Chincoteague & Assateague Islands

Chincoteague and Assateague Islands

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A clump of dune grass emblematic of the seashore

I have been thrilled to have had the opportunity to visit Chincoteague Island and Assateague Island numerous times both in the summer and in the fall, which are very different experiences. The summer is nice, especially if you like to visit the beach. My favorite, though, is the fall, when most of the tourists are gone, the fast food joints are closed, and everything is much quieter. Even the beach is a different experience. Perfect for getting closer to nature. This photo journey in Chincoteague and Assateague Islands takes place in the fall.

Chincoteague and Assateague are part of a chain of so called “barrier islands” running up and down the east cost of America, which protect the mainland from Atlantic Ocean storms. They are inherently unstable piles of sand that are constantly shifting and creating shoals that are treacherous to ships close to shore. Consequently, they are dotted by lighthouses to warn such ships.

Assateague Island is the outer island where the lighthouse is located, and is annually battered by Atlantic storms. Assateague is not permanently inhabited, except by wild ponies, other wildlife, and salt resistant plants, such as Loblolly Pine. The northern end is in Maryland, and is protected as the Assateague Island National Seashore, where many outdoor activities, such as hiking and camping are available. The southern end of Assateague is in Virginia, and it is protected as the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. A person can get close to nature all over Assateague Island. Both the northern end and the southern end of Assateague Island feature visitor centers; the southern section features the Tom’s Cove Visitor Center.

Chincoteague in contrast, is protected from storms by Assateague, and is quite stable because of that protection. Consequently, people live there in a small rural community. Many of the people there hunt, fish, and most are actively involved in the tourist business. Tourism is the major industry in Chincoteague, and is promoted by the local Chamber of Commerce, which provides visitor information, including available activities. Also from the Chamber of Commerce is information on accommodations in Chincoteague. On my last visit, I was happy to have stayed in what I called my cottage, even though it was actually more of a garden apartment that was right on Assateague Channel and enjoyed access to a pier.

The main east-west road through Chincoteague is Maddox Boulevard. It runs from the bridge to Chincoteague to the bridge to Assateague, and then continues, as Beach Access Road, east through Assateague. Just before reaching the beach, the Beach Access Road travels through some marshy areas, causing me to refer to it there as the “Marsh Road.” On Assateague, many of the wildlife views can be accessed from the Beach Access Road. On Chincoteague much of the tourist related business and hotels are located on Maddox, and most of the residents of Chincoteague, as well as many B&Bs reside on roads north and south of Maddox.

As noted earlier, Assateague Island is home to a working lighthouse, operated by the U.S. Coast Guard as an aid to navigation. It is also open to the public, to climb up to the cupola throughout the summer and through to Thanksgiving. This lighthouse is beautiful and iconic to view from afar, and provides beautiful landscape views from the top. I also enjoyed viewing bald eagles from the top.

One of the most famous things here are the wild ponies, which live on Assateague and which are owned by the local fire department. They were made famous by a movie based on a children’s book by Marguerite Henry entitled Misty of Chincoteague. Every summer, Chincoteague “cowboys” round up all the ponies and the ponies swim across channel from Assateague to Chincoteague in a pony roundup, where foals are auctioned off in order to raise money and to prevent the herd from getting unsustainably large. If you are interested in this summer spectacle, you can get information from the Chamber of Commerce on the pony swim.

Naturally, you may be interested in visiting the Pony Centre, which is just off Maddox. They offer riding lessons as well as pony rides for the kids. Especially if you have children, you may also be interested in visiting the Veteran’s Memorial Park, which features a playground, lovely view of Assateague Channel, and not much else, which is actually the main idea. If you come during tourist season, it could be an ideal low pressure area for you to unwind in. It seemed to me to be a peaceful hangout.

When you get hungry with all these activities, you may want to visit Maria’s Family Restaurant, which is located directly on Maddox, it offers an all you can eat buffet, and is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. My family liked it.