The Otherworldly Ponies of Assateague Island, Maryland

Ever Used the Words "Maryland" and "Surreal" in the Same Sentence Before?

Assateague Ponies
Bonnie T. Grueneberg via Wikimedia Commons

If the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Maryland is the coast – and with huge cities like Baltimore (and nearby Washington, D.C.), it might not be – then your thought process probably stops at blue crabs, sunsets along Chesapeake Bay or, at most, the exciting shores of Ocean City. No matter how well you think you know the coast of Maryland, you probably haven't heard of Assateague Island National Seashore, which is not only one of the most surreal places in the state, but possibly in the whole United States.

What Makes Assateague Island So Surreal?

In one word: Ponies. Well, two words really – wild ponies – and not just the wild ponies themselves. Indeed, the pint-sized horses of Assateague Island National Seashore are breathtaking to watch, given their many colors, and the way their elegant movements seem to mirror the waves crashing at their feet, but it's really how they work in concert with the landscape of Assateague Island that makes the experience such a profoundly dreamy one.

You see, unlike some of the more populated stretches of Maryland's coastline, Assateague Island is a decidedly lonely place, with shrub-covered sand dunes, endless stretches of white-sand beaches and water that's often without boats or swimmers. Adding the ponies to this might make you feel like you've stepped into an 18th-century fantasy novel, or onto another planet entirely.

Day Trip or Camping Trip?

Assateague Island's proximity to many of Maryland's top destinations (more on that in a minute) makes it a tempting day trip destination, particularly if your primary goal is going is to snap a selfie with one – or more – of the ponies. If you really want to get a feel for Assateague Island, however, camping along one of its beaches might be your best option.

Camping on Assateague Island is possible throughout the year but is most popular between mid-April and mid-October, during which time period you should make a reservation if possible. The camp sites are bare-bones, so make sure and bring your own supplies, from obvious ones like tents and sleeping bags, to insect repellent, basic medicines and first aid kits, to wood to make fires for camping (and, in the winter, heat – it gets bitterly cold here in January and February!).

How Do I Get to Assateague Island?

Assateague Island is easy to reach from anywhere in Maryland (or Delaware, for that matter). From Baltimore or Washington for example, it's just over two hours by car, primarily traveling due east on U.S. 50 until you reach the coastal road, then heading south and following the signs. Alternatively, Assateague Island is just under three hours from Philadelphia.

The easiest place to begin your journey to Assateague Island, however, is Ocean City. The park begins less than 10 miles from Ocean City's Boardwalk, so whether you're in visiting the city for the day and need a place sleep, or you have a hotel in Ocean City and simply want to get away, Ocean City is the most convenient place to base yourself for a trip to Assateague Island, whether you take a day trip or go camping.

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