Visiting Assateague Island

My first camping stop on my 2023 Epic Summer Road Trip was Assateague Island. When I stepped out of the car my first impression was “Windy, it is so windy!” I was in a bayside campsite, and thankful I wasn’t on the beach. I pushed through the brush along a path and immediately saw the bay and three wild horses, calmly eating. The horses are feral, wild horses that probably escaped a shipwrecked Spanish galleon sometime in the 1700s. There are about 100 of them on the island.

Bayside Loop campsite at Assateague National Seashore

The island is just east of the DelMarVa peninsula. I’d chosen this stop because even though I was technically in Maryland at this part of the seashore, I’d never been to Delaware. Assateague was an easy place to stop and take in a part of the Eastern Seaboard I’d never seen. I knew beaches were generally windblown sand, so choosing a bayside site reduced the amount of wind while still letting me sit and read by a large body of water. And thank goodness for that wind – in the three minutes or so when it was still, the mosquitoes were right there looking for a blood donation.

I spent a lot of time relaxing and reading during my two nights and one day there. When I booked the site I had plans to visit local restaurants for their famous crab meals, but they didn’t open for a few more days. The town of Berlin looked interesting from afar, but once I was settled in camp I just wanted to enjoy nature instead of driving back to the mainland for brick buildings and coffee shops. Although I try to be very worldly, sometimes the realization that I was mostly raised in the South smacks me upside the head, This time it said “up North they have a definite Summer season, and it won’t start for a few more days.” The beachfront concessions were still a few days from opening on Memorial Day weekend.

No electricity, no coffee concession? Thankfully I had sun tea. Throughout my trip I put teabags in a quart jar with water and made tea to drink, and it was always a welcome shot of caffiene even though it wasn’t very hot nor icy cold.

There was plenty to do walking around the island–although almost all the campers had bicycles, and almost all the bicycles were electric–I walked. The beach was even windier, as expected. It is a steep drop to the water level and looks like it might have a wicked rip current. It’s scenic and wild. There are no hotels or bars, no boardwalks or flush toilets, it is a rustic experience.

I found some shells, including a very large intact clam shell, and some rocks. Some of the shells had a deep purple color. One of the books I brough is about early settlements in Boston and I wondered if it was the same purple prized for making wampum beads in the early 1600s. The dunes were hard to walk in, except where they were punctuated by an asphalt road from a failed development in the 1960s.

Many interesting birds, especially on the bayside, and the fish and crab they eat. The birds use the asphalt to crack crabs. I kept hoping to see some dolphins, and I figure they were there. I didn’t see any dolphin pod ripples in the bay.

The horses though, they made their presence known. I used a flashlight at night although with the moon, it wasn’t necessary– except for scanning the ground carefully for their droppings. Just as the sun was rising at the end of my second night, I woke up to a loud chewing and a huffing breath and…there was a horse, just on the other side of the screened wall. Wow.

There are signs everywhere saying to keep at least 40 feet from the horses–but they can’t read and don’t know that rule. Three horses, one of them a tiny foal, walked right through my campsite grazing and sniffing around. I carefully got out of my tent and crossed the road to give them their space.

It was a glorious camping spot for calm rustic camping. I had perfect weather, but when storms come they seem to wash across the island with some force, so it’d be important to watch out for the weather. As noted, some amenities both within the seashore and in the nearby community aren’t available until after Memorial Day. If I remember any other tips for an enjoyable time there, I’ll update the post. If you have any tips to share, drop a comment.

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