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How To Plan An Assateague Island Day Trip


by Sunshine Laurent



Welcome to Assateague Island, a natural paradise nestled on the eastern coast of Maryland. With its pristine beaches, diverse wildlife, and expansive outdoor activities, Assateague Island is the perfect destination for a day trip from anywhere in the state. Whether you’re a nature enthusiast, a beach lover, or simply seeking a rejuvenating escape from city life, Assateague Island offers something for everyone.


As a barrier island located off the coast of Maryland and Virginia, Assateague Island showcases the beauty of both land and sea. Its unique combination of beaches, marshes, and forests creates a diverse ecosystem that supports a wide array of flora and fauna. From wild horses roaming freely to the diverse bird species that call this island home, nature lovers will find themselves in awe of the rich biodiversity that Assateague Island has to offer.


Access to Assateague Island is provided through two entrances: the Maryland side and the Virginia side. The Maryland side is managed by the National Park Service and offers a multitude of amenities and activities for visitors. The Virginia side, managed by the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, boasts beautiful trails and opportunities to observe migratory bird species.


Planning a day trip to Assateague Island requires some preparation to make the most of your time there. From deciding on the best time to visit to packing the right essentials, this article will guide you through the process of planning an unforgettable day trip to this stunning destination. So, grab your sunscreen, pack your binoculars, and get ready for an adventure on Assateague Island!


Getting to Assateague Island

Assateague Island is conveniently located for those residing in Maryland or neighboring states, making it easily accessible for a day trip. There are several transportation options available to reach the island:

  • Car: The most convenient way to reach Assateague Island is by car. From Maryland, take Route 50 east to Route 611 south, which will lead you to the entrance of Assateague Island National Seashore. If you’re coming from Virginia, cross the Chincoteague Bay Bridge-Tunnel and follow signs to access the island.
  • Bicycle: For those looking to explore the island at a leisurely pace, biking to Assateague Island is a great option. Several bike rental shops are available in the nearby towns, allowing you to rent a bike for the day and enjoy a scenic ride to the island.
  • Public Transportation: If you prefer not to drive, there are public transportation options available to reach Assateague Island. The Ocean City Transportation (OCT) bus service operates routes that connect Ocean City, Maryland, to the entrance of Assateague Island. Check the OCT bus schedule for specific routes and timings.

Once you arrive at Assateague Island, you will need to pay an entrance fee. The fee covers access to the island for one vehicle and its occupants. Pedestrians and cyclists are charged a separate entrance fee. Annual passes are also available for frequent visitors who wish to explore the island throughout the year.


It’s important to note that during the summer months, especially on weekends and holidays, the island can get crowded, and parking spaces may fill up quickly. Consider arriving early to secure a parking spot and make the most of your day on Assateague Island.


Now that you know how to get to Assateague Island, it’s time to dive into the next section, where we’ll discuss how to choose the right time to visit this enchanting destination.


Choosing the Right Time to Visit

When planning a day trip to Assateague Island, it’s essential to consider the best time to visit to make the most of your experience. Here are some factors to keep in mind when choosing the right time:

  • Weather: The weather plays a significant role in determining the enjoyment of your day trip. Assateague Island’s climate is generally mild, with warm summers and cool winters. The peak tourist season is during the summer months when the weather is ideal for beach activities and wildlife spotting. However, if you prefer a quieter experience, consider visiting in the spring or fall when the weather is still pleasant, but the crowds are thinner.
  • Wildlife Sightings: Assateague Island is renowned for its wild horses, which roam freely across the island. If you’re hoping to catch a glimpse of these majestic creatures, the best time to visit is during the early morning or late afternoon when they are most active. Additionally, migratory birds pass through the island during spring and fall, making it a prime time for birdwatching enthusiasts.
  • Events and Festivals: Assateague Island hosts various events and festivals throughout the year, offering visitors a chance to engage in unique activities and experiences. From beach cleanups to nature workshops, there is always something happening on the island. Check the park’s website or local event calendars to see if any events align with your visit.
  • Tide Levels: If you’re planning to engage in water activities such as swimming or fishing, it’s important to take into account the tide levels. High tide can limit beach space and make swimming challenging, while low tide exposes more of the shoreline, creating ideal conditions for beachcombing and shell collecting.

It’s important to note that the availability of facilities and amenities may vary depending on the time of year. During the off-peak season, some visitor centers, campgrounds, and picnic areas may have limited hours or be closed. Be sure to check the park’s website or contact the visitor center for the most up-to-date information before your visit.


Now that you have a better understanding of how to choose the right time to visit Assateague Island, let’s move on to the next section, where we’ll discuss what essentials to pack for your day trip.


Packing for Your Day Trip

When planning a day trip to Assateague Island, it’s important to pack the essentials to ensure a comfortable and enjoyable experience. Here are some items to consider including in your day trip packing list:

  • Sunscreen: Protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays by packing a high SPF sunscreen. Apply it generously and reapply throughout the day, especially if you plan on spending a lot of time on the beach.
  • Hat and Sunglasses: Shield your face and eyes from the sun by bringing a wide-brimmed hat and polarized sunglasses.
  • Water and Snacks: Staying hydrated is crucial, so pack plenty of water for your day trip. Additionally, pack some nutritious snacks to keep you energized throughout the day.
  • Beach Supplies: If you plan on spending time at the beach, bring along beach towels, beach chairs, and an umbrella for shade. Don’t forget to pack some beach toys if you’re traveling with children.
  • Bug Repellent: Mosquitoes and biting flies can be prevalent on the island, especially during summer. Pack a reliable bug repellent to ward off any unwanted bug encounters.
  • Binoculars and Camera: Assateague Island is a haven for wildlife enthusiasts and photographers. Bring a pair of binoculars to get a closer look at the birds and wild horses. Don’t forget your camera to capture the memories!
  • Comfortable Clothing and Footwear: Dress in lightweight, breathable clothing suitable for the weather. Flip flops or sandals are ideal for beach walks, while sturdy sneakers or hiking boots are recommended for exploring the trails.
  • First Aid Kit: It’s always a good idea to carry a basic first aid kit in case of any minor injuries or illnesses. Include items such as band-aids, pain relievers, antiseptic wipes, and any necessary personal medications.

Remember to pack only what you need for the day trip to keep your load light and manageable. It’s also important to follow Leave No Trace principles and take any trash or litter with you when you leave the island.


Now that you’re well-prepared with your day trip essentials, it’s time to delve into the next section, where we’ll explore the stunning beaches of Assateague Island.


Exploring Assateague Island’s Beaches

Assateague Island is renowned for its breathtaking beaches, making it a beloved destination for beachgoers and nature enthusiasts alike. Here are some of the must-visit beaches on the island:

  • Assateague State Park Beach: Located on the Maryland side of the island, Assateague State Park Beach offers over two miles of pristine shoreline. With its gentle waves and golden sand, it’s the perfect spot for swimming, sunbathing, and picnicking. Lifeguards are present during peak season, ensuring a safe swimming experience for visitors.
  • North Beach: Situated on the Virginia side of Assateague Island, North Beach is known for its tranquility and solitude. Accessible only by off-road vehicles or by hiking along the beach, it offers a peaceful escape from the crowds. Take a leisurely stroll, search for seashells, or simply relax and enjoy this secluded beach.
  • South Ocean Beach: South Ocean Beach, located on the Maryland side, is a popular spot for surfers and avid beachcombers. Its strong Atlantic waves provide excellent opportunities for surfing, while its expansive shoreline is ideal for long walks and collecting seashells.
  • Bayside Beaches: Assateague Island’s bayside offers a different beach experience, with calmer waters and picturesque views of the marshes and wetlands. These beaches are perfect for families with children, as the shallow waters are ideal for wading and beachcombing.

While enjoying the beaches, it’s important to respect the rules and guidelines set by the park service. Be mindful of any beach closures or restrictions, and always follow instructions provided by lifeguards or park rangers to ensure your safety.


Take the opportunity to embrace the natural beauty surrounding you. Enjoy a leisurely swim in the ocean, build sandcastles with the little ones, or simply relax under the warm sun. Don’t forget to keep an eye out for the iconic wild horses that often roam along the shores.


Now that you’re acquainted with Assateague Island’s stunning beaches, let’s continue our exploration with the abundance of wildlife viewing opportunities awaiting you on the island.


Wildlife Viewing Opportunities

Assateague Island is a haven for wildlife enthusiasts, offering a unique and diverse array of animal species to observe and admire. Here are some of the incredible wildlife viewing opportunities available on the island:

  • Wild Horses: The wild horses of Assateague Island are legendary. These beautiful creatures roam freely throughout the island and can often be spotted grazing in the marshes, resting under shady trees, or even strolling along the beaches. Remember to maintain a safe distance and never approach or feed them, as they are wild animals.
  • Birdwatching: Assateague Island is a paradise for birdwatchers, with over 320 species recorded on the island. From delicate shorebirds to majestic ospreys, the island attracts birds throughout the year, making it a premier birding destination. Bring your binoculars and explore the various trails and observation platforms to catch glimpses of these incredible avian inhabitants.
  • Marine Life: The waters surrounding Assateague Island teem with marine life. Keep an eye out for dolphins gracefully swimming offshore or catch a glimpse of a sea turtle popping up for air. If you’re lucky, you may even spot a seal basking on the sandbars. Remember to observe these creatures from a distance to avoid disturbing them.
  • Small Mammals and Reptiles: While exploring the trails and marshlands, you may encounter a variety of small mammals such as foxes, raccoons, and white-tailed deer. Additionally, Assateague Island is home to several snake species, such as the eastern rat snake and the northern copperhead. Exercise caution and give these creatures the space they need.

For an even more immersive wildlife experience, consider joining a guided nature walk or a wildlife tour led by experienced naturalists. They can provide valuable insights into the island’s ecology and help you spot elusive species that you may have otherwise missed.


Remember, when observing wildlife, it’s essential to respect their natural habitats and never approach or disturb them. Take only photographs and leave only footprints to ensure the continued preservation of Assateague Island’s precious wildlife.


Now that you’re prepared to witness the wonders of Assateague Island’s wildlife, let’s move on to the next section, where we’ll explore the camping and picnic areas available for visitors.


Camping and Picnic Areas

Assateague Island is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts, offering various camping and picnic areas where you can immerse yourself in nature and make lasting memories. Here are some options to consider:

  • Assateague State Park: The state park on the Maryland side of Assateague Island offers campsites equipped with facilities such as restrooms, showers, and electric hookups. Wake up to the sound of crashing waves and enjoy direct access to the beach. Reservations are recommended, especially during peak season.
  • Toms Cove Visitor Center Picnic Area: Located near the entrance of Assateague Island, the Toms Cove Visitor Center Picnic Area provides a scenic setting for a relaxing picnic. Enjoy your meal while taking in the panoramic views of the marshes and the coastal landscape. Facilities such as restrooms and picnic tables are available.
  • Bayside Picnic Areas: Along the bayside of Assateague Island, there are several designated picnic areas offering stunning views of the tranquil waters. These areas are equipped with picnic tables, grills, and restroom facilities. Enjoy a leisurely meal while taking in the serene beauty of the marshlands.
  • Backcountry Camping: For those seeking a more immersive camping experience, backcountry camping is available on Assateague Island. Obtain a permit from the ranger station and hike to one of the designated backcountry camp zones. Enjoy a night under the stars and wake up to the sounds of nature surrounding you.

It’s important to note that camping on Assateague Island is a popular activity, especially during the summer, so it’s advisable to make reservations well in advance. Additionally, be mindful of any camping regulations and pack out all trash to help maintain the pristine beauty of the island.


Whether you choose to spend the night under the stars or enjoy a peaceful picnic amidst nature, Assateague Island’s camping and picnic areas offer the perfect opportunities to create lasting memories with family and friends.


Now that you have a better understanding of the camping and picnic options available, let’s move on to the next section, where we’ll delve into the exciting hiking and biking trails of Assateague Island.


Hiking and Biking Trails

Assateague Island boasts a network of scenic trails that wind through its diverse habitats, providing ample opportunities for hiking and biking enthusiasts to explore and connect with nature. Here are some of the top trails to consider during your visit:

  • Life of the Marsh Trail: This interpretive trail, located near the Toms Cove Visitor Center, offers a leisurely stroll through the island’s marshland. Along the way, informational signs provide insight into the unique ecosystems and wildlife that call this area home.
  • Assateague Island Loop Trail: This 4.9-mile loop trail offers a moderately challenging hike, showcasing the island’s stunning coastal and maritime forest scenery. Trek through sand dunes, pine forests, and salt marshes while keeping an eye out for wildlife along the way.
  • Wildlife Loop Trail: This 3.2-mile loop trail is a must for birdwatching enthusiasts. The trail meanders through various habitats, offering excellent opportunities to observe migratory bird species as well as other wildlife.
  • Biking on Beach: Experience the thrill of biking on the hard-packed sand along Assateague Island’s beaches. This unique biking experience provides stunning ocean views and a refreshing sea breeze as you pedal along the coastline. Be sure to adhere to any biking regulations and respect pedestrian rights of way.

It’s important to note that certain trail sections may be closed or inaccessible during specific times due to nesting shorebirds or other environmental factors. Before embarking on a hike or bike ride, check with the park authorities for any trail updates or closures.


Remember to pack plenty of water, wear appropriate footwear, and bring insect repellent. Additionally, be cautious of unique natural hazards such as biting flies or soft sandy areas along the trails.


Whether you’re seeking a peaceful nature walk or an adventurous bike ride, Assateague Island’s well-maintained trails offer an immersive experience into the island’s diverse ecosystems and stunning landscapes.


Now that you’re equipped with information about the hiking and biking trails, let’s delve into the various water activities and rentals available on Assateague Island.


Water Activities and Rentals

Assateague Island provides a plethora of water activities and rentals that allow you to make the most of its coastal location. Whether you prefer a leisurely paddle in the calm bay waters or an exhilarating surf session in the Atlantic Ocean, here are some water activities to consider during your visit:

  • Kayaking and Canoeing: Explore the tranquil waters of Assateague Island’s bayside by renting a kayak or canoe. Paddle your way through the marshes, observing the diverse birdlife and peaceful surroundings. Several rental companies near the island offer kayak and canoe rentals by the hour or for full-day excursions.
  • Surfing: Assateague Island’s Atlantic Ocean shoreline provides excellent conditions for surfers of all levels. Grab your board and catch some waves in this stunning coastal setting. If you’re a beginner or don’t have your own equipment, surfboard rentals and lessons are available nearby.
  • Paddleboarding: Stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) has become increasingly popular, and Assateague Island offers a fantastic location to give it a try. Glide along the calm bay waters, enjoying the serenity and scenic views. SUP rentals are available, and some companies even offer guided tours to enhance your experience.
  • Fishing: Cast a line and try your luck at fishing in the waters surrounding Assateague Island. Whether you prefer surf fishing along the shoreline or casting from a boat in the bay, you’ll have a chance to catch a variety of fish species. Make sure to obtain the necessary fishing permit and familiarize yourself with local fishing regulations.

If you don’t have your own equipment, several rental shops near Assateague Island offer water sports equipment for daily or hourly use. From kayaks and paddleboards to surfboards and fishing gear, you’ll find everything you need to embark on your preferred water adventure.


Remember to prioritize safety while participating in water activities. Always wear a life jacket when kayaking or paddleboarding, and be cautious of changing tides and currents. Follow any posted guidelines and be mindful of other beachgoers and water enthusiasts.


Now that you’re ready to dive into the various water activities available, let’s move on to the final section, where we’ll discuss important safety guidelines to ensure a safe and enjoyable trip to Assateague Island.


Safety Guidelines

While Assateague Island offers a remarkable outdoor experience, it’s important to prioritize safety during your visit. Here are some essential safety guidelines to keep in mind:

  • Know the Beach Conditions: Before entering the water, familiarize yourself with the current beach conditions. Pay attention to any posted signs or flags indicating potential hazards such as rip currents or strong surf. If in doubt, consult a lifeguard for the most up-to-date information.
  • Stay Hydrated: The summer months can bring high temperatures and humidity. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout your visit. Avoid excessive alcohol consumption, as it can contribute to dehydration and impair judgment.
  • Be Aware of Wildlife: While the wild horses of Assateague Island are magnificent to observe, it’s crucial to maintain a safe distance and never approach or feed them. When encountering other wildlife, maintain a respectful distance and observe without disturbing their natural behavior.
  • Practice Leave No Trace: Help preserve the pristine beauty of Assateague Island by practicing Leave No Trace principles. Pack out all trash and litter, dispose of waste properly, and respect the natural environment.
  • Protect Yourself from the Sun: Assateague Island receives abundant sunshine, so it’s important to protect yourself. Wear sunscreen with a high SPF, use protective clothing, a hat, and sunglasses to shield yourself from harmful UV rays. Seek shade during the hottest parts of the day to avoid heat-related illnesses.
  • Follow Park Regulations: Familiarize yourself with the park regulations and guidelines. Adhere to any posted signs regarding beach closures, camping regulations, or activities restrictions. Respect the rules in place to ensure the safety and conservation of Assateague Island.
  • Stay on Designated Trails: When hiking or biking, stay on designated trails to prevent damage to fragile ecosystems and reduce the risk of getting lost. Veering off the trail can disrupt wildlife habitat and lead to personal safety hazards.
  • Be Mindful of Tides and Water Levels: Pay attention to tide times and water levels, especially if you plan on swimming, fishing, or engaging in other water activities. Rapidly changing tides can create dangerous conditions, so plan your activities accordingly.

By following these safety guidelines, you can ensure a safe and enjoyable visit to Assateague Island for yourself and others around you. Embrace the beauty of the island while being responsible and respectful of its natural wonders.


Now that you’re well-versed in safety guidelines, it’s time to wrap up our comprehensive guide to planning an unforgettable day trip to Assateague Island.



Assateague Island is a hidden gem on Maryland’s eastern coast, offering a captivating blend of stunning beaches, diverse wildlife, and outdoor adventures. Whether you’re seeking a day trip getaway or a longer stay, this natural paradise has something to offer for everyone.


By planning your visit to Assateague Island, considering the best time to go, packing essentials, and familiarizing yourself with the various activities and attractions available, you can ensure an unforgettable experience. From exploring the pristine beaches to marveling at wild horses and observing migratory birds, every moment on Assateague Island is an opportunity to connect with nature and create lasting memories.


Remember to prioritize safety, whether it’s staying aware of beach conditions, hydrating, or practicing Leave No Trace principles. Respect the wildlife and follow park regulations to ensure the preservation of this incredible ecosystem.


So, gather your beach gear, hiking boots, and sense of adventure, and embark on an extraordinary day trip to Assateague Island. Discover the magic of this hidden gem, immerse yourself in the beauty of its natural surroundings, and create memories that will last a lifetime.


Now, it’s time to start planning your Assateague Island day trip and make the most of this remarkable destination!