Chincoteague Island, Virginia: The Complete Guide

Chincoteague Lighthouse
Chincoteague Lighthouse.

Rachel Cooper

Chincoteague is a small town on the Virginia Eastern Shore and the gateway to the Virginia portion of Assateague Island. World-famous for its wild ponies, the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge includes more than 14,000 acres of beach, dunes, marsh and forest which provides a protected habitat for hundreds of species of animals and migratory birds. Visitors enjoy the peaceful environment and recreational activities including hiking, biking, boating, swimming, fishing, crabbing, clamming, bird watching, and wildlife viewing. The town of Chincoteague has unique shops, museums, fine restaurants and a wide variety of accommodations including hotels, bed and breakfasts, vacation rental homes, family-friendly activities and campgrounds.

Chincoteague Visiting Tips

  • Visit the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge - Hike or bike the nature trails and see the wild ponies and hundreds of species of birds. Climb the stairs of the Assateague Lighthouse and get a birds-eye view of the area. Spend the day enjoying the 10 miles of beach at the Tom Cove Area and enjoy swimming and playing in the sand.
  • Go Kayaking or Take a Boat Tour – Get out on the water and enjoy the fresh air and breathtaking scenery. Enjoy fishing, crabbing or clamming.
  • Stroll Through Town - Enjoy the unique shops and art galleries.
  • Visit the Museum of Chincoteague Island – Learn about the history of the island including its people, culture and heritage.
  • Enjoy Fresh Seafood - Blue Crabs, clams, oysters, and fish are the specialties of the region.
  • Wear Bug Spray and Sunscreen - Chincoteague is notorious for its mosquitoes so be sure to protect yourself from bug bites. Wear sunscreen to prevent damage from UV rays

The Chincoteague Pony Penning

The Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company’s annual Pony Penning takes place on the last consecutive Wednesday and Thursday in the month of July. The world famous Chincoteague Ponies swim from Assateague Island to Chincoteague Island (less than 1000 yards) on Wednesday at the first “slack tide”. The first foal ashore is named King or Queen Neptune and is given away in a raffle later that day at the Carnival Grounds. The Carnival opens immediately after the swim. Proceeds from this event support the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company and are used for maintenance and purchase of fire fighting equipment and care of the pony herd.

Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge

The wildlife refuge is accessible from Maddox Avenue. It is open November through March; 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. April and October; 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., and May until September; 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. There are two visitor centers, Toms Cove, operated by the National Park Service and Chincoteague Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center, operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Read more about visiting Assateague Island.

Major Annual Events in Chincoteague

  • International Migratory Bird Celebration - May
  • Chincoteague Seafood Festival - May
  • Pony Penning and Auction – July
  • Chincoteague Volunteer Fireman’s Carnival - July
  • Chincoteague Island Oyster Festival - October
  • Assateague Island Waterfowl Weekend - November
  • Old Fashioned Christmas Parade – December

Getting to Chincoteague from Washington, D.C.

Take US 50 East. Cross over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, continue on US 50 to Route 13 - turn south. Continue on US 13 to the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Turn left on Route 175 to Chincoteague Island.

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