This post was originally published on June 27, 2020. It has been updated for comprehensiveness and accuracy.
Assateague Island camping is an experience truly unlike any other. 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.
Assateague Island Camping at a Glance
Address: 7206 National Seashore Lane Berlin, MD 21811
Hours and Operations: Seasonal opening information
Fees and Passes: Assateague Island National Seashore Weekly Vehicle Pass ($25); Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge Weekly Vehicle Pass ($25); Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge Daily Vehicle Pass ($10)
Assateague Island Camping: Be sure to get a reservation if you’d like to camp on the island as they are required from March 15 to November 15. According to the National Park Service, reservations for weekends are typically filled the first day they become available, and reservations are made available six-months in advance. Sites are $30 per night.
Campgrounds Near Assateague Island
Camping in the park itself can be difficult to arrange, and many of the available campgrounds only offer tent sites. For a relaxed and comfortable camping experience that you can plan with more flexibility, here is a list of campgrounds in close proximity that will allow for Assateague Island exploring and adventure without having to plan six months ahead of time!
Sun Outdoors 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, Sun Outdoors Ocean City 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. Be sure to visit the resort’s Tiki bar and order a frozen drink! I mean, what’s not to love?
About 20 miles away in Whaleyville, MD, Sun Outdoors Ocean City Gateway 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. They also have a dog park, so your furry friends are welcome too. Conveniently there is also a free beach shuttle offered during peak season.
A 2022 Campspot Award-winning campground, while Sun Outdoors Rehoboth Bay is not ultra-close to Assateague Island, it’s a great spot to consider because of it’s proximity to several key locations including: Rehoboth Beach, Fenwick Island, Ocean City, and Assateague Island. If you’re looking to explore the larger surrounding area, this luxury RV resort and waterfront campground is at your service.
For those looking to explore both Assateague Island and Chincoteague, Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park™ Camp-Resort: Chincoteague Island is a great campground to consider as it can act as a great home-base for both locations. With plenty of family-friendly amenities, and a wide range of accommodation types (everything from deluxe cabins to safari tents!) this campground is a must-visit for Assateague Island camping adventures.
Another great location for anyone looking to experience both Chincoteague and Assateague, Sun Outdoors Chincoteague Bay offers plenty of availability with 217 premium sites with full hook-up RV sites, cottages, and even luxury tents! Guests can enjoy the convenient location, family-friendly activities, and even unique fire experiences.
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.
Kendra Clapp Olguín is a traveler, writer, content creator, and one-half of one y one, a creative agency whose studio is the great outdoors. This post was originally published on June 27, 2020. It has been updated for comprehensiveness and accuracy.
Photo credit: Tyler Way, Sun Outdoors Frontier Town, Sun Outdoors Ocean City, Sun Outdoors Ocean City Gateway, Sun Outdoors Rehoboth Bay, Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park™ Camp-Resort: Chincoteague Island, Sun Outdoors Chincoteague Bay