Assateague Island National Seashore | KAYAKING AND CANOEING

Kayaking in Sinepuxtent Bay in Maryland

Kayaking in Sinepuxtent Bay in Maryland

Assateague Island National Seashore offers those with hand-paddled watercraft miles of paddling opportunities through the open waters, small coves, and salt marshes of Sinepuxtent and Chincoteague Bays. While nothing prevents you from paddling in the Atlantic Ocean, most people choose the bay where the waters are calm and the wildlife is more plentiful.

If you do not have a canoe or kayak, rentals are available in the Maryland section of the park, plus Ranger-led padding trips are held in both the Maryland and the Virginia sections from June through September. Experience is not necessary. Paddlers must be at least 13 years old; 16 or older to join the trip without a parent. Children 6-12 years old may ride in a tandem kayak (two seat) with a parent. You must wear shoes that can be strapped to your feet such as sandals or water shoes—no flip flops. There is a charge for the kayak trips, and you must sign up in advance. Reservations can be made by calling the park and paying with a credit card. Check the National Park Service’s Ranger Guided Programs web page for the latest schedules and reservation details.

Virginia

Hand-paddled watercraft can be launched or landed on designated sections of the ocean beaches of Assateague Island National Seashore (except where there is a lifeguard) and on the shores of Toms Cove unless closed for bird nesting season from March 15th through August 31st. I certainly wouldn’t want to paddle in the open ocean, struggling to see nothing but the same repetitive beach, so the cove would definitely be my choice, and it’s the choice for most people paddling at Chincoteague Wildlife National Refuge. (Note: In the map below, PWC—personal watercraft—refers to motorized boats such as jet skies, not hand-paddled watercraft.)

Boat landing zone map (click to enlarge)

Boat landing zone map (click to enlarge)

According to the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge’s website, no boats of any type are allowed in the Refuge “impoundments or borrow ditches.” Borrow ditches are ditches alongside an elevated road, sort of like narrow canals, but I have no idea what impoundments are, so if you want to know, contact the Refuge.

Those without a means to get on the water can join a 2-hour Ranger-led kayak tour of Toms Cove. No rentals through the National Park Service or the Refuge are available in Virginia, but there are private rental companies in the town of Chincoteague.

Maryland

Paddling is allowed anywhere in the Sinepuxent or Chincoteauge Bays in the Maryland section of the park. However, the bay is accessible at only two locations: the end of Bayside Drive and the end of Old Ferry Landing Road. Once in the water you can paddle anywhere you would like, including to the four backcountry campsites set up along the shore. A permit is needed to camp. See the Backcountry Campsites web page for details.

The bay is affected by the tides, though only water levels need to be of concern in the Maryland section of the park. A Ranger told me that he has never felt the current pull one way or another regardless of incoming or outgoing tides. However, areas that can be paddled at high tide may be muddy land during low tide. Of course this only affects getting to your favorite spots, for there are still plenty of places with enough water during low tide.

At high tide there is enough water to paddle over the land shown in this photo of the Assateague Island National Seashore bayside coastline

At high tide there is enough water to paddle over the land shown in this photo of the Assateague Island National Seashore bayside coastline

For those without a kayak or canoe, you can rent one during the summer season at the end of Bayside Drive from the current park concessionaire, Assateague Outfitters. Hours are limited from mid-April through Memorial Day and from Labor Day through mid-October, but from Memorial Day through Labor Day the rental shop is open daily from 9 AM to 6 PM. It is closed from mid-October through mid-April.

A second option is to join a 2-hour Ranger-led kayak trip. During the summer the trips are offered daily, and during the off season only a few times a week.

Assateague Island National Seashore Ranger-guided kayak tour on Sinepuxtent Bay

Assateague Island National Seashore Ranger-guided kayak tour on Sinepuxtent Bay

As mentioned, there are two points to launch your watercraft in the Maryland section of the park. The better of the two is at the end of Old Ferry Landing Road. If your plan is to head south to a backcountry campsite, Old Ferry Landing is closer to the sites than the Bayside Drive launch, so you save a little time. If you plan to kayak the bay area, Old Ferry Landing launches into the salt marsh area where you will find plentiful wildlife and plenty of channels to explore. Bayside Drive launches into the open bay, and other than one island you can paddle to, you have a long way to paddle to find something interesting. For those unfamiliar with the best places to paddle in the bay, ask for a Sinepuxent Bay Water Trail brochure at the Assateague Island Visitor Center. It shows two suggested routes, one from each launching point.

Water near the Old Ferry Landing watercraft launch site at Assateague Island National Seashore

Water near the Old Ferry Landing watercraft launch site at Assateague Island National Seashore

Water near the Bayside Drive watercraft launch site at Assateague Island National Seashore

Water near the Bayside Drive watercraft launch site at Assateague Island National Seashore

Old Ferry Landing gets its name from a ferry service to Assateague Island that began when Assateague was separated from Ocean City and the Fenwick Peninsula after a hurricane in 1933. The ferry first landed at the north end of the island, but eventually the route changed to land at Ferry Landing after a channel was dug through the marsh. Service ended in 1964 when a bridge was built to the island.

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Last updated on October 3, 2023
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