Best Place To See Ponies On Assateague

Bob Roberts
• Tuesday, 22 December, 2020
• 8 min read

Assateague Island is known for its wild ponies, excellent surf, and popular beach camping. I really had high hopes of seeing the wild ponies when we visited Assateague Island and worried that we might miss them.

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The ponies greeted us in the parking lot by poking their noses in our car as soon as we opened the back of the van. There are signs posted everywhere warning you not to feed the horses ($100 fine) and not to pet or ride them.

Assateague State Park is a great day trip for East Coast residents, or a vacation destination in itself. We came to body board, surf, and play in the sand, and we loved our two days visiting the island.

There are large bathrooms with changing stalls and showers to clean off before you head home. Maryland State Parks are trash-free, so bring garbage sacks and plan to pack your trash in and out.

Occasionally you will find umbrellas and chairs available to rent but it is not a regular service so do not count on it. My husband and teenage daughters love to surf, so Assateague Island is our favorite beach for a day-trip from Washington D.C.

Reservations are recommended six months in advance for the popular beach camping at Assateague Island. Some families love beach camping and make it an annual event.

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Families who are used to mountain camping sometimes complain about the sand everywhere and the hot sun and lack of shade. Beach camping is only available on the Maryland side of the island at Assateague State Park.

We couldn't pull our kids away from the beach long enough to enjoy the Visitor Center, but our friends who stopped at the Visitor Center gave rave reviews of the excellent marine aquariums, touch tanks, and film about the wild horses of the island. This would be a great place to get out of the sun for a few hours for families who are camping on the beach.

For those who want more entertainment, Ocean City, Maryland, is just nine miles north of Assateague State Park. You can find water parks, mini golf, Danger Outlet stores, and plenty of other entertainment as you head toward Ocean City.

Katie is a busy mom living in Northern Virginia with her husband and five children ranging in age from toddlers to teens. Reviewed June 2, 2010, Great place to be with friends and family.

Our small kids loved seeing the ponies while playing on the beach. Reviewed October 26, 2009, We heard about the island where wild horses run free (for 300 years!!).

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A beautiful & peaceful place where you can ride, walk, kayak (very popular here), jog or just sit & watch the horses & other wildlife enjoying their natural environment. As soon as we went over the bridge we were greeted by 3 horses glazing along the road & caring less that we were staring at them & taking pictures.

Fee for the car) & a great destination for campers (on the ocean or more traditional sites on the wooded Bayside). October was a great time to go as there was no crowds on a beautiful fall day.

The Biggest drawback (besides the summer crowds) is the mosquitoes I'm told. What to bring for this destination are: camera, binoculars, comfortable shoes, snacks (although there is a camp store/restaurant), Walkman for walking/jogging.

What you leave with is memories of a peaceful place & visions of ponies roaming free. Since this is part of the National Park System, senior (62 & older) can buy a lifetime pass for $10.

Good for free admission (for you & everyone in the car) at this seashore & all National Parks in the country. Reviewed October 21, 2009, My wife and I went tent camping in the middle of September.

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You could smell the salt air and hear the waves break along the shore. They do seem to be tame but you have to refrain yourself from touching these animals or suffer the consequences of a heavy fine, or possible a bite or kick from the horse.

The website for the National Seashore is up front about camping here, mosquitoes, and cold showers, warm showers are available at the state park for $3. Even though we didn't experience the high winds or rain, you get the feeling that it's beckoning at the back door.

Reviewed October 8, 2009, We visited Assateague as a cycling day trip from Maryland. The Visitor's Center has a nice bookshop, minimal educational exhibits, and useful maps of the Seashore's roads and walking trails.

The bike trails are flat (EASY peddling) and well maintained but limited--we covered the entire northern network in well under two hours. The beaches are beautiful and the primitive campgrounds were well sited, clean, and pleasant.

They wander across campgrounds and parking lots at will, so watch your step! Petting or feeding the wild horses may seem like a harmless and fun thing to do, but the consequences can be terrible.

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Stay at least a “bus length” or 40 feet away, but remember that may still be too close depending on the circumstances. The horses are feral and roam freely throughout the Maryland section of the island, so they can be anywhere at any time.

When visiting the island to see the horses, be sure to follow all regulations including not stopping or parking along roadways or getting closer than 40 feet to any wildlife. That’s partly why approaching, harassing, or feeding any kind of wildlife, no matter how small or familiar, is illegal.

A contraceptive darting program may be used with the Maryland horses in order to keep the population size to a sustainable number. Local lore experts theorized the ponies arrived at the island via a shipwrecked vessel in the late 18th or early 19th century.

Others attribute their arrival by pirates drawn to the island who ultimately abandoned the animals. A more likely theory is that farmers in colonial times used the island for grazing areas to avoid paying taxes on the land.

The National Park Service manages the herd of ponies at the northern end of Assateague Island. The separate herd in Virginia is owned by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department, which sponsors the annual pony penning and swim every July.

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They are true horses, and not actual ponies, who have adapted to the diet and life on Assateague. Their short, stocky build allows them to navigate the marshes and to store water efficiently.

For centuries, mysterious herds of wild horses have gallivanted on the protected beaches and salt marshes of Assateague Island, a 37-mile coastal split between Maryland and Virginia. However, while their exact origins are still unknown, it’s more commonly thought that the feral horses are descendants of herds brought to the island in the late 17th century by mainland owners who were trying to avoid livestock taxation and fencing laws.

Today, more than 300 wild horses inhabit the rugged barrier island, separated into two main herds on either side of the Maryland/Virginia state line, which is delineated by fencing. The Assateague horses typically divide themselves into groups of 2 to 12, and each band occupies a distinct “home range,” according to the NPS, which handles the Maryland herd.

This local event called “Pony Penning Day” was made famous by author Marguerite Henry’s children’s novel, Misty of Chincoteague (Rand McNally, 1947). About 2.5 hours south of the windswept barrier island, a few wild horses remain at the equally remote Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge and False Cape State Parks in Virginia, located on the northern tip of North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

Departs from Chincoteague Island, VA, located next to the beautiful southern part of Assateague & the wildlife refuge. Ponies that live in the Virginia half of Assateague bear about 60-80 foals each summer.

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Besides the legendary wild ponies, this place is also known for an excellent bird watching. Fish and Wildlife Service, which keeps the wild ponies far back in their natural habitat.

Assateague Island is an unspoiled vast ecosystem of forests, wetlands, beaches and calm waterways. Assateagueponies are found feeding on salt marsh cord grass and this grass attracts them to many shoreline areas along Assateague Island where we find bands of wild horses.

The captains a Chincoteague Island native, former Park Ranger & pioneer of pony watching by boat. Visitors in the past could not reach these secluded regions where Assateague's horses live.

The 40ft twin engine Coast Guard certified vessel “Misty” with restroom. Assateague Explorer's boat “Misty” is a Coast Guard certified inspected vessel.

A Coast Guard Certified vessel undergoes stability tests, periodic inspections at various phases of construction, and annual safety inspection by the coast guard each year. Pony Express Nature Cruise departs from Chincoteague Island, Virginia (be sure to call ahead for reservations).

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Enjoy horses with foals, shore birds & bald eagles. Assateague wild ponies have roamed these hidden areas of this 37 mile island since the 1600s and you will enjoy the experience of being a part of this unique environment in Virginia.

Time: Departs daily at 10:30am, 1:30pm, 3:30pm & Sunset* Tour duration approx. 1 1/2 to 2 hoursDaily tour to see wild ponies & wildlife operates 7 days a week April-October.

You can also reserve the Sunset Cruise or Kayaking Tour or to experience more herds of wild ponies & wildlife during your Virginia vacations to Chincoteague & Assateague Island.

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