If you’ve stuck around long enough, you may have picked up on the fact that I really do love horses! I might not go so far to say I’m a horse girl, but I do think horses are amazing creatures. They way they respond to humans is incredibly unique. More so than with dogs (I’m sorry dog owners!). They can sense how you feel, whether you’re tense or relaxed. With a simple cue you can get a horse to isolate a movement. And of course they all have their personalities and appearance. I already talked about my little obsession in my Cumberland Island post. There’s a few places where feral horses roam. And even fewer that are on islands. But it’s the island life that makes the special. Feral horses have ancestors that were once tamed and now wild. Usually living on barrier islands, they’ve adapted to surviving in those conditions. From Cumberland Island in southern Georgia to Sable Island in Nova Scotia, Canada, you can find these beautiful horses. Assateague Island is primarily in Maryland and and protects Chincoteague Island in Virginia, where Misty (the fictional horse) lives.
Assateague Island is a nationally protected seashore teeming with wildlife. I got to visit in the middle of winter where I experienced snow on the beach for the first time. It feels like an unnatural occurrence, but makes total sense when it is winter in colder areas. The car-accessible part of the park is quite limited unless you have an Over Sand Vehicle permit to drive on the beach along the length of the island. You can access over 10 miles of shore from Maryland up to the state line at Virginia, which then becomes the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. It is more restrictive to vehicles and can be accessed via Chincoteague Island in Virginia. I wasn’t able to get all the way down there since it is a substantial 50 miles between entrances.
Entering from the north side, you also have the option to check out the Assateague State Park, which has different fees from the national park. There’s approximately 80 horses living on the Maryland side of the Island, so there’s a nontrivial chance of finding horses on your visit anywhere from before the park entrance to within the park. It’s always hard to guess where they may roam and it’s no guarantee if you’ll see any but I found evidence of them wandering to the beach even in the winter. But the only place I actually found them was by the marshes. There were a few groups but I only photographed the one here. It helps to drive through the campsites because they’ll find the quiet spots there too and not just on the short nature walks. And sometimes they’ll wander on the main road, so remember to drive slowly!
There’s miles and miles of beaches and views extending all the way to Ocean City. There’s plenty of picnic tables and grills, perhaps for a more summer day, though I even saw a surfer this winter day. Even though it’s a beach, be prepared for the cold wind blasting through and winter conditions. It really takes your breath away literally!