Home » 1998 Road Trip to Virginia and North Carolina

Assateague Island, VA

Friday, April 10, 1998 - 7:00am by Lolo
237 miles and 5.25 hours from our last stop


Herb wasn't particularly crazy about the thought of driving through Washington, D.C., and Baltimore on a Friday, so we decided to take the coastal route, across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel and onto the Delmarva Peninsula.

Herb and boys on beachHerb and boys on beachJust before leaving Virginia we took a side trip to Chincoteague and Assateague because we wanted to see the wild ponies. We were a little confused at first because the island of Chincoteague is not where the ponies are. Rather, they live on Assateague Island just a short distance across the channel. Once a year, on the last Wednesday and Thursday in July, the ponies are rounded up on Assateague and made to swim across the channel to Chincoteague, where the foals are auctioned off. This is the way they control the size of the herd.

So we drove across a short bridge to Assateague Island, which is home to both the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge and the Assateague National Seashore. We stopped first at the visitor center for the Wildlife Refuge. From there, we took the bikes off the back of the RV and rode the 3.2-mile Wildlife Loop through marshes and around a freshwater pond. The ride was along a road, but the good part was that it is closed to cars every day until 3 p.m., so you get a chance to ride with small kids and not worry about them. Also, the quiet gives you a better chance of seeing the wild ponies and birdlife up close. From the Wildlife Loop, we took the 1 ½ mile Woodland Trail through a beautiful pine forest. It brought us to a wooden platform from which we were able to see several wild ponies.

Boys with wild poniesBoys with wild poniesThe ponies and marshes were really nice, but I wanted to see the beach. The problem was that the Swans Cove Trail to the beach was another 1 ¼ miles each way, and Tommy, who was only 6 at the time, announced that he had ridden far enough. It took a bit of negotiating before he reluctantly agreed. Poor Tom. Being the youngest one of a pretty active family isn't easy, and he was always sure to let us know it. His standard cry was, "I bet your mother never made you do this when you were 6!" He was right, but I kind of wish she did. Well, the beach was lovely and even Tom felt it was worth it. This pristine beach is part of the Assateague Island National Seashore, which stretches 37 miles north into Maryland.


Assateague Island is a narrow barrier island that stretches 37 miles along the coastlines of northern Virginia and southern Maryland. You cannot drive from one end of the island to another, but must visit the two sections separately.

The island is best known for its wild ponies, made famous by the children's book Misty of Chincoteague. The ponies have lived on Assateague since the 17th century when, according to local legend, their ancestors swam ashore from a shipwrecked Spanish galleon. However, it is more likely that they were placed on the island for free grazing during colonial times. The ponies are quite easy to see, especially on the Maryland side of the island where they have virtually free reign. A lovely place to view them is along the beach in the evening after the crowds have left. The ponies are less accessible on the Virginia side, but you can generally spot some of them along the road or from the observation platforms.

Assateague Island's location along the Atlantic Flyway also makes it a popular place for bird-watchers. More than 200 different species--including peregrine falcons, bald eagles, great blue heron, snowy egrets, and snow geese--have been spotted here.

Besides the wonderful wildlife viewing opportunities, Assateague contains 37 miles of beautiful pristine beaches. Other popular activities include crabbing, clamming, fishing, and kayaking.

Camping facilities are only located on the northern part of the island.

Southern end of Assateague Island

The Virginia side of Assateague Island contains the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge and part of Assateague Island National Seashore. The refuge is reached by taking VA Route 175 west across the island of Chincoteague and over a short bridge to the island of Assateague.

The famous annual wild pony swim takes place on Chincoteague Island on the last Wednesday and Thursday in July. Chincoteague "cowboys" round up the entire Virginia herd on Assateague Island (they are separated from the Maryland herd by a fence) and have them swim the channel from Assateague to Chincoteague, where the foals are auctioned off. This event is very popular, so reservations should be made well in advance.

The refuge has several trails for biking. The 3.2-mile Wildlife Loop begins at the Visitor Center and goes through marshes and around a fresh water pond. The Loop is closed to cars until 3 p.m., giving hikers and bikers a chance to spot wild ponies and birdlife up close. The 1.5-mile Woodland Trail goes through a beautiful pine forest and leads to an overlook where you can sometimes see wild ponies. Swans Cove Trail which branches off of Wildlife Loop Trail is about 1.25 miles long and takes you to the beach. The 1-mile Black Duck Marsh Trail also branches off of Wildlife Trail.

The beach itself is in the Assateague Island National Seashore at Tom's Cove on the southern hook of the island. In addition to sunbathing and swimming, shell collecting is very popular and productive on the tip of the spit.

There are no camping facilities on the southern end of Assateague, but there are several commercial campgrounds located on nearby Chincoteague Island.

Northern end of Assateague Island

The Maryland side of the island, which contains both Assateague State Park and the Assateague Island National Seashore, is reached via MD Route 611. It primary attraction is its beautiful sandy beaches.

Biking on Assateague is a great way to explore the island. A paved bike path begins at the pedestrian/bike bridge parking lot, goes over the bike bridge and continues along Bayberry Drive and the Oceanside Campground Road. Bicycles are not permitted on the nature trails in the Maryland section of the island.

There are camping facilities at both the state and national parks. The state park contains 311 sites all located on the oceanside of the island. Reservations for less than a week are not accepted. The National Park Service operates a bay-side and an ocean-side campground that are a bit more primitive than the state park campground. Advance reservations (and they are needed in the summer) are accepted. Mosquitoes and biting flies, which are a real issue during the summer, are much worse on the bay-side.

Assateague Island location map

Javascript is required to view this map.