NPS

Campsite With a View: Assateague Island

Enjoy a beach vacation loaded with activity options—and likely a wild horse—right on the mid-Atlantic coast at Oceanside Campground.

There’s something alluring about camping on the beach—it just feels like a luxury to spend the day with warm white sand beneath your feet, then wake up and get to do it all over again. At Assateague Island National Seashore in Maryland, set your target for the Oceanside Walk-In Campground, where 62 tent sites are nestled among shrubs and sand dunes just a few hundred feet from the crashing Atlantic Ocean. During the day, campers can explore salt marshes, hike through forests, lounge on beaches, paddle through a bay, and probably spot a wild horse or two. There’s plenty to do on this 37-mile-long island, and there’s also plenty of space to just relax and do nothing at all. 

There are two entrances to Assateague Island: one from north on the Maryland side (just 8 miles south of Ocean City), and an entrance farther south in Virginia. Since you can’t drive your car between the two entrances, campers should plan to enter in Maryland (there’s no camping on the Virginia side anyway). The closest airport is the Ocean City Municipal Airport, and the island is also about a three-hour drive from major cities like Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and Philadelphia.

Best Campsites

There are a few campground options on the island offering a total of 300 sites—including those on the west side, facing the bay, plus a few more on the ocean side, which are split between drive-in and walk-in campgrounds. Go for the walk-in sites if you can; they basically allow you to throw a tent up right on the beach away from the parking lots. Of the 62 mentioned sites in the Oceanside Walk-In Campground, there are essentially two options: a site that’s more inland, offering more wind protection care of the surrounding shrubs; or, a site closer to the ocean with unobstructed views. Some of the latter are nestled in the dunes while others are right on the beach with nothing but water on the horizon. For a little more breathing room, sites 99, 100, and 62 are the farthest away from their neighbors. All of the tent-only sites require a 100- to 200-foot walk from where you park your car and are closed from Nov. 16 to March 14 (the drive-in campground next door stays open during that time). Campers will find showers, flush toilets, picnic tables, campfire rings, and wooden walkways that lead toward the ocean. 

Seasons

The island’s mosquitos can be a nuisance during certain times of the year, primarily in late spring and early summer, but it’s always a good idea to bring bug spray along (no matter when you visit). Summer is an ideal time to head to the island, with warm temperatures making the ocean all the more inviting. That said, fall and spring are great too, with cooler temperatures for hiking and biking, and fewer crowds. 

Supplies

Ocean City, Md.—a coastal resort town complete with a boardwalk and amusement park rides—is where you’ll want to pick up the supplies you need (and probably spend a few hours exploring). There are a few small stores on the island not far from the campground where you can snag forgotten items (or an afternoon ice cream cone). 

Activities

Biking

The 4-mile (one-way) Assateague Island Bike Path is a paved, multi-use trail that allows people to avoid biking on the busy highway. Bikes are available to rent at Assateague Outfitters.

Paddling

Rent a kayak from Assateague Outfitter's Kayak Stand for a few hours or all day and explore the bay. Or, sign up for a 2.5-hour guided wildlife tour and learn more about the ecosystem of Assateague Island. 

Hiking

There are a handful of great hiking trails on the island, as well as 37 miles of beaches to wander. From the easy half-mile Life of the Marsh loop to the sandy 10-mile Assateague Island Trail, there’s something on the island for every hiker to enjoy.

Campfires

Have you ever had a beach campfire? They’re allowed in Maryland below the high-tide line. Campers need to remove the charred wood after the fire has been doused in water, and firewood must be purchased locally (not from out of state).

Off-roading

There’s an Over-Sand Vehicle (OSV) zone at the seashore that allows folks with capable vehicles to drive miles of beaches. Permit fees range from $110-$200. 

Details

You’ll need to pay a $25 fee per vehicle (good for seven days) when entering the island, and campsites cost $30/night. Campers can make reservations six months in advance on Recreation.gov, so plan to make yours as early as possible because the campsites do sell out. It’s helpful to bring bug spray, protective sun gear, and long tent stakes to anchor your tent securely in the sand. Remember that wild horses roam the beaches, and they will try and eat your food if it’s left out; be mindful when you’re cooking and cleaning up. The visitors center, bathrooms, and most of the nature trails on the island are accessible (there’s also two accessible campsites that can be reserved). Beachgoers can also rent beach wheelchairs with balloon tires in order to explore the beach. More info: nps.gov

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.

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