Wild Horses at Assateague Island National Seashore

assateague horses

Lions, tigers and horses oh my! Have you ever dreamt of camping with wild horses? What about having the chance of seeing hundreds of them swim in the Atlantic ocean? We’re not kidding, it’s a real life experience and we’re here to share all about it with you!

Maryland Assateague Island sign

Did we actually see hundreds of ponies swimming in the ocean? No, but we did see quite a few of them and Assateague Island National Seashore is a gem when it comes to sandy East coast beaches.

Wild horses are out there, but finding a place to camp next to the horses is a completely different story. There’s not many places like Assateague out Island out there and you don’t want to miss it!Here’s the low down on everything you need to know about Assateague Island National Seashore for your next trip out to experience the wild ponies.


History

These “wild” horses were actually domesticated at some point and have changed back into their original wild states. There are two herds, one on the Maryland side which is managed by the National Park Service and one on the Virginia side which is managed by a volunteer fire department. The two herds are seperated by a fence and are limited to 150 adult horses at a time.

assateague horses

If you find yourself on the Virginia side in the last week of July be sure to checkout the annual Pony Penning event which has taken place for nearly 100 years. The event takes place over several days and involves Chincoteague’s saltwater cowboys herding of the horses to Chincoteague Island, before releasing them back into the wild as they swim their way bay to Assateague Island.


Assateague was once connected to Fenwick Island which was a popular destination before being split in two by a storm in 1933. Prior to the storm there were only a few establishments throughout the area which were mainly made up of men who operated the United States Life Saving Service.

boathouse at assateague national seashore
Boathouse for the U.S. Lifesaving Service

The United States Life Saving Service helped with shipwrecks and over a span of over forty years (1875-1915) was responsible for saving hundreds of distressed sailors out at sea. They would eventually combine with the Revenue Cutter Service to form the United States Coastal Guard.


In 1950 talk had began to start building a Resort like town called Ocean Beach that would stretch 15 miles along what is now Assateague Island. Lots were being sold for homes and businesses until another storm in 1962 struck down destroying existing roads and structures. They would decide to stop the building of Ocean Beach.

Ocean Sunrise

Finally in 1965 the federal government purchased the land and would name it Assateauge Island National Seashore. There is also a two mile stretch on the Maryland side which is Assateague’s State Park.


What you need to know

Assateague Island National Seashore is ran by the National Park Service which means most rates, camping and admission, are similar to other National Parks. If you plan on visiting at least three National Parks per year, make sure to purchase a National Park Pass. It will pay off big time for you and gets you into any National Park area for free.

wild horses

Cost

Admission into the park is $25 without a National Park Pass and free with the pass. Camping prices for both walk-in and drive-in sites are $30 a night and group camping sites are $50 a night.

If you are a senior citizen you get 50% off of camping fees and can get into any park for free with the purchase of a lifetime National Park pass for $80.

Camping

Assateague Island National Seashore has several different areas for camping. Walk-in sites, drive-in sites, and even horse camping sites are available. March 15th to November 15th reservations are required, but the rest of the year the campgrounds operate on a first come first serve basis.

Oceanside campground has both walk-in and drive-in spots, while the Bayside campground only offers drive-in. There is no electrical or water hookups so plan ahead!

If you want to be close to the ocean make sure to book your site on the Oceanside! We were in spot #38 which apparently is one of the better sites in the park ;). Like any other National Park they are always busy so reserve your spot ahead of time. Weekdays are typically the easiest way to book a spot if you have the flexibility.

While there are no water hookups, each campground area offers a fresh water spigot, cold showers, and two porter potties. The porter potties were yurt style with lots of space and were well kept.

Bathrooms at Assateague Island
Showers, fresh water, and porter potties

There is a free RV dump station right across from the Oceanside campground if you need to empty your tanks. Garbage and recycling disposal are also available.

RV Dump Assateague National Seashore
RV Dump Station

If you love to collect stickers, the National Park has a booklet to track all of the parks you go to! The Passport book is our favorite way to look back on all of our adventures. Assateague National Seashore was our first sticker on the East Coast!


Things to do

If you like walking, biking or kayaking, there is plenty to do! Besides having an incredible sandy beach to spend your days, the park offers miles of bike paths, several short hiking trails, and plenty of water to kayak!

Assateague Trails
Life of the Dunes Nature Trail

Kayak and bike rentals can be found at Assateague Outfitters Bayside Stand near the Bayside campground. Make sure to check their schedule so you can plan accordingly.

Other Information

As with anything else, make sure to follow the rules. The horses at Assateague Island have been around for hundreds of years and we need to protect both them and the National Seashore.

Some rules to follow for your trip to the seashore:

  1. Dogs must ALWAYS be on leash.
  2. Stay atleast 40 feet away from the horses.
  3. Stay off the Sand Dunes.
  4. Use designated areas for your fires.

These are simple rules, but you would be surprised by how many people don’t follow them. We have to take care of all the good things we have left!


If you found this blog helpful and informative make sure to put your email in below so you can stay in the loop and up to date on our road trips! For all of our adventures in real time follow along on all platforms @theggoldenroad

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