Do you have a place where you and your children are happy and carefree? Is it a place you visit every year? My place is Assateague Island National Seashore. It’s the place I feel my boys can enjoy nature and where we all just have a great time. We’ve been exploring this wonderful beach and shoreline for over 8 years. Every visit we find something new and interesting yet every visit we find our “zen” at this beautiful place.
We like this place for the obvious first—it’s a beach! B&J love to find sea creatures, sea shells and of course sea glass. They also LOVE to jump in the waves, take walks, and boogey board. Even if the water is cold and I tell them not to go into the water, they are just drawn to it. I like it because it’s peaceful and beautiful. I like that there’s nothing commercial about this place—there’s no neon signs, buildings, traffic lights…just nature at it’s best.
We enjoy visiting Assateague all four seasons. We’ve been there in the winter (the winds are a little chilly!) , in the fall , in the spring and lots of times in the summer. Each season brings different sites, delights and things to explore.
Another huge draw to visiting Assateague Island is there are many wild ponies that live on the island. Some folks believe that a shipwreck brought them to the island many years ago. They roam free around the island and can be easily spotted. They are fascinating to watch and once in awhile, you can spot a foal. They usually travel in a herd and are rarely alone. I find that you can see them a lot at dusk along the bay-side of the island. Also, sadly, some have been fed by humans (a big no no!) so they seek human food and will come into the parking lots looking for food. There are signs all around the island with warnings not to feed, approach or pet the wild ponies. They are wild and can kick or bite. It’s best to enjoy their beautiful for a safe distance. Just use the zoom feature on your phone’s camera to get some close-up photos!
We always like to visit the Visitor Center as well. There’s a nice porch to sit on and relax as well as clean restrooms. There are also films that play around the clock–be sure to watch one about the wild horses. The displays are very informative as are the ranger-lead talks. We attended one on Horseshoe crabs years ago that truly amazed the boys. Of course, don’t forget to ask for a Junior Ranger Book. I believe if asked, this would be my boys’ favorite one that they’ve earned. If I’m going to buy a souvenir for the boys, I usually try to find something at a National Park (as I like that my purchase supports the park I’m at). The gift shop that’s located in the Visitor Center is a nice shop with especially nice children’s books.
If you have the time, keep your car parked at the visitor center and follow a path up to the bridge that connects the mainland to the island. It’s a nice little walk and the views are pretty of the Bay. Many folks park and then bike onto the island. There are wonderful bike paths all throughout the island. Whether you walk, bike or drive onto the island, there is an entrance fee into the seashore. Once you cross the bridge, you have a choice to go straight and visit the Maryland State Park side of the Island (click here for info about the State Park) or turn RIGHT and travel a bit to to the National Park side of the island. Both charge a fee.
Since our family usually visits Assateague at least twice a year, we opt for the Annual Pass to the National Park side. In past years, the fee has been $30. It’s well worth it, especially if you’re visiting for a week or plan to visit several times in one year. Note: if you are visiting the Island in the summer, arrive early as it gets very crowded. Our tradition in the summer, is to wake up super early, stop at Starbucks in Ocean City and head to Assateague! My morning chai seems to taste better while enjoying it at the shore! We also like to visit later in the afternoon. The beaches are less crowded. If we visit later, we bring dinner and leave at night fall.
There is camping as well on the island. I’ve heard camping spots fill up quickly–I would recommend calling and trying to reserve one ahead of your visit. We have not camped on Assateague, but it’s on my list to do. We have made several campfires on the beach. Once we had s’mores during a Ranger Talk and once by ourselves we made a fire and enjoyed hotdogs (my Dad makes a mean campfire!). The Ranger-Led campfire was one of my favorites. Two young adult Rangers led the talk and campfire and were just super nice to the kids. Also, during the talk, which was at dusk, a wild fox ran onto the beach, smelled the air and quickly returned to the marsh area. The Rangers said they had never seen that!
There are surprises at every turn on the island. Down one small drive is a shipwreck. Do you have a kid who likes disasters? For some reason, my boys are DRAWN to them! J was obsessed with the Titanic when he was three and four so this shipwreck has always been right up his alley. We wonder, what was this ship carrying? Did the sailors survive? How long has it’s ruins been laying on the island? One thing that has really fascinated us is the erosion of these ruins over the years. Every year, less and less of the ruins can be seen. The decking that used to surround the area (lower left photo above) is no longer there. Washed away in a storm, I suppose. Sadly, our favorite place is slowly shrinking away. Experts believe that Assateague island is one of the most fragile coastal islands. The Washington Post had an interesting article on this topic in 2014. Link here to view the article. I always like to add a little bit of learning in our day trips.
Perhaps, one of my favorite personal things to do while we visit Assateague is to get out my camera and take pictures of my guys. Photography is one of my favorite hobbies and the backdrop of the shoreline is just stunning. Since we visit Assateague so often, I have so many beautiful photos of the boys there. Many are framed in our home, reminding us of all of the fun we have at this wondering place. Last year, I made a mini-scrapbook of all of our beach photos. It turned out really nicely.
What a perfect day in Maryland!