We had an AMAZING day at Assateague Island National Seashore today and I would highly reccomend visiting! The white sand beaches are breathtaking! I love Bethany beaches, but it was a nice surprise that this sand was SO different; we all kept commenting about how fine it was and noting the lack of pebbels/shells, etc. But enough about sand…we saw PONIES (not horses, as I was constantly corrected)!!!
I actually learned quite a bit about them thanks to one of the rangers we ran into. At the time of this post, there are eighty-eight ponies on the island. They keep the population down by only allowing each mare to have one foal, then give them contraceptives. This is actually the only “interference” the rangers give, unless a pony gets hit by a car (this is rare, but does happen). They let the ponies live very naturally, so no vet or dental care is given to them. We also learned that there are several ‘bands’ on the island, each with one male and one to several females. The males will fight with each other almost anytime they catch a glimpse of another.
I officially have two favorite horses on the beach: Jester and JoJo. As soon as we set up camp we started walking down the beach looking for ponies (ask people along the beach where they have been spotted) and quickly found some by the campgrounds. The ranger pointed out Jester and JoJo and said they were the most mischievous horses on the island; that they had a real taste for human food and would not hesitate to seek it out. We saw them in action about 45 minutes later when they came to the beach and literally just walked up to peoples chairs and started rifling through their bags and eating their food. I saw these horses open bags of chips, sandwiches, fruit… anything they could get their mouths on they ate! They were even using their hooves to go through people’s bags and at one point JoJo stepped right over a woman who was sleeping to get to her food. They just went from blanket to blanket helping themselves.
As entertaining as it sounds, the ranger pointed out that they were the skinniest horses on the island and that was because they consumed so much human food it gave them constant tummy troubles. A horse recently died on the island because it ate too much dog food (horses can’t throw up, so anything they ingest, including plastic and cardboard, stays in their stomach causing problems), so as tempting as it may be to lure a pony to you with food, it could be lethal to them, so please don’t.
Those were the only ponies we saw on the beach, but we saw so many right on the side of Bayberry Road eating, and also playing in the water on the Bayside.
From Bethany it took about 40 minutes to get to the visitor center (see below), and another 10 to get to our parking lot (the furthest one out). Just to be clear, this review is based on our trip in which we took route 611 over the Verrazano Bridge to Bayberry Road (the first right after the bridge).
Know before you go:
You cannot touch the Ponies! Wild Ponies are well, wild! They bite and kick when startled, so the rangers are very strict in enforcing the no touching rule!
Entrance into the park is $20/car, or $40/car for a year long pass. *MONEY SAVING TIP* Seniors (62+) get a lifetime pass for $10. If you have a senior with you, show their ID so they can sign up for a lifetime pass (took less than a minute) and enter for only $10!
The Assateauge Island Visitor Center is a can’t miss! There is a touch tank, tons of information about the island and horses, rangers giving demonstrations throughout the day, a gift shop, and very clean/air conditioned bathrooms.
Parking lots 1-4 have lifeguards and concession stands, along with bathrooms and showers. Lots 5-8 are unguarded, but have clean bathroom and showering areas off each walkway to the beach.
You can bring your own food and drinks to the beach. Please keep the Ponies safe by securing your food in a cooler.
We parked in lot 8 (South Ocean Beach), and there were TONS of doggies. The law says they must be leashed at all times on a 6 foot leash, but there was no one around patrolling, so there were a lot of dogs running free. If you want to avoid the dogs, go to a guarded beach.
There is no boardwalk/shops along the beach.
Each parking lot has a wooden walkway making it easy to bring a stroller or beach cart.
We didn’t get a chance to check out the Bayside, but there are a lot of trails to explore and areas to go crabbing, clamming and fishing.
Keep in mind that the ticks are very common in the DMV, including along seashore, so don’t let your Pony adventures take you through the wooded areas without checking for ticks after!