Accessible by boat or by car off Virginia's Eastern coast over the Route 175 bridge, this small and serene island is the gateway to the Assateague Island National Seashore—a nature refuge that is home of the herds of wild ponies made famous in the classic children's book Misty of Chincoteague. If you want to witness the famous annual pony swim and roundup, you need to visit in late July. But Chincoteague and its sister island, Assateague, are very special any time of year.
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You will definitely catch sightings of the wild ponies of Chincoteague as you drive, bike or walk around the refuge. But you'll get much better, up-close views by visiting parts of the refuge not open to the general public. The 90-minute guided Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge Bus Tour, offered by the Chincoteague National History Association, can take you there. The tour is offered from April to November. (Herbert Bateman Visitor Center; 757/336-3696)
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You don't need anything fancy to go crabbing on Chincoteague and kids just love it. Go to one of the island's fishing shops or hardware stores and buy a bucket, net, and a crabbing kit containing frozen chicken necks, string, and a bait clip. When you're finished, try to find another family and pass on your slightly-used crabbing gear. (Rommel's Ace Hardware at 6735 Maddox Blvd.; 757/336-5808)
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If you do just one tour of Chincoteague, let it be this one. Captain Barry's Back Bay Cruises gets you up close to nature, with your bare feet in the mud and your hands pulling up crab traps, digging for clams, shucking oysters, and learning about local ecology in the most hands-on way possible. In other words, kid heaven.Continue to 5 of 10 below.
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Flat and tremendously scenic, Chincoteague is a great place to get around on bike. Everything is close and has the perfect blend of small town and wilderness. Many of the roads on Chincoteague have sidewalks. Chincoteague offers a fantastic, paved Island Nature Trail is located along both sides of Hallie Whealton Smith Drive. The land where the trail is located represents some of last large tracts of undeveloped land on Chincoteague.
The Bike Depot offers a wide selection of over 200 standard and specialty cycles for riders of all ages. Bicycles are first-come, first-served, with rates by the hour, day, and week. (Maddox Blvd. at the Refuge Inn; 757/336-5511)
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No visit to Chincoteague is complete without a stop at the Island Creamery for some of the best homemade ice cream in Virginia. The delicious ice cream is made on-site in small batches, with over 30 flavors available on a typical day. Get yours in a cup or a freshly baked waffle cone. (6243 Maddox Blvd.; 757/336-6236)
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Since you've likely come to Chincoteague to see the wild ponies, it can be fun to see them from different vantage points. One wonderful way to see both Chincoteague and Assateague from the water is with Daisey's Island Cruises, guided scenic nature tours on comfortable pontoon boats that bring you up close to the pony herds as well as dolphins and seabirds. For the best wildlife viewing, take an early morning cruise. (3335 Main St.; 757/336-5556)
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You'll see many ponies from afar as you explore the island, but if you are yearning for an even more up-close-and-personal experience, you should head to the Chincoteague Pony Centre. Little kids can get a pony ride, and you can pet ponies, see a pony show, and watch a 30-minute documentary on the history of the ponies. (6417 Carriage Dr,; 757/336-2776)Continue to 9 of 10 below.
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For a relaxing and inexpensive way to get around on the island, hop on the quaint Chincoteague Pony Express trolley. The fare is just 25 cents and the trolley route covers most of the island—just look for trolley stop signs. Trolley tours with narrated commentary run every Tuesday and Thursday from mid-June through Labor Day. (757/336-6519)