Assateague Island National Seashore
On the beach at Assateague Island National Seashore
Assateague Island National Seashore is a 41,320-acre property on Assateague Island, a barrier island off the eastern shores of mainland Maryland and Virginia. In addition to the gorgeous expanse of sandy beach, Assateague Island is rather famous for the herd of wild horses roaming the area.
Stretching from the Ocean City, Maryland inlet to Fishing Point on Tom's Cove Hook, Assateague Island National Seashore overlaps the boundaries of Maryland and Virginia at the island's southern end. The Virginia District of the National Seashore is on property owned by Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge and is administered by the National Park Service through an agreement with the US Fish & Wildlife Service. Maryland's Assateague State Park is wholly contained within the Maryland District of the National Seashore.
The wild horses probably arrived in the 1600's and 1700's as local settlers used the islands to hide their herds and avoid fencing laws and taxation. The horses have adapted to the harsh environment and have thrived ever since. In the early 1900's the Volunteer Firemen of Chincoteague Island bought ownership of the herd and have been allowed to graze up to 150 ponies per year on Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge through a special use permit granted by the US Fish & Wildlife Service.
The Maryland District of Assateague Island National Seashore is open 24/7/365. The Visitor Center is open 7 days a week, 9 am to 5 pm from March through December. In January and February it is open the same hours but only Thursday through Monday. The Visitor Center is also closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas Days. The Maryland Ranger District and Campground office is open year round but the hours vary with the seasons.
Because of the association with Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, the Virginia District of the National Seashore tends to be open during daylight hours only. The Toms Cove Visitor Center is open 7 days a week, March through November, and Fridays through Mondays the rest of the year. Hours are usually 9 am to 4 pm except in summer when that changes to 9 am to 5 pm.
There are fees involved in visiting both districts and you cannot drive from one to the other: getting from the Virginia District to the Maryland district (and vice versa) requires that one go back to the mainland and travel mainland roads to get to a bridge leading back to the island.
Maryland fees: Vehicle (good for 7 days): $20.00. Vehicle Park Annual Pass: $40.00. Motorcycles (good for 7 days): $15.00. Beach parking upgrade (good for 1 year in conjunction with a Federal duck stamp): $15.00. Camping is allowed on the Maryland section of the park. From November 16 to March 14 camping is on a first-come, first-served basis. The rest of the year reservations are required and can be made 6 months in advance. There are drive-in and walk-in campgrounds available oceanside and bayside. All sites offer a picnic table and campfire ring. All sites are $30 per night, year round. The campgrounds offer chemical toilets, cold water showers and drinking water but not a single hookup. The park also offers 2 oceanside and 4 bayside backcountry camping areas for folks who want to hike or paddle around the backcountry. A 7-day permit (required) for backcountry camping costs $10.00, in addition to the park entrance fee.
Virginia fees: 1-day pass: $8.00. 7-day pass: $15.00. Annual pass: $30.00. Federal duck stamp (good from July 1 to June 30 at all National Wildlife Refuges): $25.00. Annual beach parking permit (used in conjunction with the Federal duck stamp): $15.00. Interagency annual pass: $80.00. Senior pass (one time fee for US citizens age 62 and older): $10.00. Over Sand Vehicle pass (good for one year): $70.00.