Assateague Island National Seashore

When my friends asked  if I wanted to go camping on the beach at Assateague, I was a little skeptical. I’m not a big camper–in fact, the last time I “camped,” I was in the Army. And that was for weeks at a time in a camouflage tent with a potbelly stove in the dead of winter in Germany. Not that fun. But this would be different: beers, a beach, good food, good weather, and a bunch of friends. And wild horses.

Assateauge sunrise virginia

Sunrise at Assateauge

We got there on Friday night, right before dark. If we had gotten there any later, I think finding our campsite location would have been a real challenge. So that’s my first travel tip–get there before it gets dark. And don’t stay where we stayed on Friday night (the bayside of Assateague). Stay on the ocean side of the island. I think if you reserve your camping spot early enough, it shouldn’t be a problem to get the ocean side. The bayside had more mosquitoes and was more crowded with cars and campers than the ocean side was. Don’t get me wrong, we had a lot of fun, but I think it was because of the company we kept. We could have been chained up in that basement in the movie Saw and still had a good time.

Assateague is home to hundreds of wild horses that freely walk around the beach and roam the park. Wow, cute, you might be saying. No. The horses were so aggressive in trying to go get our food that no amount of yelling scared them away. We had to resort to kicking sand towards them to really get them to realize they were not wanted. I’m an animal guy and I even felt justified in doing this.

The first night was fun because we got a good campfire going and had tons of food and beers to burn through. And marshmallows–I can’t remember the last time I cooked marshmallows on an open fire. I didn’t sleep that well the first night. It was humid and my dog Ollie was really antsy and couldn’t get comfortable. But we eventually fell to a restful sleep as the crickets chirped and the ocean waves pounded the beach nearby.

Wild horses

Wild horses mingling in the campsite

At 2am, I awoke in the darkness to a dog barking. Ollie, where are you? He wasn’t in the tent.  I fumbled with the tent zipper for a little and stumbled out in the darkness. About 100 feet away,  there was Ollie, set against an orange glow from the campfire, like something out of The Call of the Wild, barking at our neighbors. Apparently I did not fully zip the tent and Ollie must have nosed his way out. Now I was faced with the embarrassment of running over in my shorts and apologizing to the 10 college-age guys who were just sitting there laughing at Ollie’s outburst.

Campsite on the bay side

Campsite on the bay side

The next morning, after frying up some bacon, we began moving our stuff over to our new campsite on the ocean side of the island, at our assigned campsite area next to the dunes overlooking a beautiful broad beach. We spent the morning setting up camp–it was a little difficult because we could not park our cars next to where we were camping, requiring a lot of trips on foot back and forth. Once we put up our tents, it was time to eat lunch and soak in the sun.

Ollie got a bit hot so occupied himself with digging a little burrow under our picnic table. He hid his bone deep in the sand and even forgot where he had buried it.

Later on in the night, we ran out of firewood–a rookie move that could have put an early end to our night. We were saved by our campsite neighbors, who had extra and were nice enough to give some to us.

Wild horses running in full gallop down the beach

Wild horses running in full gallop down the beach

All in all this was a great trip. I got to catch up with my friends, relax on the beach, eat some great food, and see two gorgeous sunrises and one sunset.

Assateauge sunset in Maryland

Assateauge sunset

Tips:

  1. Stay on the ocean side of the island
  2. Minimize the number of cars you bring: Entry fee is $15 for parking
  3. Bring plenty of firewood. You’ll see a bunch of firewood stands on the drive in.
  4. Stay at the National Seashore, not the State Park.
  5. Don’t leave any of your food out at night; the horses will eat it
  6. On the way back, stop at farm stands and pick up fresh vegetables

Map

 

Kevin is based in Washington, DC and writes about his travel adventures in the Mid-Atlantic region and around the world. Through entertaining writing and eye-catching photography, he aims to provide readers with useful information as they plan their next trips.

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