area of Assateague Island on a sunset boat cruise from Chincoteague. Admire the picturesque landscape and search for wild horses, dolphins, and birds along the way.
Assateague Island Boat Tour - Sail around Assateague Island on a boat tour from Chincoteague Island. Search for wild horses, dolphins, and birds, and cruise by Assateague Island National Seashore and Chincoteague Wildlife Refuge.
The Junior Ranger Program is great both kids and adults who want to learn more about the park in a fun, hands-on way.
Through the program, you can learn all about the barrier island environment. Once you complete the activities, you’ll receive a cool badge to commemorate your time at the seashore.
Enjoy the beach
With sand covering most of the park, it would be a shame to miss out on enjoying the beach at Assateague Island.
Swimming is technically allowed anywhere in the park, but if you’re hoping to enjoy a classic beach day, stick to the areas where lifeguards are present.
Assateague Beach in the Virginia District of the park is a great spot to soak up some sun, swim, or build sand castles, and there is a large parking lot located nearby.
If you’re in the Maryland District, the beach near the Ranger Station is also a great spot to spend the day.
Fishing and crabbing are both allowed inside the park. If you are fishing, you will need to have a vaid permit for whichever state you are fishing in.
For crabbing, the season varies depending on which state you’re in. Maryland crabbing season is from April through December, while Virginia’s season is from mid-march through November.
For more information about fishing and crabbing, you can look online or head to one of the visitor centers.
Over Sand Vehicles
For a more exhilarating way to experience the beach, the park allows OSVs in designated zones.
A permit is required and there are limits to how many vehicles can be on the sand at any given time. Permits are valid for one year from the time of purchase.
While it isn’t possible to approach the park’s wild horses, visitors are more than welcome to bring their own along.
Horseback riding is permitted in designated areas in both of the park’s districts, and there are two seasonal horse camping sites in the Maryland district.
According to the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), hundreds of species of birds visit the island or live there year-round.
Depending on the season you visit, you chance seeing plovers, herons, swans, and bald eagles. Brochures and information are available from the FWS on migratory seasons of the 324 identified species of birds.
Hiking in Assateague Island National Seashore
Always carry the 10 essentials for outdoor survival when exploring.
There are various trails located on both sides of the park, most of which are short and easy. If you’re looking for a more strenuous trek, you can take to the 37 miles of beach.
The terrain may be flat, but the sand makes walking along the shoreline more difficult than you may think! No matter where you decide to hike, bug spray and sun protection are recommended.
Life of the Forest Trail
Distance - .5 miles
Trail Difficulty - Easy
Time Required - 1 hour
Trailhead - Maryland District
The Life of the Forest Trail takes you through the park’s maritime forest and offers a different perspective than just sand and sea.
This is one of the most scenic trails in the park, and at the end, you’ll get to walk along boardwalks out into the marsh.
The birding and wildlife watching here are fantastic, but be sure you bring plenty of insect repellent to avoid the biting kind of critters.
Distance - 3.5 miles
Trail Difficulty - Easy
Time Required - 1 hour
Trailhead - Virginia District
Looping around the abundant shores of Snowgoose Pool, the Wildlife Loop is a paved, easy trek that can be used for both walking and biking.
As the name suggests, this is a great trail for wildlife viewing, so keep your eyes peeled for migrating birds, horses, snakes and more.
If you feel like taking a detour, you’ll find beach access about halfway through the trail. This trail is extremely buggy, so be sure to bring plenty of bug spray along with you.
Life of the Dunes Trail
Distance - .8 miles
Trail Difficulty - Easy
Time Required - 1 hour
Trailhead - Maryland District
This short and sweet trail offers hikers a variety of landscapes and scenery. You’ll hike through sandy dunes and see different types of flora and fauna along the way.
There are also various signs offering information along the trail. This trail also has historical relevance, and you’ll walk past the remnants of a strip of asphalt that was meant to be part of a housing development.
How to beat the crowds in Assateague Island National Seashore?
The best way to beat the crowds at Assateague Island National Seashore is to visit during the off-season.
The busiest time of year at the park is from June through August, so if you can avoid the summer months, you’ll be in good shape. You should also avoid weekends and holidays if you don’t want to encounter big crowds at the park.
Where to stay when visiting Assateague Island National Seashore
There are no National Park Lodges within the park.
There is lodging available in Chincoteague, VA and/or Ocean City, Maryland.
Chincoteague Inn - Chincoteague Inn provides everything you need. Guests can connect to free in-room Wi-Fi.
Atlantic Shores Inn and Suites - Take advantage of free continental breakfast, laundry facilities, and a business center at Atlantic Shores Inn and Suites. Stay connected with free in-room Wi-Fi.
Days Inn by Wyndham Chincoteague Island - Days Inn by Wyndham Chincoteague Island provides amenities like free to-go breakfast and a 24-hour business center. Stay connected with free in-room Wi-Fi.
Hampton Inn & Suites Chincoteague Waterfront - At Hampton Inn & Suites Chincoteague Waterfront, you can look forward to free continental breakfast, golfing on site, and a terrace. For some rest and relaxation, visit the hot tub. Enjoy the gym, as well as activities like fishing. In addition to laundry facilities and a business center, guests can connect to free in-room Wi-Fi.
Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Chincoteague Island Waterfront - At Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Chincoteague Island Waterfront, you can look forward to free breakfast, a terrace, and a garden. Enjoy the gym, as well as activities like fishing. In addition to a playground and dry cleaning/laundry services, guests can connect to free in-room WiFi
For additional lodging and vacation rental options click on the map below
Assateague Island Camping
There are a few different options for camping at Assateague Island National Seashore:
Oceanside Drive-in: Sites for tents, trailers, and RVs. Open year-round. Reservations required from March 15 through November 15, first-come-first-served from November 16 through March 14.
Oceanside Walk-in: Tent-only sites. Open March 15 through November 15. Reservations required.
Bayside Drive-in: Sites for tents, trailers, and RVs. Open year-round. Reservations required from March 15 through November 15, first-come-first-served from November 16 through March 14.
Horse Camp: 2 equestrian sites for up to six people and six horses per site. Open October 16 through April 14. Reservations available up to six months in advance.
Backcountry camping is also permitted with a permit in designated areas. There are two oceanside backcountry sites and four bayside backcountry sites that require campers to hike, canoe or kayak in.
Camping is only permitted on the Maryland side of Assateague Island National Seashore. There are no electric hookups at any of the sites. Sites fill up quickly, so try to make your reservation well in advance.
Camping near Assateague Island National Seashore
Yogi Bears Jellystone Park Camp - Chincoteague Island
This campground offers Lodging, RV and Tent Sites, a playground, waterpark, and more.
Sun Outdoors Chesapeake Bay - Temperanceville, VA
This campground offers Lodging, RV and Tent Sites, beach, a pool, and more
Sun Outdoors Frontier Town - Berlin, MD
This campground offers Lodging, RV and Tent Sites, waterfront, a waterpark, and more.
Check out additional campgrounds in the area on CampSpot.
For a fun adventure check out Escape Campervans. These campervans have built in beds, kitchen area with refrigerators, and more. You can have them fully set up with kitchen supplies, bedding, and other fun extras. They are painted with epic designs you can't miss!
Escape Campervans has offices in Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, Denver, Chicago, New York, and Orlando
Parks Near Assateague Island National Seashore
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First State National Historical Park
Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park