Monday, November 2, 2015

A is for Assateague Island

Imagine camping on the beach, where the waves are crashing onto the shore less than a hundred yards from your campsite. Then add in an untamed and pristine wilderness where wild horses and deer roam about the island in abundance. That is Assateague Island, a long, skinny stretch of land off the coast of Maryland and Virginia, and, by far, the most unique place we've ever camped.

We camped there two separate times, at Assateague State Park in Maryland. The camping loops run all along the beach, separated from the water by a berm to prevent your camp from washing away.  Each loop has a bath house with warm showers, flush toilets, and running water for water supply or dishes.  Each site has a picnic table and fire ring, and, for those with RVs, some of the sites also have electric hookups.  If the State Park happens to be full, however, there are also other options.  The Assateague Island National Seashore, run by the National Park Service (still need to cross this site off my list -- guess I better plan another trip!), has both front-country camping with non-heated showers, running water, and vault toilets and hike-in backcountry sites with no running water and ranging from 2-12 miles away from the ranger station.  While the National Seashore covers both Maryland and Virginia, the only camping allowed is on the Maryland side.  There are also commercial campgrounds on the Virginia side on/near Chincoteague Island, home of the famed annual "pony swim".

Enjoying a memorable weekend camping on the beach doesn't come without cost, though. First and foremost, regular tent stakes will not suffice in the sand. Specialized sand stakes are required.  While many manufacturers would recommend what amounts to "oversized" stakes, like the JOGR Snow and Sand Tent Stake, I'm not confident in their holding power in a wind of any magnitude.  Instead, I recommend a much more robust stake like the Sand Hog.  These can also be manufactured very easily if you know a good welder.  Another option are the parachute/deadman style, but these take some practice and a fair amount of work, and I'm generally too lazy.

Sand Hog-like Sand Stake
Another major thing to beware at Assateague Island are the insects.  Fortunately, on the beach and at your campsite, the bugs aren't too bad, but I still recommend a screen house for eating.  And if you venture off onto one of the trails, you'll need insect repellent at a minimum, if not long sleeves and pants.
If you're a neat freak like me, you'll find maintaining a sand-free tent a challenge as well.  Therefore, I recommend instituting a policy of taking shoes off immediately inside the tent and just recognizing that you'll have some significant sweeping to do at the end of your trip.

Okay, by this point, I know you're wondering about those wild horses:  Can you see them?  Are there many of them?  Are they dangerous?  etc.  The answer is, yes, they are very abundant.  You can't help but to see them.  They are literally everywhere.  It is an awesome sight, seeing wild horses in a natural -- and so beautiful -- habitat.

But they also own the island.  And they know it.  Our first trip, we were warned to keep our food in our car because the horses would take it.  We were also told that the horses could be aggressive (they are wild after all!) so we needed to keep our distance.  Our first day after finishing a hike and coming back to our car, a horse was standing right beside our car, preventing us from getting in.  I tried to yell at him and shoo him away, but he was having none of it.  In the end, we had simply to wait until he decided to move.

Later, while getting the food out of the car, a horse approached the back and literally just pushed himself into the trunk area to get what he wanted (while I quickly moved out of his way).  He found an unopened bag of potato chips, grabbed it in his mouth, broke it open, and proceeded to eat the entire bag of chips that fell on the ground.  After he was done, he casually walked away, and a flock of about 50 seagulls converged on the crumbs as quickly as if the dinner bell had been rung at summer camp.  By the time the seagulls were done, you couldn't tell there had ever been a bag of chips.  Unfortunately, I don't have a picture because the camera was in the car (and we were in such shock as to what was actually happening).

Horses aren't the only wildlife on the island, though.  There are plenty of deer, and they're not scared either.  One morning, we were getting ready for breakfast, and Brennan was sitting in a chair just hanging out.  All of a sudden, a deer walked up to him and began licking his toes!  I told him to be still and not scare it away, and the deer just stayed there for a couple of minutes with all of us hanging out in camp.  Clearly these animals are used to people and, probably more correctly, used to getting fed by people (not by us, though).

If you like to visit pristine wilderness with a strong chance of seeing wildlife, then this place has it all!  Camping on the beach is also a unique opportunity that you don't find very many places.  A camping trip to Assateague Island is sure to generate some memories for you.  Have you been?  I'd love to hear about your experiences.  Or, if you have a question, leave it below, and I'll try to answer it.

Blogging Through the Alphabet” style=


  1. Assateague is on my bucket list, but maybe just for a visit. I totally agree about the bug repellent! When I was Girl Scout camp counselor (in a previous pre-kids life), we had a unit that went there. They came back looking like they had measles from all of the bites! I was sorry I had been assigned to another unit and stayed back, but I was not one bit envious of all the itching!

    I'm glad you joined up with Blogging Through the Alphabet. I can't wait to see what other adventures you share!

  2. It looks lovely...I would love to take my kids there one day!

  3. Now that would be an amazing camping trip!

  4. This has been on my Places to Visit list since I read Misty of Chincoteague when I was a kid. LOL And definitely since I've lived in Maryland - which is almost 20 years now, but we still haven't done it. Someday!! Great post with some valuable tips - thanks for sharing!

  5. Wow - I would love to visit there someday. My girls would love this!

  6. Awesome! What a fun adventure!
    Blessings, Dawn