Guarding the eastern shore of Maryland and Virginia, Assateague Island National Seashore is an isolated natural beauty waiting to be explored. It boasts tranquil beaches, unique wildlife, lovely marshes, and unmatched bays. Put this on your list of top Maryland destinations if you’re looking to unplug and unwind from the daily chaos.

A true sense of this serene island can only be taken through a 2-day itinerary i.e. an overnight stay. If you only have a day, pick the pieces you like the most from this itinerary.

Arrive at the Park

For those living in and around DMV or flying into one of the airports of DC, the best way to arrive at the island is to drive southeast on Route 50. This route provides awesome views of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, Choptank River, and Nanticoke River. If you’re in the mood for bird watching, take a 30 minutes detour to the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. Lunch at one of the restaurants of Berlin along the way. Blacksmith is my personal favorite.

Although the seashore shares the boundary of Maryland and Virginia, there is no drivable connection between the two from within. The only human way (walking 21 miles on a wild beach is out of the question) is to drive about 60 miles outside of the park area. For these reasons and a few more that I’ll mention later, this itinerary is only focused on spending time at the Maryland side.

Prior to crossing the bridge that connects to the island, stop at the visitor center. They have interesting exhibits that tell you concisely about the seashore’s geography, wildlife, activities to do, etc. Feel free to ask any questions to the rangers there.

Once on the island, do not get confused by the sign of the Assateague State Park. You have to drive through the state park to reach the entrance of the national seashore. After paying the entrance fee, pick your camping tags or make a walk-in campsite reservation at the ranger station on the right.

Assateague Outfitters

If you plan to go on a weekend between April and October, I recommend you to head straight to the outfitters' shop at the end of Bayside Drive. Rent a kayak, canoe or SUP and launch it into the bay. Paddling around the bays of the Assateague is a great start to the park experience. If you have your own kayak, Old Ferry Landing is another launch area in the park. The outfitters' group also conducts paid tours of the island. You also have the choice of renting bikes to explore the island. What better way to see the island than riding around feeling a fresh breeze on your face and greeting wild ponies along the way. To reserve in advance or know the rates, check their website.

Life of the Marsh Trail

While you’re on the Bayside Drive, walk on the Life of the Marsh trail. It is surrounded by a salty wetland with marsh grasses and fungal growth on the surface (sounds yuck but looks pretty) and a variety of birds flying over it.

Camp at the Beach

Ever imagined yourself spending a night laying down on the sand, gazing at the starry skies and listening to the relaxing sounds of the crashing waves? Fulfill your imagination by choosing one of the secluded campsites in the park. These campsites come with a picnic table and a firepit. There are clean showers and restrooms to be shared with other fellow campers. Most of the animals on the beach are nocturnal. It may sound scary but if you’re out of the tent at night, watch out for the crabs and wolf spiders and their sand holes.

#TravelSmart Tips for Camping

  1. If you’re planning to camp between March 15 and November 15, reserve a site well in advance, especially if you plan to go on a weekend. For the rest of the year, sites are allotted on a first-come-first-serve basis.
  2. Bayside campsites have more bugs, so avoid them.
  3. Oceanside walk-in campsites are the best. They are quite literally on the soft sandy beach, unlike the ocean side drive-in sites that have rocky or concrete grounds. Walk-in sites require you to park your car upon arrival, take your necessary supplies and walk a very short distance which ain’t that bad.
  4. Beach camping is very different from forest camping. Winds can be rough at night. Make sure you are prepared with the necessary gear to have a safe time.

Wake up early to watch the scarlet sunrise over the magnificent Atlantic ocean. The divine glimpse of the rising sun while the cool waves touch your feet will become an everlasting memory.

While backcountry camping is available in the Maryland district, the Virginia end does not even permit regular camping. Now you know why this itinerary is about Maryland only.

(Almost) Private Beach Fun

Since you are camping only a few hundred feet away from the ocean, you practically have access to a part of the beach shared only between you and the nearby campers. People who visit for only a day use the public beaches namely North Beach and South Beach. So, the farther away your campsite is along the shore, more private it feels.

Life of the Dunes Trail

Life of the Dunes is basically a sand dune area beyond which lies the beach. This 0.75-mile loop is great for an early morning walk. Along the trail, there are numbered markers and informational boards to teach you about the ecosystem of the trail.

Life of the Forests Trail

Life of the Forests is a short trail amidst a maritime forest habitat with tall trees followed by an open wetland. It is ideal for exploration of several birds and plant species.

Horse Watching

Assateague Island is a natural habitat for a variety of species but the most attractive ones are the wild horses and ponies. Some believe that these horses populated the island after a shipwreck on the coast of Virginia. You can spot one of these 300 horses anywhere in the marshes, beaches, and forests during your visit. The rangers warn the visitors to stay at least 40 feet away from them. Please don’t risk your life over a photo.

Horseback Riding

If you’re one of those who is not here to see a horse because you already own one, there are some parts of the beach where horseback riding is permitted. For those who don’t have the luxury of owning a horse, unfortunately, the park does not have any services that rent horses out. Sounds like a good business idea though, right?.

Over-sand Vehicle Riding

You may not own a horse, but you probably own a 4WD vehicle. If yes, then you should consider driving on the beach. To do so, there are Over-sand Vehicle zones laid out on the beaches and a special permit is required for patrons to drive. However, the $90 cost for the day use is very likely to set some people off. For those dreaming of performing stunts with their cars on the sand should read the requirements very carefully to ensure the safety of themselves as well as others.

I hope this itinerary inspires you to plan and visit the Assateague. Comment below to let the MOE community to know about your trip at this coastal beauty. Happy exploring!