An Insider's Guide to Visiting Assateague Island
Getting to the Island
Assateague Island is less than a three-hour drive from Washington D.C. Head east over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and stay on Rt. 50 the entire drive until reaching Rt. 113 S. This is an easier and more enjoyable option versus Rt. 404, which has varying speed limits and more residential neighborhoods. The towns of Easton and Cambridge along Rt. 50 offer plenty of restaurant options. See here for more details.
What to do
See the Famous Assateague Horses
Descendants of Spanish horses, legend has it that Assateague’s horses swam to shore after a Spanish shipwreck off the coast, but more likely they were left on the island by early explorers and settlers. Two herds, one in Maryland and the other in Virginia, are separate and managed by two different government agencies. The Maryland herd, managed by the National Park Service, roams freely and is the herd to find walking along the beach. Virginia’s horses are in a large fenced in enclosure, which is accessible via the town of Chincoteague. The horses of Assateague are genetically considered horses, but pony size.
Tours / Rentals - There are kayak rentals via Assateague Outfitters, which is located on Assateague Island in the National Seashore. Nearby, Ayers Creek Adventures offers kayak tours. Assateague Island Tours takes visitors into the park and off road to a secluded beach down the OSV (“Over Sand Vehicle”) zone.
Surfing – Best months for beginners are July, August, and September, when the water is warm enough to swim in just a bathing suit. Surfing is done year round with a proper wetsuit. Custom trips and surf lessons are available.
Surf Fishing – Very popular among many locals, requires a valid permit to drive on the beach.
Hiking – Three trails are available in the developed area. Backcountry hiking is an option as well.
Wildlife – Other than the horses, dolphins are frequently spotted swimming up and down the coast. Migratory animals, such as birds (i.e. Snowy Owl and Piping Plover), seals, and whales visit the island at varying times during the year.
Seashells – per NPS rules, one gallon of seashells are allowed to be taken from the beach.
Photography – some of the best sunrises and sunsets can be seen on Assateague Island. As one of the few places to see wild horses roaming beaches in the US, Assateague’s horses have been featured in numerous magazines, books, and other publications throughout the years.
Where to Stay
Camping is available on Assateague Island in the National Seashore (year-round) and State Park. Nearby, Frontier Town and Castaways have camping options as well. Assateague Cottage rents cottages to be used in the State Park Campgrounds. Airbnbs are becoming more popular in Berlin, MD, the nearest town to Assateague Island.
These are the closest options before venturing north into Ocean City where you can find hotels and other lodging, at a higher price point. If primarily visiting Assateague, West Ocean City accommodation is a better option to avoid the Ocean City crowds and traffic over the Harry Kelley Bridge during the high season.
What to eat
Assateague Island Surf Shop – A small café that has amazing Acai bowls and sandwiches, open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. A quick bite with good coffee too.
Assateague Crab House – Open since 1985, it’s the closest restaurant to Assateague Island that offers local seafood and famous steamed Maryland crabs.
Assateague Diner + Bar – Serves “all the hearty classics with a modern coastal twist.” Located north of the Airport before Rt. 50.
Head north on Stephen Decatur Highway (Rt. 611) towards Ocean City for a number of other options.