Located just south of Ocean City, Assateague Island is part of a long chain of breakwater beaches along the Delmarva coast, stretching from Delaware all the way down to Virginia. You could even argue that this bay protects the land all the way to the keys, but the point is, it is just a single island in the middle of them all. Just like all the nearby beaches, Assateague Island boast wonderful sand for the seashore levels, but most people don’t come here for that. Prime reason to be here – wildlife here is simply amazing. There is a reason why this is the only national park around the area.
Assateague Island can be hard to navigate – first, there is the bigger and more famous national seashore park. There is also a Maryland state park located on the island sandwich between the bridge to the island and the national seashore park. The state park seems to gear towards beach-goers; I didn’t not stop and could only speculate with the large number of parking lots and lack of any trails. Finally, Assateague Island continues into Virginia but the name doesn’t. The land is part of national wildlife refuge rather than national park service, and is known as Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. The north entrance gives one access to either of the Assateague Island parks while the south entrance goes to Chincoteague; these two regions are not linked by road, though you can definitely try walking across 10 miles of sand dunes.
I arrived on some weird holiday and was waived the usual $20 entrance fee for the national park. The state park charges less for it, but it sounded like the horses lived in the National park. There is a free national park visitor center at the foot of the bridge leading into Assateague Island with information about the area, cancellation center (Yeah!) and horseshoe crab. You heard me right, you can even lift it up and play with it. Pretty awesome.
There is a parallel footbridge into Assateague Island and there are many people who choose to walk over. I opted to drive straight into the national park. As I closed in on the entrance, I spotted two wild horses eating grass on the side of the road; everybody stopped their car and stare out. It is definitely a unique experience. I stopped my car by the entrance to get close to them, and they didn’t bat an eye. I think they have seen enough tourists. As a result, the walkways are full of horse manure. At least they don’t smell.
There are three trails to take in this park – Dunes nature trail, Forest nature trail and Marsh nature trail. The dunes nature trail take you into a loop in the southernmost part of the national park where you walk on the only road built on the island (and subsequently was destroyed by a hurricane, and never repaired again). There isn’t much to see, and you will have sand in your shoe at the end of the walk. Trust me on this.
The second trail is along a lake/foresty area, you will definitely spot more birds during the migrating seasons. Unfortunately, there weren’t much to see during the time I was there. Just some marshy ponds. As I was leaving the area, a horse just walk past me heading in the opposite direction – I was surprise and scoop aside and let it pass. Its friends were outside at the parking lot sniffing at old ladies and trying to find something to eat through open windows in parked cars. The horses might not been tamed, but as least they post no threats to humans. It is no wonder that the national park systems allows them and tourists to roam in the same area.
The last trail – marsh nature trail, is along some trapped lake. The lake is alive – there are actually horseshoe crabs and fishes in it. The wooden boardwalk takes you around the lake so you don’t have to get wet, and the view is gorgeous. This made me forget that I’m actually on an island along the Atlantic coast. Alas, the birds hadn’t arrive yet, so it looks more like an impressionist painting than a wildlife refuge.
The trails in Assateague islands are not as impressive as other larger national parks, but that’s because this is a national seashore. I bet that the sand is clean and water is clear here, and it is definitely the place to go rather than the nearby Ocean City or Rehoboth Beach. Wild life? That’s just icing on the dessert, and not the main course itself.
Visited: September 19, 2015
Address: 7206 National Seashore Ln, Berlin, MD 21811