Like clockwork, after every Maryland frigid winter and mucky spring, a summer getaway seems imperative.
For those in search of a trip that is nearby, relaxing and most of all affordable, Assateague Island is the perfect destination. With its tall, dancing sea grasses, salty ocean air, never-ending shoreline and trails that reinvent themselves with every turn, one can’t help but be invigorated by Assateague Island’s splendor. Simply put, if Maryland is “America in Miniature,” then Assateague Island is the equivalent of the Carolina Coast.
The Island is made up of Assateague State Park and neighboring Assateague Island National Seashore Park. It is a 37-mile-long barrier island that lies off the coast of Maryland and Virginia. The beaches look virtually untouched, the parks are immaculate and the island’s charm is immediately multiplied by the wild ponies roaming freely. Not only is Assateague Island beautiful, but there is also plenty to do.
Assateague State Park is Maryland’s only oceanfront park. It boasts two miles of Atlantic Ocean beaches on one side and Sinepuxent Bay on the other. The region serves as the perfect summer retreat. The ocean side of the park offers swimming, beachcombing, sunbathing, surfing and fishing, while the bay side provides visitors the opportunity to explore secluded coves by canoe or kayak. The marsh areas offer the chance to see a variety of wildlife, including deer, waterfowl and of course, wild ponies.
The beginning of your journey onto the island is marked by a bridge that seemingly ascends into the limitless skyline, where the sparkling ocean is all that can be seen for miles. This serves as an enticing gateway, evoking excitement for what lies ahead.
Once on the island, the options are plentiful. You can bee-line to the beach, head to the restaurant for a snack or begin exploring. Whether you want to relax with a book on the bay or hit the trails, Assateague has something to fit your family’s desires and interests. The park offers a variety of activities that can be made into a day, a weekend or even a week-long getaway.
Most likely, the toughest decision you’ll have to make is whether you want to head straight for the beach, or explore plants and creatures hidden within the maritime forests, salt marshes and coastal bay. The serene bay serves as the perfect setting for a rest during a hike or bike ride.
Assateague State Park has the only beach camping area in Maryland. There are 350 camp sites where you can get settled and experience Assateague under the night sky with the ocean’s waves as a soundtrack. Backcountry camping is also available if you wish to backpack or paddle around the island. The campsites are clean with each offering a fire ring, picnic table and hot water bathhouse facilities.
I’d rather be fishing
When it comes to sport fishing, Assateague is known for some of the best inshore and surf fishing opportunities along the Atlantic Coast. You can fish for flounder along the inlets and back bay or surf fish for striped bass, red drum and other species from the beach.
Surf fishing on the beach is permitted at the State Park outside of the lifeguarded areas. Bay fishing is allowed at the marina piers and from boats in designated areas of the bay. Clamming is allowed at the State Park and at the National Park on different parts of the bay side.
What else to do
Fun events for kids and adults are held throughout the summer at the State Park. Take your family to participate in a fishing derby, attend an arts and crafts workshop or see a movie under the stars. The most exciting encounter will probably be with one of the island’s wild ponies (or a herd!). “You may need to hike around the island to include the National Park which adjoins the State Park, but the ponies can be seen all the time,” says Assateague State Park Manager Mike Riley. “However use caution and remember they’re wild animals and you must respect that.”
Assateague State Park also offers a wide variety of interpretive programs for visitors of all ages. Be sure to visit the Nature Center and explore this year’s displays and exhibits. If you want an upclose look at the island’s aquaculture, the aquarium features critters such as horseshoe crabs, whelks and seahorses. You can also peek in on the corn snake and screech owl. There is something for everyone at the Nature Center.
To ensure you and your family have a worry free trip, remember that “Assateague State Park is on a barrier island with little natural cover to provide shade from the sun so remember to bring sunscreen,” says Riley. “The Island is also home to many bugs so bring repellant for a much more enjoyable visit.”
In addition, be aware of the day’s forecast and have a plan of action in case it changes. “Keep in mind the everchanging weather patterns in and near the ocean and bay, and be prepared to seek cover if you see or are advised of an approaching storm,” says Riley.
Be sure to bring some cash for parking and snacks. If you want to fish the surf in the Day-Use/Beach area, the standard parking charges apply: in-season, $3 per person for Maryland residents, $4 per person for non-residents. There are also fees associated with neighboring Assateague Island National Seashore Park.
Expand your adventure
While there, take advantage of the other local attractions nearby. Ocean City, with its delicious Maryland seafood and exciting nightlife, is approximately nine miles north of Assateague State Park.
There are also plenty of great shopping areas including an outlet mall and the popular three-mile boardwalk along the beach. Less than eight miles away is the historic town of Berlin, which boasts quaint shops, art galleries, a historic hotel and locally owned restaurants.
For more information call Assateague State Park headquarters at 410-641-2918 or visit dnr.maryland.gov/publiclands/ eastern/assateague.asp