Visit the Wild Horses of Assateague Island Beach, Md.

By Tee1

Beach Spot with Wild Horses in Maryland

With mile after mile of undeveloped beach on the East Coast of the United States, Assateague Island National Seashore is 37 miles of near perfection. Situated only 8 miles south of the popular beach vacation town of Ocean City, Assateague Island is one of the crown jewels of the National Park system. Its highly recommended for a full day or more for a fun beach vacation destination. Feral ponies (wild) can be found in the midst of the many natural habitats. The fishing from the shore is top rate and camping is not only allowed, but suggested. Keep an eye out for crabs while you wander. It has been said, that whales are known to pass through the waters as well.

‘Assateague’ is an American Indian word that roughly translates to “a stream running between.”

Found straddling the border of Maryland and Virginia off the eastern shore of the Delmarva Peninsula, the gorgeous beaches of Assateague Island are for the most part, fairly empty. If nothing else, this makes this a very interesting beach spot on the Atlantic. Two thirds of this 37 mile long barrier island is located in Maryland, while the bottom third is found in the commonwealth of Virginia.  The Assateague State Park and the lion’s share of the Assateague Island National Seashore can be found in the Maryland sector. Traveling south into Virginia, one finds the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge and a beach with lifeguards provided by the National Park Service.

Where is Assateague Island? 37°58′N  75° 18′W


Visit Assateague Island for a day or more

The island is famous for the Assateague Lighthouse, picture perfect beaches and of course, the herds of horses running free on the beach. Visitors enjoying their beach holidays will find bays, marshes and Tom’s cove. While it is possible to enter the island from either Virginia or Maryland via bridge, the roads do not connect.

History of Assateague

The shape and size of Assateague has changed dramatically over the years. This is common to all barrier islands, the world over. Sand being moved by the weather and the tides in the littoral zone alters the construction of barrier islands.  The land-facing side of the island is the littoral zone.

While bridge access for cars is possible from both Maryland and Virginia, no road runs the full length of the island.

Until 1933, Assateague Island was connected to southern point of Fenwick Island. A hurricane changed that and ripped and inlet south of today’s favorite beach destination, Ocean City. With the expected ebb and flow of the ocean, the inlet would have gradually disappeared without intervention. Almost immediately, a system of jetties was created to preserve navigation channel the inlet provided to Ocean City. Improved fishing access and nicer wider beaches in OC have resulted with the downside of beach erosion in Assateague.

Myth of the Spanish horses on Assateague

According to a widely discussed and promoted legend, Spanish explorers wrecked their vessel while sailing through this part of the mid Atlantic coast. From the shipwreck, several of the ponies escaped and swam to the nearby islands of Assateague and Chicoteague.  Cute story, but not true. It’s common for tourist places to enhance their history a bit, so no worries here. However,  as befitting OC, it is especially bold. Even the best beaches in Jersey UK don’t try to make up a story like that.

[pullquote]The total population of the horses on the island is maintained between 80 and 100 each year. [/pullquote]

The real story is no less interesting. It is thought that the ponies developed into a feral heard apart from the other local ponies in the 17th century. Why there were never brought back into the herd, nobody knows. The ponies have been a part of the popular imagination since they were introduced to the world in the children’s book Misty of Chincoteague. Each spring, the foals are born. The wild horses are beach bums and have stubbly legs with patchwork coats. To keep the horses healthy with distinct DNA populations, a fence has been erected along the state border to keep the Virginia herds separate from their Maryland cousins.

Development of Asateague Island?

In 1950, a 15 mile road was paved through the island. The island was going to be developed into some futuristic monstrosity of condos and amusements etc. However, mother nature did not agree and sent the infamous Ash Wednesday storm of 1962 which cleared house. Understandably, some of the private landowners wanted to rebuild, but the tides of public sentiment had shifted and the Assateague Island National Seashore was formed in 1965.

The wild horses will kick, bite or charge on Assateague Island

Currently, there are well over 300 species of bird known to live on the island. There are some truly huge numbers of avians, especially the great blue heron, snowy egret and the American oystercatcher. Other residents of the island are gulls, raptors, and other shorebirds and waterbirds. Additionally, the island and its beaches are home to the nests of the piping plover, a threatened species.


“The Park Service reports that Assateague in 2013 saw about 2,056,827 visitors, whose spending pumped more than $84 million into the local economy.”