Assateague Island National Seashore | PARK AT A GLANCE

Beach at Assateague Island National Seashore

Beach at Assateague Island National Seashore


Assateague Island National Seashore is located in both Maryland and Virginia.

Maryland District

Virginia District


PARK OVERVIEW

Assateague Island is a barrier island located off the coast of the Delmarva Peninsula, which is the eastern side of Virginia and Maryland as well as the land mass on which the state of Delaware is situated (the name Delmarva comes from DEL for Delaware, MAR for Maryland, and VA for Virginia). Half of the island is in Maryland and the other half is in Virginia. The two tourist areas of Assateague Island National Seashore are located at the northern and southern tips of the island and are separated by a 1.5-hour drive. Both areas have slightly different geography, activities, and amenities.

Technically, there is not much of Assateague Island National Seashore in Virginia. The vast majority of the area is run by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service as the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. According to a park Ranger at the Toms Cove Visitor Center, the National Park Service only manages the beach from the high water mark down and the waters of the Atlantic out to a certain distance (I have no idea how far out the NPS jurisdiction runs). When you are on the beach you may not even be on NPS land until you get near the water. However, tourists do not care or make any distinction between the Refuge and the Seashore. With that in mind, National Park Planner has reviewed the beach and the trails within the Refuge. For information on any other types of activities in the Refuge, please visit the Chincoteauge National Wildlife Refuge’s website. There is one thing to be aware of: no pets are allowed in the Refuge, not even in your car. If you are traveling with your dog or cat you will not be able to visit this section of the park.

The entire Maryland side of the island is operated by the National Park Service. The main Visitor Center is here, and activities include everything you can do in Virginia—swimming, fishing, hiking, and wildlife watching—plus camping.

Common features of both sections are an ample amount of wildlife, most notably birds, plus a herd of wild horses that roam the island. They are more elusive in the southern section, while they are everywhere in the northern section, including in the streets, on the beach, and in the campgrounds. If you are coming for bird watching, I’d give the edge to the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge and suggest that be your destination.


OPERATING HOURS

Maryland District

The Assateague Island Visitor Center is located on the mainland just before crossing the bridge to Assateague Island. It is open daily from 9 AM to 4 PM, except when closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas days.

The grounds of the park are open 24 hours a day year-round.

A Ranger Station is located just inside the park entrance. This serves as the campground registration office as well as the place to get backcountry camping and Over Sand Vehicle (OSV) permits. It is open all year as well, though times change with the seasons.

Virginia District

The Virginia District of the park, which amounts to the beach only, is within the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, which closes at certain times and requires all visitors to be out of the area. Hours depend on the season. Current posted hours are as follows:

  • November through mid-March:  6 AM to 6 PM
  • Mid-March through April:  6 AM to 8 PM
  • May through September:  5 AM to 10 PM
  • October:  6 AM to 8 PM

The Toms Cove Visitor Center, which is operated by the National Park Service, is open daily from March through November and on Friday through Monday from December through February. Hours are from 9 AM to 4 PM.

Schedules can always change, so before making travel plans be sure to check Assateague Island National Seashore’s Operating Hours and Seasons web page and Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge’s Visit Us web page.


FEES

There is no fee for bicyclists or for those walking into Assateague Island National Seashore and Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, but there is an entrance fee those entering by vehicle, regardless of the number of passengers. Those arriving in a taxi pay an individual fee. For those living in the area, annual passes are available. If you purchase your passes at the Assateague Island Visitor Center or the Toms Cove Visitor Center, you must use a credit or debit card. Cash is only accepted at the Ranger Station in the Maryland district.

There are also fees for camping in the park.

For the current entrance fees visit the National Park Service’s Fees and Passes web page for Assateague Island National Seashore and the Entrance Fees web page for Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge.


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Last updated on October 4, 2023
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