Explore The Prettiest Beaches, Dunes, And Forests On This Hidden Gem Maryland Island

Are you looking for a pretty east coast getaway? Sure, you could visit the Hamptons on Long Island and pay a ton of money to be near celebrities or visit crowded Nantucket this summer. What if you're looking for something a bit different? There is a lovely barrier island along the coast of Maryland (and part of Virginia) that is your next vacation destination. This beautiful and unusual place is Assateague Island, and it is protected as a National Seashore, offering plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy, like 37 miles of beaches, forests, hiking trails, and herds of wild horses to see. Birders will especially have a field day here with so many species to observe. 

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Assateague Island is easy to get to, with the entrance about eight miles north of Ocean City, Maryland. It's $25 per vehicle or $20 per motorcycle and it covers seven days. There are picnic areas and restrooms, and you can even bring your leashed dog to parts of the park. Though no one lives on the island, you're close to towns with restaurants and amenities so you can bring in a lunch and/or camping supplies, as well as some of the best gear for taking a hike on vacation, so you can make the most of your days.

Beaches and horses on Assateague Island

Assateague Island National Seashore has miles of beaches and dunes to explore. The water is clear, and there is soft sand to squish through your toes as you soak up the sun. Among many other species, birders may see sandpipers, terns, plovers, and herons, but you're also likely to see some of the island's wild horses roaming the beach. 

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It's said that the wild horses appeared on the island after a shipwreck off of the Virginia side of the island, but there is no proof of that. It's more likely that they were brought in late in the 17th century by locals who were attempting to circumvent livestock taxes and fencing laws. There are two herds: One in Maryland and one in Virginia. They often visit the beach to avoid the island's mosquitoes and flies, which means you should also bring your own repellant. You can watch the horses and take pics but don't pet them or feed them, as it puts them in danger of illness and getting hit by cars.

In addition to sunbathing and swimming, you can bring your canoe or kayak and launch them from designated areas. If you're craving some Maryland blue crab, you can do crabbing here as well. Just check in with the ranger station or visitor center to see what restrictions are current. You can even fish right on the beach to have a cookout at your campsite or to bring home for dinner. 

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Hiking and camping on Assateague Island

Hikers have several options for trails, but one great hike is the Life of the Marsh Trail, which is a half-mile loop on the easy and flat side. The trail is on a wooden boardwalk through the pretty marsh, which is great for bird watching. The Life of the Forest Trail is a half-mile out and back on the easy side as well. It will take you right through the maritime forest and you'll get a great look at Sinepuxent Bay. If you're looking for something challenging, there is a moderate 9.4-mile out-and-back trail called Assateague Island Trail with a 59-foot elevation gain. 

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You can do some great camping on the Maryland side of the island, though do note that you must buy local firewood for your use. You should also bring screened tents as bugs can be an issue here. Bring long tent stakes as well if you plan on camping on sand, and use this simple pool noodle hack to keep your tent safe. (You can do backcountry camping as well with a permit.) There are two horse campsites that fit six people and six horses. You'll find chemical toilets, seasonal cold showers, and drinking water, and your sites will have a picnic table and a fire ring. You must make reservations from March 15 through November 15, and weekends book up fast. Individual sites are $40 a night (horse sites are $80 per night) and require reservations.

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