Assateague Island is a beautiful, thin barrier island that’s surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean to the East and various bays along its west coast. When you drive over the Verrazano Bridge and enter the island, you’ll immediately understand why it’s a top tourist destination year after year.
But with beauty in nature comes a few drawbacks. We love our island, and as a courtesy we’re offering first-time visitors these insights into what actually can happen during the peak Summer months and how you can prepare for a more enjoyable visit.
Sunrises and Sunsets in One Magical Day
We mentioned above the Assateague Island is a thin barrier island. This particular fact can be a threat to our beautiful island when it comes to powerful storms. However, it also means visitors that come and spend an entire day with us can easily enjoy an incredible sunrise over the ocean and a spectacular sunset over the bay or the dunes.
Did we mention wild horses roam here?
Yes, the rumors and photos on social media are true. Assateague Island has a herd of 75+ horses that roam freely around, and during the Summer months, can often be found on the beach near the ocean. This makes for some incredible photo ops, but please remember to keep a distance of 40 feet.
Sun, Sand, Activities and Bonfires
Many come for a glimpse at the ponies, but most come for a relaxing day on the beach. Assateague offers wide, untouched beaches, nature trails that wind through the marshes and miles of bike paths. If you take a drive down to the bayside beach area, you’ll find Assateague Outfitters – a great place to rent kayaks, canoes, bikes and paddleboards.
Many first-time visitors that stay until dark will be surprised to see dozens of bonfires starting up all along the beach. It’s one of the few beaches on the East Coast where this is allowed without a special permit*.
* National Park side only. See the NPS website for more details on restrictions and rules to follow for beach bonfires.
Set up camp right next to the Atlantic Ocean
There’s a reason why campsites on Assateague book up so far in advance. The campsites here allow you to set up a tent in the sand and camp directly on the beach next to the ocean. Fall asleep and wake up to the waves crashing outside, and don’t be surprised if some four-hooved friends walk through for a visit too!
The National Seashore is Pet Friendly
While neighboring beaches like Ocean City and Assateague Maryland State Park have restrictions on bringing your beloved four-legged friends, Assateague Island National Seashore allows dogs on the beaches all year round. This includes the day-use beach areas as well as the OSV. Just please be respectful of other beachgoers and our horses! Pick up after your pets and keep them on a leash.
The Bad & The Buggy
There’s really nothing bad about Assateague Island! There are, however, a few inconveniences that can be avoided if you know before you go.
With Assateague’s close proximity to Ocean City, there are plenty of visitors that make the drive over to Assateague during their vacation to Maryland’s Eastern shore. Millions, in fact. If you are planning a visit on a Saturday or Sunday from mid-June through the end of August, we can’t stress this enough: ARRIVE EARLY. The road to get into the National Park side of Assateague is approximately 2.5 miles. On Saturdays during the Summer, this road can be bumper to bumper before noon. On extremely busy weekends (mainly Fourth of July and Labor Day ), the traffic can be backed up across the bridge to come onto the island.
Arrive early or wait until late afternoon so your visit to the island isn’t spend in the car. Weekday visits are typically much quieter, however, the OSV can be at capacity every day of the week during peak summer weeks. Check out the website OSV Count to see how many vehicles are on the OSV at any given time during the Summer.
Mosquitos, Ticks and the Dreaded Greenheaded Horse Flies
As mentioned, Assateague is a barrier island that shares one side with the Atlantic Ocean and a beautiful ocean breeze and the other side with wetlands and marshes. Mosquitoes and other biting insects thrive in Marsh areas and hot, humid climates. The Summers at Assateague become a breeding ground for Mosquitoes, Ticks and Greenies.
While bug spray does help with relief, there’s a saying the locals planning a trip to Assateague know: “Winds from the West – Staying Home is Best. Winds from the East – Enjoy the Beach.” Check the wind direction. A western wind on a muggy summer day means that the green flies will be blowing in from the marshes. The mosquitoes typically stay off of the beach, but will descend once you are in the parking lots and if you decide to use the restrooms.
The Bathroom Situation
The State Park side of Assateague has better amenities for camping and day-use beachgoers. There are large bathrooms with flushing toilets, hot and cold water for showers and large changing room areas. The National Park side has more parking and more space on the beaches, but the restrooms are latrine-type toilets and the showers only have access to cold water.
Yes, we said it. Millions of visitors flock to the island to see our herd of wild ponies. With over 70 horses roaming the small island, it’s important to note one unpleasant affect that they have on the island. Many are surprised to see piles of horse poop piled up along the roadsides, in the parking lots and on the beaches. While the National Park Service does have a cleanup crew and they do an amazing job, it does take some time to make the rounds. Just remember to be careful where you step, and don’t let your little ones play with any brown balls they may come across in the sand.
Remember the Island
If you love Assateague as much as we do, you may want to take something home to remember your trip! We’ve created a few unique souvenirs to have shipped directly to your home.