10 Top Things to Do on Chincoteague Island with Kids

Chincoteague Horses on the Beach

JeninVA / Getty Images

The small and serene island of Chincoteague is the gateway to the Assateague Island National Seashore, a nature refuge that is home to herds of wild ponies made famous by the classic children's book "Misty of Chincoteague." It is accessible by boat or by car along Virginia's Eastern coast over the Route 175 bridge.

If you want to witness the famous annual pony swim and roundup, you'll need to visit in late July, though Chincoteague and its sister island, Assateague, are very special any time of year. It's a great place for families to stay and there are several good hotel options on Chincoteague Island. Kid-friendly activities range from finding the wild ponies to climbing the spiral stairs of a lighthouse. Here's how to make the most of your time there.

01 of 10

Cool off at Maui Jack's Waterpark

Maui Jack's Waterpark

Maui Jack's Waterpark

Temperatures in Chincoteague can get pretty toasty in the summer. When that happens, take the family to Maui Jack's Waterpark, open seasonally from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend, to take on body slides and high-speed slides (if your kids are taller than 48 inches), cool off in the splash zone, and float down the lazy river. Consider renting out a cabana (available for an extra fee per day) if you're traveling with little ones or a larger group and want to make sure there's a base for everyone to return to throughout the day between rides.

If you happen to be traveling with an RV, are planning to camp out in a tent or cabin or wish to stay in a hotel nearby, Maui Jack's Waterpark is partnered with Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park Chincoteague Island and nearby Fairfield Inn & Suites Chincoteague Island, so you'll score access to special rates on waterpark day passes by staying there.

6742 Maddox Blvd, Chincoteague, VA 23336, USA
Phone +1 757-336-1800
02 of 10

Get Hands On at the Delmarva Discovery Center

Delmarva Discovery Museum

Delmarva Discovery Museum

2 Market St, Pocomoke City, MD 21851-1023, USA
Phone +1 410-957-9933

Located about 30 minutes from downtown Chincoteague in West Pocomoke, the Delmarva Discover Museum gives kids the chance to try their hand at steering a steamboat, learn about the area's Native American history and culture by stepping into a life-sized replica of a traditional wigwam, and check out the inside of a beaver's dam. This self-guided museum also features a touch pool so kids can get up close to horseshoe crabs and other fun-to-feel creatures, as well as exhibits about North American river otters, reptiles, amphibians, and a STEAM lab where kids can don lab coats and see what it's like to be a real-life scientist.

03 of 10

See the Wild Ponies Up Close

Wild ponies of Chincoteague

Bonnie Gruenberg / Wikimedia Commons

8231 Beach Rd, Chincoteague, VA 23336, USA
Phone +1 757-336-6122

While you will definitely be able to spot the wild ponies of Chincoteague as you drive, bike, or walk around the refuge, you'll get much better views by visiting areas that are not open to the general public on a private bus tour. The 90-minute guided "Refuge Trek," offered by the Chincoteague National History Association from April to November each year, gives guests an up-close look at the wild ponies.

During the tour, you'll be transported up a seven-mile service road, along which you'll see horses, white-tailed deer, Sika elk, and a variety of ornate birds. The tour will also make several stops so visitors can get off the bus for a closer look.

For an even more up-close-and-personal experience, head to the Chincoteague Pony Centre. Here, little ones can take a pony ride, pet ponies, see a pony show, and watch a 30-minute documentary about the history of the ponies in the area. The Chincoteague Pony Centre also offers a variety of special events throughout the year, so check the events guide for more information on seasonal and holiday attractions at this famous horse reserve.

04 of 10

Hit the Beach

Chincoteague Beach

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service / Flickr 

Assateague Island, United States

Chincoteague's sister island of Assateague is just a quarter mile away and accessible by car, bike, or on foot via the trail that links the two islands. On Assateague, there are over 37 miles of pristine beaches, among the best in the Mid-Atlantic region, including two beaches with lifeguards on either end of the island.

Once you arrive in Assateague, there's plenty to do, including activities like four-wheel driving on the beach, seashell collecting, clamming, swimming, surf fishing, beach hiking, and birdwatching. The refuge and beaches are open year-round, though hours of operation vary by season with extended hours in the summer and shortened hours in the winter.

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05 of 10

Go Crabbing

Young boy looking at blue crab in his hand (Assateague islands)

SKLA / Getty Images

You don't need anything fancy to go crabbing in the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge; you can simply 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. Kids will love reeling in blue crabs but should also be careful to avoid getting pinched by these feisty creatures.

Additionally, you'll need to observe state limitson size and quantity when crabbing as these rules are enforced by local law officers and park rangers. Each person is allowed one bushel of hard crabs per day, and there are certain limits on the sizes of crabs you can take home. Once you're finished, pay it forward by finding another family and passing on your slightly-used crabbing gear.

8231 Beach Rd, Chincoteague, VA 23336, USA
Phone +1 757-336-6122
06 of 10

Take a Cruise and Get Your Hands Dirty

People on a Captain Barry's boat

Captain Barry's Back Bay Cruises

If you do just one tour of Chincoteague, it should be the Hands On Eco-Expedition offered Captain Barry's Back Bay Cruises. This special two-hour tour allows visitors to get up close to nature, put their bare feet in the mud, and use their hands to pull up crab traps, dig for clams, shuck oysters, and learn about local ecology in the most hands-on way possible.

Kids especially will enjoy these tours for their hands-on approach to education and exploration. Fortunately, they are also limited to six people at a time so everyone gets plenty of attention and a chance to participate. All tours depart from the Captain Barry's Back Bay Cruises office and advanced reservations are required.

6262 Marlin Street, Chincoteague, VA 23336, USA
Phone +1 757-336-6508
07 of 10

Explore the Island on Two Wheels

Bikes lined up as part of Bike Depot
Bike Depot
Hallie Whealton Smith Dr, Chincoteague, VA 23336, USA
Phone +1 757-336-6519

Flat and tremendously scenic, Chincoteague is a great place to get around on a bike because everything is close and it's the perfect blend of small town and wilderness. Many of the roads here have sidewalks, while Chincoteague offers a fantastic, paved Island Nature Trail located along both sides of Hallie Whealton Smith Drive.

When it comes to getting a bike on the island, 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.

08 of 10

Take a Cruise to See Ponies and Dolphins

People on a Daisey's Island Cruise in Chincoteague
Daisey's Island Cruises

Since you've likely come to Chincoteague to see the wild ponies, it can be interesting to view them from different vantage points. One wonderful way to spot both Chincoteague and Assateague from the water is with Daisey's Island Cruises.

These guided nature tours on comfortable pontoon boats bring you up close to the pony herds as well as other local creatures like dolphins and seabirds. For the best wildlife viewing, take an early morning cruise, though it may be a bit difficult to manage this with small children.

2246 Curtis Merritt Harbor Dr, Chincoteague, VA 23336, USA
Phone +1 757-336-5556
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09 of 10

Climb Assateague Lighthouse

Assateague Lighthouse

Paulo Ordoveza / Flickr 

Assateague Island National Seashore, Chincoteague, VA 23336, USA
Phone +1 757-336-3696

From April to November, you can climb to the top of the 142-foot-tall Assateague Lighthouse, which is still operational and considered to be one of the most impressive landmarks in Virginia. From Chincoteague, you can ride a bicycle or walk on the trail that leads to Assateague Island, where the top of the lighthouse is accessible to the public. Alternatively, for a great view of this attraction, you can also take an Assateague cruise or kayak trip from Chincoteague and see the lighthouse in all its glory from the water. Admission is free, though donations are greatly appreciated.

10 of 10

Take the Pony Express Trolley Ride

Chincoteague Pony Express Trolley
Chincoteague Pony Express

For a relaxing and inexpensive way to get around on the island, hop aboard the Pony Express Trolley, which has a fare of just 50 cents (or two tokens). The route covers most of the island, with many of the area's best motels, restaurants, shops, parks, recreational areas, ice cream parlors, and campgrounds are located along it.

Chincoteague Island, Chincoteague, VA 23336, USA
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10 Top Things to Do on Chincoteague Island with Kids