Assateague Island National Seashore

Winding back roads lead you past markets with hot coffee and firewood. From the wooded two-lane highway, a bridge appears to guide you over the bay to the barrier island. A barrier island connecting Maryland (Assateague) and Virginia (Chincoteague) is home to herds of wild horses roaming the marshlands and the sand. At the foot of the bridge is a popular hangout for wild horses to catch a breeze, wade in the water, and light up the tourist’s faces that are just arriving.

At the base of the bridge where horses hang out for arrivals.

State Park – Day Trip

The wild ponies on the Maryland coast are a secret some may not know. On the Maryland side, Assateague Island is owned by the state and national park services. Going straight over the bridge brings you head-on with the state park area. One of the first times I visited the island, the day spot was perfect for setting up your beach chair, grabbing a lemonade, chicken fingers, and ability to roam drive-on campsites for the first time. This is an excellent location for a day trip with access to the trails, a concession stand, and lifeguarded beaches.

Don’t forget beach day essentials that include fresh fruit, sunblock, and yummy snacks. Keep your beach bag organized with reusable and fun-colored silicone Stasher Bags. From small snack sizes to full meal prep, they are perfect for all things beach day or beach camping!

Camping spots with grated firepit and numbered markers.

National Park – Camping

Sunrises and sunsets turn the skies pink over dunes and uninterrupted green brush. Being isolated around the wilderness and a campfire makes your soul surface. Camping is a great way to get some peace in nature. There’s something about only having a tent and whatever you could carry on your back that reminds you how removed we are from the natural world daily. The camping spots in the National Park are only $30 a night. If you can borrow camping equipment, you can make this low-end vacation a family favorite. Leave the developed towns, stores, and toilets behind to let loose along the oceanside and roam pelican territory.

How did the horses end up on this remote island at sea? The rumors are vast about how the wild horses ended up at Assateague and Chincoteague. The horses are a mystery, from shipwrecks and colonizers to escaping land taxes. The National Park Service explains the horses  “are the descendants of horses that were brought to barrier islands like Assateague in the late 17th century by mainland owners to avoid fencing laws and taxation of livestock.” But the wording doesn’t sound confident and leaves the reader to wonder but “what if?”. The great mystery of the beach ponies is how they got so lucky to spend their days stealing smores and drinking beer from the lip of the can as much as they can get. The few wild ones left deserve to roam free and live their days on this East Coast paradise.

Wild horses momma searching our camp spot for food.

Don’t feed the horses

Although you can’t pet or feed the wild horses on Assateague, you still feel connected to their wild nature. Being side by side, sometimes robbed of a hamburger or bombarded to statue-like stillness, reminds you of the wild from which humanity derived. Looking at the horses, even from afar, and being in their presence makes you humble. The wandering fowls at dusk are magical.

If you’re lucky enough to catch a fish as the tide washes on the shore, you can catch some dinner to fry on the firepit. The firepits have a crated cover that works as a cooking surface for veggie burgers or frying pans. The firepit is a warm-hearted place to gather around with neighbors. Out of the dunes between wind gusts and storm clouds, it is better to depend on other campers for supplies or a helping hand.

Family size shower stalls directly in front. Two chemical bathroom huts to the right and behind.

Self care in the sand

The bathrooms are a sophisticated port-a-potty. A large hole in the ground is at the bottom of the toilet like a port-a-potty. But there is a larger shelter around the bathroom to stand. The showers are family-size that can fit multiple people. The pull-down shower head is cold but a refreshing welcome to clean living on the remote island. There is a bench in the shower to hold a bag or clothing with room to dry off. Nothing is more refreshing than running water and a clean body to explore the trails, oceanside sands, and wild pony prints.

Healthy ingredients are essential when showering outside and rinsing your frying pan surrounded by plants and wildlife. Clean shampoo, conditioner, and even soap bars are must-haves for camping trips and at-home eco-living.

Overall, this park is incomparable to other state and national park areas on the East Coast. It’s an immersive experience with wildlife and nature, takes your breath away, and leaves you wanting to come back again and again. This is a must-see only 30 minutes from Ocean City, Maryland, or a quick stop while traveling up and down the east coast! A memorable experience exploring the outdoors and being connected to wildlife can be found on the East Coast.

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