Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge
Lonely Planet review for Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge
Assateague Island, a beautiful 37-mile-long island off the eastern shore of Maryland, preserves a rare stretch of undeveloped seashore, one of the most pristine and picture-perfect spots on the mid-Atlantic coast. As an undeveloped barrier island, it provides a sharp contrast to the overdeveloped beach resorts that dominate the coast. Besides its natural appeal, the island is home to a legendary herd of wild ponies, whose dramatic silhouettes race across the dunes. The National Park Service manages most of the protected national seashore; the southern end of the island is Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. A bridge accesses the northern portion of the island, but roads do not go further. To drive from the northern end near Ocean City to the southern end at Chincoteague requires a circuitous inland detour. The island is a sanctuary where you can get away from the crowds of Ocean City and swim, cycle, hike, fish, canoe, kayak or camp, with nothing but the sound of the surf and the whir of the wind as your companions. Drive south on Rte 611 from Ocean City Dr to visit the Barrier Island Visitors Center (410-641-1441; Rte 11; 9am-5pm), near Verrazzano Bridge. Flat, paved pathways along the island are ideal for cycling; the protected marshland shores make for adventurous canoeing; and conditions are ideal for swimming, hiking and watching birds. Rent bikes and boats from Coastal Bays (410-726-3217; kayak per hr/day $15/45, bike per hr/day $6/20; 9am-6pm daily Jun-Aug, 10-4pm Sat & Sun mid-Apr–May & Sep–mid-Oct), located at the end of Bayside Dr (second right after passing the national park toll booth). If you’re searching for serenity, backcountry camping is the answer – inquire about regulations at the visitors center. Drive-up campsites fill up quickly; reserve well ahead through Reserve America (877-444-6777; www.recreation.gov; campsites $20).