Complete Guide to Camping on Assateague Island - Reservation Tips, Best Campsites and Maps
Updated: Jun 15, 2020
Where and What is Assateague Island?
Assateague Island is a 37-mile barrier island split between Maryland and Virginia. With white sand beaches and wild horses roaming freely, the island can be reached in less than a 3 hour drive from Washington DC, Baltimore, and Philadelphia, and everywhere in between. Many families even make the drive from Ohio, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia to catch a glimpse of the island's beauty.
Camping is only available in the Maryland District, at both the State Park and National Seashore (managed by the National Park Service). Once reaching the Eastern Shore of Maryland, the island is accessible via Stephen Decatur Highway (Route 611), and by driving over the Verrazano Bridge. Once over the bridge, take your first right to enter the National Park/Seashore, or your second right to enter the State Park campgrounds.
In this article, we will discuss the campsites accessible via car or RV at Assateague Island National Seashore (AINS). For more information about backcountry campsites, please click here.
Other Useful Links:
Camping at Assateague Island National Seashore
Managed by the National Park Service, there are both Bayside and Oceanside campsites available, each being $30 per night with a picnic table and a fire ring. In addition to all camping supplies (extensive list from REI here), the NPS recommends bringing sunscreen, insect repellent, screen tents, and long stakes to secure and anchor tents. Also, locally purchased firewood, which is available at various locations on the roads while driving to the park for $5-$20. Remember to bring a lighter and kindling!
All sites on the Bayside are drive-in, while Oceanside offers both drive-in and walk-in. Each drive-in site has space for 2 vehicles, with the place to pitch a tent next to your parking spot. The walk-in sites require visitors to park their vehicle in a designated spot, then walk a short distance (100-200 ft.) to their campsite. The walk-in sites require carrying supplies a further distance, so if available, we always get a drive-in spot for ease of access and having our gear close-by.
Horses roam freely throughout the park, so it's best to keep food secure, especially when not cooking or eating. The National Park Service recently installed lockers underneath each picnic table for storing items and keeping them secure and safe from the wild horses.
When are you planning to camp?
If planning to camp between March 15 - November 15, reservations are required in advance, and can be booked online here or by calling 1-877-444-6777 (10:00am - 10:00pm EST). The reservations open six months in advance and are often booked the exact date that a reservation becomes available. Meaning, if we want to camp on September 21, we try and book exactly six months earlier on March 21 via www.recreation.gov. If planning to visit in the summer months, we reserve a spot once the reservation system opens, especially for weekend and holiday stays.
*There are sometimes cancellations so keep an eye out for last minute availability. Recreation.gov doesn't do same day camping reservations, so you might get lucky calling or stopping by the Ranger Station to see if any sites have become available. You must physically be at the Ranger Station to reserve and book the day of as they will not hold it for you when calling in.
If planning to camp between November 16 - March 14, reservations are on a first come-first serve basis. You can call ahead to see if any and which campsites are available, but you must be physically present at the Ranger Station to reserve your campsite.
What to do when arriving at the National Seashore?
After paying the park entrance fee at the booth (see here for fees & passes), enter the park and take your first right for the ranger station. Head inside to pay for the site ($30) and get your orange parking permit(s) to display on the rear view mirror. You'll need to fill out a form with your license plate and vehicle model and make. Each campsite is allowed two vehicles.
The Difference between Bayside, Oceanside, Walk-In, and Drive-In Campsites
Bay-Side Campground: Three loops (A,B,C) with 49 available sites. Only Drive-In. Loop "B' is generator free, which means quieter nights. Loops A and C, depending on your neighbor, might have a generator running all night, which can be noisy and distract from the sounds of nature (and those horses nearby). All campsites have a picnic table and fire ring. Cold water showers, chemical toilets, and drinking water are available at each loop.
To access the Bayside Campground, enter the park via the main road (Bayberry Drive), then after stopping at the Ranger Station, continue and take a right onto Bayside Drive towards the Bayside Campground.
You will first see signs for Loop A, with our favorite sites being 14, 15, 17, 18, 20, 22, and 24. These sites are more private, further away from other campers and are against woods or have better views of the marshland and bay.
Next is Loop B, with our favorite sites being 33, 35, and 37. The video above was taken at site 33.
Finally, Loop C, with our favorite sites being 45, 46, and 48.
*Overall, depending on availability, we always choose sites on the outer edges of each loop as shown on the map, as they are more defined and have more privacy / space than those in the middle of each loop.
For the best place to see the sunset, drive past Loop C to the last parking lot. This will give you expansive views of the Sinepuxent Bay. Depending on the weather and time of year, this is the place to watch the sun set over the horizon.
Oceanside Campground - Drive-In and Walk-In
Drive In: Two loops with 41 available sites. Tents, trailers, and RVs (no hook-ups), with each site containing a fire ring and picnic table. Cold water showers, chemical toilets, and drinking water available at one central location per loop.
Our favorite sites are 6, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15, 25, 26, 28, 30, 32, 34, 35, and 37. These sites face east towards the ocean and allow for direct access to the beach without having to walk across the road. Each site is on sand, which is a little softer than sleeping on the hard ground. We bring blow up air mattresses to sleep on, but on that occasion we forget, sleeping on the sand isn't too bad.
The other sites are still great, offering drive in and great access to the beach. If you don't want to sleep on sand, or have sand more likely to get into your vehicle, then reserving the other sites on the inside of each loop might be a better option.
Walk-In: 62 available sites. As you can see on the map below, although not to scale, the walk-in campsites are more clustered and have less defined markers on where you can camp. There are designated parking spots, with access by walking from the parking location over a wooden path to each individual site. Be prepared to carry items from the car to the campsite.
If arriving after dark, which we try to avoid, walking from the car to the campsite can be challenging, especially while carrying your belongings then setting up your tent in the dark. A headlamp always comes in handy.
If you are staying here, our favorite sites are those facing the Atlantic Ocean, being 48, 49, 52, 55, 57, 59, 61, 63, 65, 73, 75, 77, 79, 81, 85, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 101, 102, 103, and 104. However, note that these are further from the parking spots which will require a longer walk with your belongings.
Camping at Assateague Island National Seashore can be a pleasant and unforgettable experience with proper planning. Keeping an eye out for weather, particularly high winds and thunderstorms, can make or break your stay. We always bring skewers to roast marshmallows over the fire, as well as supplies for s'mores. Remember to keep food securely stored, especially overnight and in the car preferably, as you might wake up to horses rummaging through your gear!
If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Enjoy your stay!
About Assateague Island Tours
Assateague Island Tours was created to share Assateague's beauty and provide a different experience for those visiting the barrier island. Our goal is to help you turn off your mind and truly enjoy your day while leaving the planning to us.
Throughout our years of traveling to Assateague Island and onto the OSV, we've seen countless people become refreshed and reenergized after visiting the island and experiencing all that it has to offer. It opens up a new perspective for those that visit, as many come from the city and are pleasantly surprised that a place like Assateague Island exists in Maryland. Being less than a three hour drive from three of the largest cities, Washington DC, Baltimore, and Philadelphia, and open year-round, the island offers an escape for those looking for a unique experience. Driving off road over sand is a special adventure many don't ever get to experience. Sharing a true Assateague experience immersed in nature and away from the crowds is our goal and what has driven us to create this experience.
Check us out! www.assateagueislandtours.com