Where to See Wild Horses and Ponies of the Southeast

Free-roaming wild mustangs are a sight associated with American W​est. Wild horses in America are not limited to the west coast. Southeastern US beaches and islands offer a unique opportunity to see wild horses, such as the Chincoteague ponies and Corolla wild horses.

True living legacies of European and American history, the pony-sized wild horses of the southeastern United States coast seem to possess a special mystique that intrigues and enchants thousands upon thousands of visitors each year. Living among the salt marshes, dunes and maritime forests of only a few places in Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia, these small, sturdy and independent horses have survived for centuries of generations against many odds and can still be enjoyed today.

If you plan on visiting one of the pristine areas to see the horses, be sure to abide by the safety rules and tips for viewing the wild mustangs, horses, and ponies.

  • 01 of 06
    Wild Horses grazing in front of the Dungeness Plantation ruins on Cumberland Island, Georgia
    ••• Louise Heusinkveld/Getty Images

    Catch the Cumberland Island Ferry from downtown St. Marys for a day trip, overnight camping, or a stay at the luxurious Greyfield Inn, the only Cumberland Island hotel.

    Cumberland Island National Seashore, the largest and southernmost barrier island in Georgia, is home to more than 200 wild, or feral, horses. Although some of their original roots may have similarities to those of the wild horses in North Carolina and Virginia, the Cumberland Island horses are larger and exhibit many other differences because so many other breeds were brought to the island during its fascinating history.

    The horses on Cumberland Island are completely unmanaged, except for very occasional intervention in the case of extreme injury. They roam the island freely and can often be seen lingering near the historic Dungeness ruins.

  • 02 of 06
    Wild horses looking at tourists on Assateague Island
    ••• Paul Souders/Getty Images

    Established in 1965 as a unit of the National Park System, Assateague Island National Seashore, which extends from Virginia into Maryland, is home to wild horses owned by two different states.

    A fence divides these two herds on Assateague Island at the state line between Maryland and Virginia.

  • 03 of 06

    Corolla Wild Horses - Outer Banks of North Carolina

    Wild Spanish mustangs walking Corolla Beach of the Outer Banks of North Carolina
    ••• Danita Delimont/Getty Images

    For centuries, wild horses freely roamed many areas of the Outer Banks. Detailed information from 16th Century Spanish ship logs and journals indicates that the first horses arrived on the Outer Banks via Spanish explorers' vessels as early as 1520. Visitors in 4WD vehicles are able to view the horses by driving along the beach and on sandy side roads or there are many wild horse tours from which to choose.

  • 04 of 06

    Ocracoke Island Banker Horses - North Carolina

    Wild Banker ponies of Ocracoke Island, North Carolina
    ••• Raymond Gehman/Getty Images

    Most often referred to as Ocracoke ponies, Banker horses have been documented on Ocracoke since the 1730s, although many believe and some evidence supports the popular theory that the horses arrived much earlier with Spanish explorers during the 16th century. Throughout Ocracoke history, these small but sturdy horses have served the residents, the U.S. Lifesaving Service, and the U.S. Coast Guard, and their descendants continue to capture the attention of visitors to the island.

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  • 05 of 06
    Wild pony grazing near lighthouse on Shackleford Banks of Cape Lookout, North Carolina
    ••• Zach Frailey/Getty Images

    Shackleford Banks, one of the islands of Cape Lookout National Seashore, is home to over 100 wild horses. The horses roam freely across the narrow island, which is less than a mile wide and about nine miles long and can be reached only by boat. Shackleford Banks is a wonderful horse watching island, although because of its location 3-miles offshore, visiting the island takes a bit of planning. There are seasonal and regular ferry services that go to the island and the National Park Service offers occasional horse watching field trips.

  • 06 of 06
    A wild horse of North Carolina
    ••• John Greim/Getty Images

    The Rachel Carson component of the North Carolina Coastal Reserve and National Estuarine Research Reserve encompasses a complex of islands, located across Taylor's Creek from historic Beaufort, North Carolina. Carrot Island, Town Marsh, Bird Shoal, and Horse Island are easily visible from Beaufort's Front Street area and visitors frequently enjoy a glimpse of the Reserve's horses galloping along the beach or standing in the higher elevations. There are several boat tours around the island and ferry service to the island for visitors who wish to enjoy a closer view. Special programs and field trips are available through the Reserve, the NC Maritime Museum, and other organizations.

    Edited by Lori Mac Brown