To me, summer always means beach time! And Assateague Island is probably my favorite beach near Washington DC in Maryland.
Why do I love it so much? Because there’s no boardwalk and it’s super wide beach with plenty of space to spread out. And did I mention there are wild ponies that roam the beach? Yes, wild ponies!
Where is Assateague Island
Assateague Island is on the eastern shore of Maryland and Virginia and about a 3-hour drive from Washington DC. It’s part of the Maryland State Park as well as the National Park System and Virginia, which makes the jurisdiction kind of confusing. The Virginia side is called Chincoteague, the Maryland side is called Assateague State Park, and the NPS portion is called Assateague National Seashore.
From Maryland, you can access both Assateague State Park and Assateague National Seashore.
To access the Maryland portion you take the second right after crossing Verrazano Bridge, to get onto Campground Rd. This road runs through the Maryland section. For the Assateague National Seashore (NPS) take the first right after the bridge and drive down Steven Decature Memorial Road.
Traffic Going to Assateague Island
I’ve driven to Assateague several times over the years and it’s best to leave early! I would say leave by 7am at the latest. We left around 8:30 am this last trip and did I regret it! We hit traffic on both the Bay Bridge, the Verrazano Bridge (this is the bridge that takes you into the park), as well as inside the park.
We hit traffic inside the park for 2 reasons. First, you have to pay the $20 fee so that slowed things down. Second, wild ponies roam here, and sometimes (most of the time) they get in the middle of the road and won’t leave.
Another reason to leave early is for parking. Parking fills up quickly so getting here early is ideal.
Fees to Access Assateague Island
How much does it cost to go to Assateague Island? For both the Maryland State Park and the NPS part of Assateague Island you will pay a $20 per vehicle fee. It’s free to enter for those on foot or bike.
Parking at Assateague Island
Parking tends to fill up quickly on both the Maryland and NPS beaches so I would get there early. When we arrived at 11 am on Saturday the Maryland parking was full and the rangers directed us to the NPS side of the island. There is no additional parking charge after you pay the entrance fee.
Assateague National Seashore, the NPS portion, has 2 day-use parking lots and both were full when we went, so we ended up parking on the street.
What to Bring to Assateague Island
Assateague is a state and national park so there are no stores to buy food or water. I would bring everything you need for the day including paper towels and trash bags. Here’s what we packed for a day with our kid:
Beach Tent – Check Prices
Cold Water Bottles – Check Prices
Cooler Bag – Check Prices
Ice Packs – Check Prices
Hand Sanitizer – Check Prices
We have 3 of the insulated water bottles, one that’s 32 ounces and two 24 ounce ones. We went through them all during our trip. You can also bring plastic water bottles but we prefer reusable bottles that keep the water cold.
Remember to take all of your trash with you and help keep our national and state parks clean.
The beach at Assateague is nice and wide! Perfect for social distancing. Typical of Atlantic water it can be cold and super wavey depending on the day. It’s probably not the best for swimming for toddlers and young children, but the can splash around the waves. My daughter had a great time just splashing near the shore even though she was scared at first.
Bathrooms and Showers at Assateague
The best part of Assateague Island is the fact that it has both toilets AND SHOWERS. Normally beaches like Ocean City, Rehoboth, Dewey, etc, do not have showers or public restrooms. But because Assateague is a State and National Park with no restaurants or boardwalk, the park system provides bathrooms and showers. I’d say these amenities are worth the $20 fee.
The bathrooms and showers near the day-use parking lot get quite busy and there was a line to use them when we went.
But if you go to one of the bathrooms or showers in the beach camping area there are no lines! I didn’t see one person using them when I was there.
Social Distancing on Assateague Island
Because there are no restaurants, bars, shops, or boardwalks on Assateague, social distancing is pretty easy. On the beach, there was plenty of space or everyone to be at least 6 feet apart. Even in the water, it wasn’t hard to stay apart.
Most people did not wear masks on the beach, including us, but that’s because we were not near each other. The only “crowds” we saw were those waiting to use the bathroom or shower. But even then most tried to stay apart in line for the bathroom. I would say bring your mask just in case you need to wait in line for the bathroom
Wild Horses on Assateague Island
Yes there are wild horses on Assateague Island. They are wild so don’t feed them or get too close. Though we didn’t encounter any on the beach this trip, only on the road, I have in the past. I’ve seen them steal food right from coolers!
So my advice is to enjoy viewing them from afar if you can.
Because there are wild ponies here, there are also horseflies. These flies actually sting!! I’m not sure if insect repellent works on them but it actually hurts if they sting so be on the lookout.
For more fun things to do in Maryland this summer pick your own berries at Butler’s Orchard, visit McKee Beshers for sunflowers, or go for a boat ride at Seneca Creek State Park. Or for places to swim check out Greenbrier State Park for lake swimming, this secret swimming hole in Poolesville, or Delaware Seashore State Park for a nearly empty beach!