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. Its a great place for families to stay awhile and there are several good hotel options on Chincoteague Island. Things to do while you are there range from finding the wild ponies to climbing the spiral stairs of a lighthouse.
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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.
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Chincoteague's sister island of Assateague is just a quarter mile away and accessible by car or bike or on foot via the trail that links the two islands. There are 37 miles of pristine beaches, among the best in the Mid-Atlantic region, including two beaches with lifeguards on either end of the island.
There's much to do once you get there including four-wheel driving on the beach, seashell collecting, clamming, swimming, surf fishing, beach hiking, and birdwatching.
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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 crabbing, observe state limits on size and quantity as these rules are enforced by law. Each person is allowed one bushel of hard crabs per day.
When you're finished, try to find another family and pass on your slightly-used crabbing gear.
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If you do just one tour of Chincoteague, it should 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.
The two-hour tours are limited to six people at a time so everyone gets plenty of attention and a chance to participate.Continue to 5 of 10 below.
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Flat and tremendously scenic, Chincoteague is a great place to get around on a bike. Everything is close and it's the perfect blend of small town and wilderness.
Many of the roads on Chincoteague have sidewalks. Chincoteague offers a fantastic, paved Island Nature Trail located along both sides of Hallie Whealton Smith Drive. The land where the trail is located represents some of the 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.
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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; these guided scenic nature tours on comfortable pontoon boats bring you up close to the pony herds as well as dolphins and seabirds.
For the best wildlife viewing, take an early morning cruise.
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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.Continue to 9 of 10 below.
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From April to November, you can climb to the top of the 142-foot-tall Assateague Lighthouse. The light is still operational and is considered one of the most impressive landmarks in Virginia.
From Chincoteague, you can ride a bicycle or walk on the trail that leads from Chincoteague to Assateague Island. The top of the lighthouse is accessible to the public.
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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 (or one token) and the trolley route covers most of the island. Many of the motels, restaurants, shops, parks, recreational areas, ice cream parlors, and campgrounds are on the route. Just look for trolley stop signs and hop on.
In addition, Trolley tours with narrated commentary run every Tuesday and Thursday from mid-June through Labor Day.