As summer approaches and the future of international (and even cross-state) travel remains uncertain, US travelers are itching to go somewhere, ANYWHERE where they can experience adventure. Now that National Parks are opening up, why not consider camping with wild horses on Assateague Island?
Yes, you read that right: you can camp with wild horses! A tiny strip of land that runs along the coast of Maryland and Virginia, Assateague Island is a unique destination that is easily drivable from the Baltimore/DC area, and an accessible summer road trip destination for most East Coasters.
**Please visit HERE for most recent updates involving park health and safety updates and regulations including openings and closures. **
Why Assateague Island?
Assateague Island is a haven for natural beauty. If your experience or impression of middle Atlantic beaches involve commercialized boardwalks, amusement parks, and overcrowded beaches, get ready for a breath of fresh air.
I have to admit, I haven’t had much experience camping but this place really blew me away! Sleeping in a tent over sand is much more comfortable than the hard ground, as the sound of the waves at night was so relaxing.
Assateague State Park vs Assateague National Seashore
Assateague Island is home to Assateague State Park AND Assateague National Seashore. All camping is on the Maryland side of the Island. Camping is allowed in both areas but there are slight differences in pricing, amenities, and rules:
Assateague State Park
- More crowded together campsites (less private)
- Better amenities: Hot showers & Flushing Toilets
- Electric campsites available
- Bayside campsites only
- NO Drinking Alcohol
- Pets Allowed on Certain Campsites
- Prices are $28 per site, $38 per electric site/per night
Assateague National Seashore
- Campsites are more spaced out and private
- More primitive amenities (non-flushing toilets and cold water showers)
- No electric campsites
- Oceanside campsites available (less buggy and right on the beach)
- Drinking alcohol allowed
- Pets Allowed, must be leashed
- Prices are $30 per sight/per night
For all the rules and regulations as well as health and safety updates for each park, check out the links above.
When to Visit Assateague
The park is open year-round, but the best and most popular time to go camping on Assateague Island is summer, to utilize the beautiful beach. This also means that it’s the most crowded time and campsites book up well in advance. You will definitely have to plan ahead if you want to make sure you have a campsite reserved, especially if you want to camp on a weekend.
Luckily, sites can be reserved up to 6 months in advance! You can check availability and make your reservations HERE. While summer is the most popular time, early fall can also be nice with cooler temperatures and fewer crowds.
Getting to Assateague Island
Assateague Seashore is a great road trip destination from many spots on the East Coast! Of course the driving times below are approximate and don’t account for stops or traffic.
- Baltimore: 2hrs 45min
- Washington, DC: 2hrs 45min
- Philadelphia: 2hrs 30min
- NYC Area: 4hrs
The biggest obstacle for travelers from Baltimore, DC, or other parts of Maryland (minus the Eastern Shore) is the Bay Bridge, which often has large traffic backups, especially on the weekends. Consider going during a weekday if possible if you want to try and avoid this.
Closest Airports: BWI, IAD, DCA, PHL or SBY (Salisbury)
What to Do Around Assateague
The main appeal of camping on Assateague Island is to relax, unwind, and enjoy the natural scenery and wildlife. After you arrive and set up your campsite, definitely take advantage of the beach (if it’s early enough in the day), and enjoy the sunset over the marshy bayside if you can. Build a campfire, fire up the grill, and enjoy the food you brought with you, or as an alternative, you can drive 5-10 minutes offsite to the Assateague All You Can Eat Crab House.
Besides the obvious of enjoying your campsite and the beach, there are also hiking trails you can take advantage of!
Wildlife at Assateague
In addition to the famed wild horses, Assateague is home to a multitude of species to observe. Deer, frogs, toads, several species of crabs and snails, shorebirds, and waterfowl all inhabit the island. Assateague’s waters and marshes are also home to many species of fish as well as the popular Maryland Blue Crab.
IMPORTANT NOTES ABOUT THE WILD HORSES AT ASSATEAGUE
The horses you will see on Assateague Island are feral and have been inhabiting the island since the 1600s. All in all, there are about 300 wild horses that live on Assateague Island. There are a few legends about how the horses ended up calling Assateague their home, the most popular one being that they came ashore when a Spanish Cargo Ship sank. Another theory is that these horses are the descendants of the horses of early settlers that were allowed to run freely.
Please note that the horses are wild, so trying to feed or pet them is a huge no-no. They can and will bite and kick and could potentially carry disease. The Park Service regulations advise staying at least 40 feet away when viewing the horses. Personally, we didn’t see any horses on our campsite, we saw them closer to the other beach we visited that was open to daily visitors. They are beautiful and not scary (in case the above worried you a bit) if you maintain your distance and quietly observe.
There are also many signs throughout the campsite advising you to keep all your food in locked containers or in your car, as the horses will try to take it. They also advise to not give the horses any water. They have learned to adapt and thrive in their salty/marshy environment and have their own water sources. Humans feeding them could actually deter them from finding and protecting their own sources.
What to Bring to go Camping on Assateague Island
- Bug Repellant
- Now, most resources on Assateague and word of mouth information will advise you that the mosquitos on Assateague Island are BRUTAL. Personally, we did not have a big problem with them, and I think it’s because we got a beach/shoreside campsite in the National Park. It makes sense that the bugs would be more prevalent in the marshy bayside, so keep that in mind when making your reservations. It’s possible that we just got lucky. Regardless, make sure you bring good quality, strong bug repellant to ward off the pesky mosquitos and horseflies, should they be a bother.
- Prepare for it to get chilly at night, even if it’s hot during the day. Long layers will also help protect against bug bites during dusk, especially if you are planning on walking the trails.
- Firewood/Starter Fluid for Campfires and Grills
- Due to park regulations, all firewood must be purchased in the state of Maryland. You will see people selling firewood from their homes as you approach the park. There is a convenience store right before the entrance to the park to buy any camping supplies you may have forgotten.
- Food/Water for the Duration of your Visit
- There is limited availability to purchase food and water in the park, so it’s advisable to bring as much with you as you want. Make sure you are able to secure and lock your food, and wildlife will invade if it’s left unattended.
- Portable Phone Charger
- This is particular to camping in the National Park (no electric sites) or a non-electric site in the State Park. Service isn’t great but you will most likely want to take pictures of your experience and don’t want to run out of charge!
Ready to Go?
Whether you’re going as a couple, with friends or as a family, camping on Assateague Island is a truly unique experience for everyone. It is easily accessible from the East Coast by car and will provide lasting memories.
Don’t forget to PIN this post to help you with planning your trip!