An Atlantic barrier island split between Maryland and Virginia, Assateague Island is a small strip of land with a lot to offer. The island, while 37 miles long, is never a mile wide, making it particularly vulnerable to ocean storms and hurricanes.
Because it has been deemed too unstable, it remains the largest barrier island without human development. With a lack of humans, you get an abundance of wildlife. The island is home to a variety of marsh and coastal birds, providing great birding opportunities for the Audobon. Yet, it’s the horses that steal the spotlight.
The island is home to two feral horse herds, one in Virginia and the other in Maryland. To see the horses, one must either enter the Assateague Island National Seashore or the Assateague State Park. Legend has it that the horses come from horses that once survived a shipwreck in the early days. The National Park Service’s website clarifies that the horses most likely descend from domestic horses that lived on the island during the 1800s. Not as exciting, right? Let’s stick to the shipwreck story. Somehow, these horses survive the harsh climate of the barrier island. Their bellies are bloated, and their legs are shorter due to their salty diet. The herds wander the island, feeding among the seashore grasses or walking along the water.
While seeing them does feel like a magical experience, enjoy it at a distance. The parks prohibit visitors from getting closer than 40 feet because, as wild animals, they can attack humans when feeling threatened. They say that people get kicked, bitten every year, and even stepped on by the horses because they were too close. Oblivious drivers have also struck and killed horses, so still, be aware even when in your car and abide by the slower speed limits.
Cautions aside, witnessing these majestic animals is a unique experience you won’t forget. Don’t expect to go looking for them as they openly wander the small island and are easy to point out.
Bonus tip- visit the island during sunset for a truly colorful and surreal experience.
Some campgrounds near Assateague Island are:
Frontier Town in Berlin, MD, is only eight miles away from the National Seashore entrance. Frontier Town offers primitive camping, vacation rentals, and different RV sites. The park also has a waterpark, miniature golf course, Western theme park, high ropes adventure park, restaurant, bar, and marina for fishing and kayaking.
Also located in Berlin, MD, Castaways is another option close to Assateague Island. The resort offers tent sites with water and electric, RV sites, marina RV sites, and cottage rentals. The park is a great location for pet-lovers with their very own dog beach. Play along with the theme and visit the resort’s Tiki bar! I mean, what’s not to love?
About 20 miles away in Whaleyville, MD, Fort Whaley RV Resort & Campground is another resort where you can choose to stay. They offer a few different cabin rentals, RV sites, and primitive tent sites. The park also has a miniature golf course, laser tag, playgrounds, and a fishing lake, making it an excellent option for a family looking for different activities. Fort Whaley has a dog park, so your furry friends are welcome too.
You can visit Assateague Island year-round but the most popular time to visit in the summer. To avoid crowds, consider visiting during the late fall. While it might not be warm enough to take a dip in the ocean, seeing the island’s natural state is worth adding another layer or two.