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Visit Assateague Island Virginia

Wild Ponies on Assateague Island national Seashore

Visit Assateague Island Virginia and experience the Assateague Island National Seashore and the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. Together there are over 14,000 acres on unspoiled beachfront, marsh, dunes and maritime forest. The island has over 300 species of birds depending on the time of year as well as Chincoteague Ponies.

This is an amazing place, the beach goes on forever and is clean and beautiful.  If you love nature and quiet beauty this is a place for you to visit.

Please note: This article is about The Virginia side of Assesstague Island National Seashore. As you cannot go from the Virginia side to the Maryland side unless you have an OSV permit and vehicle and you can only do this certain times of the year or drive around (50 miles) to get to the Maryland side.

See the Wild Ponies

Assateague Island Chincoteague Ponies
Assateague Island Chincoteague Ponies

This was the highlight of our trip when we visited Chincoteague, although we were happy to experience the island.  It was very easy to see the ponies as they were all over Assateague Island and the Wildlife Refuge. 

The ponies are actually owned by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department and are allowed to live on Assateague Island by a special permit from the US Fish & Wildlife Service.  This differs from the ponies on the Maryland side of Assateague Island National Seashore, as they are “owned” by the National Parks Service.

Bike Ride the Wildlife Loop

If you love bicycle riding the wildlife loop is right for you although you can also walk if you prefer.  It’s 3.2 miles on a paved path with many areas and benches to stop along the way.  We were able to see ponies in the distance and many different birds along our ride.  

 This trail is closed to cars every day until 3 pm making it great for families.  From the loop, there are 3 other trails you can access.  The Marsh Trail is .5 miles and is for walking only.  There is a place to leave your bikes so you can enjoy the trail.  The other two trails, Swan Cove Trail (.5 miles) and Black Duck Trail (1 mile) are walking/biking trails.  We did plan on taking both these trails however a thunderstorm got in our way.

Climb to the top of the Assateague Lighthouse

Assateague Island Lighthouse
Assateague Island Lighthouse

From April to November you can climb to the top of the Assateague Lighthouse.  This lighthouse was fun and easy to climb as the spiral staircase was the same width all the way to the top with a “resting” platform with windows every 50 steps.  It’s a total of 175 steps to the top which offers stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Assateague channel on the other.

When opened, the hours are 9 am to 3 pm and closed for Lighthouse Keeper shift change from noon to 12:30. The lighthouse welcomes visitors Saturday and Sunday in April through June, daily in July and August and Friday to Sunday from September to November. Admission to the lighthouse is free but donations are welcomed.

Hike the numerous trails

There are numerous level hiking trails throughout Assateague Island.  Most of them are short hikes so you will be able to do several in a day and most can be hiking or biking trails. The Wildlife loop is the longest at 3.2 miles.  There are several trails off the loop, the Swan Cove Trail .5 miles which go to the beach, the Black Duck Trail (1 mile long) and the Marsh Trail (walking only at .5 miles).

The Woodland Trail goes through woods and is a 1.6-mile loop easy hike. The Bivalve Trail (.25 miles) is off the Woodland Trail loop and is a short pleasant walk to the beach. There is also a short trail (.25 miles) to the lighthouse which is across from the Herbert H. Bateman Visitor’s Center.

All of the hiking/biking trails can be enjoyed by all since they are flat and most of them are paved.

Go to the Beach

The beaches are beautiful as it’s the Atlantic Ocean and has been preserved by the National Park Service.  The whole area remains in its natural state even the parking areas which are covered with clamshells instead of asphalt.  We visited offseason in April and it was still too cold for the beach but drove around to take in the beauty of the ocean.

During summer months these beaches are crowded with swimming and sunbathers.  Surf fishing is a pass time for many to enjoy. Don’t forget to keep an eye out for dolphins during the summer as well as moles and horseshoe crabs.

Take the Refuge Trek Bus Tour

Some of the many Assateague Island Birds
Some of the many Assateague Island Birds

This 1 ½ -2-hour bus ride takes you to the north end of the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. Tour starts at the Bateman Center/Refuge Visitors Center.  Tour is available on weekends during spring and fall and daily (except Wednesday) during the summer.  The cost is $15 per person which I thought was well worth the experience.  National Park (senior) pass is not accepted for this tour.

The bus ride was enjoyable and educational as the tour guide told us all about the island and the animals.  He explained that the ponies, although they are wild, are taken care of by the “saltwater cowboys” of the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department.  They check on them several times during the year and give them healthcare and food when needed.

On our tour, we were able to see numerous ponies and the bus made a stop so we could get off and take close up pictures of the ponies.  I was glad to see that the ponies remain wild and do not come up to people to be fed. We also saw many different species of birds and even a deer.

Visit to (2) Welcome Centers

There are two visitors center on the Virginia side of Assateague Island National Seashore, the Herbert H. Bateman Center and the Tom’s Cove Visitors Center. Both centers are opened year round but check hours of operation and they change seasonally.

The Herbert B. Bateman Center is the larger of the visitor’s centers offering educational and administrative services.  The center has numerous bird exhibits including an eagle cam on one of the three eagle nests on the island. The staff is informative and very friendly willing to answer all your questions.

Tom’s Cove Visitors Center has numerous beach exhibits and marine aquarium education with a touch tank. During summer months they offer seashore guided ranger programs and park activities. 

If you have a passport book to the National Parks both visitor centers have stamps for your books and stickers are available for purchase.  Each center offers a different stamp so make sure to stop by both.

For more information on Assateague Island visit the National parks website at https://www.nps.gov/asis/index.htm

Assateague Island National Seashore Lighthouse

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10 thoughts on “Visit Assateague Island Virginia”

  1. Beautiful photos! We were in Virginia last fall and the one place we didn’t get to visit (that I really wanted to) was Assateague. We’ll make it next time – thanks for the great info!

    1. You can rent bikes in town (Chincoteague) and then you can ride over the bridge (small) to the beach area and the bike path. It’s flat and a nice ride that anyone (including kids) can do it. It is a beautiful place and great to see the ponies while riding your bike.

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