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Assateague Island

Tatyana and Aliciya Enjoying the Beach

Tatyana and Aliciya Enjoying the Beach

This is a favorite place in the DC area for my family and I. And it’s surprising how many people have been to Ocean City, Maryland, and never taken the short side trip to the Island.

The beaches on Assateague Island are the best preserved wild beaches I’ve seen in this region. What’s more, with a 4WD vehicle or a kayak you can get well away from the crowds.

Aliciya had a great time playing in the waves.

Assateague Island is most famous for its ponies, of course, and for good reason. They are very visible, and very photogenic. They are often seen shrouded in a romantic morning or evening mist or on the beach and they add a rare and interesting element to the Island.  (Quite incredibly, I never got around to taking a photo of the ponies, though.)

That said, they are reportedly a safety hazard, as well. If you spend any significant amount of time on the island, you will be treated to the ubiquitous posters with photos of people who have been bitten (or worse), by getting too close.

Horses are not the only biting beasts on the island, though they are the largest and the easiest to defend yourself against. You definitely want to be well prepared for mosquitoes, and biting flies can reportedly be a problem, as well (we haven’t experienced that one).

Our Campsite:  The sites are quite open and offer little in the way of privacy.

Our Campsite: The sites are quite open and offer little in the way of privacy.

The best way to experience Assateague Island is, no doubt, camping.  We spent several days camping on the island last year, and had a great time.  It’s important to be prepared, though, and you have to be willing to do battle with the insects.

To camp on the island, you need to reserve a campsite, ideally many months in advance.  You can do that online at http://www.assateagueisland.com/assateague_camping.htm.  We were late reserving, and there were no beach-side spots left.  This year we intend to go again, and we have a beach-side spot reserved.  Being by the beach should (I hope) mean fewer mosquitos.  The campgrounds do have reasonable toilets and cold showers.  In summer, of course, hot water is entirely unnecessary, but it is nice to be able to get the salt off of you.  One strategy for cleaning up is to take a day away from the beach and visit the Frontier Town Water Park not far from Assateague in Berlin, Maryland.  It’s not a great water park, but the kids will have fun on the slides and you will get a nice, hot shower, maybe even cleaning up enough to make a visit to a restaurant in Ocean City.

Relaxing on the Lazy River at Frontier Town Water Park

Relaxing on the Lazy River at Frontier Town Water Park

Wherever you camp on Assateague Island, you are going to want to use an effective strategy against the insects. I treated our clothes and tents with permethrin and we used deet on exposed skin. It worked quite well. I didn’t treat the rainflies on the tents, though, and I think treating them would make a big difference by killing the bugs that congregate outside of the tents waiting to get first bite of you when you get out. We used citronella candles and mosquito coils around camp, and they worked reasonably well. There are lots of alternatives sold in the tourist traps near the park, but you get lots of setups and no refills. It probably makes more sense to bring a whole system, with plenty of refills, from home.

There is a nice visitors center just before going across the causeway to the Island. This should be your first stop on a visit to the Island. You will get lots of useful and interesting information. There is also a rangers post on the island itself, and they can help with basic first aid if you need it.

There are several minor historical sites and maintained trails. Fishing, crabbing, and clamming are also popular activities on Assateague.

 

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