The Assateague Island National Seashore, established in 1962, occupies the northern two-thirds of a 37-mi-long barrier island, encompassing a small portion operated as Assateague State Park. ("Assateague" means "a marshy place across.") Although most famous for the small, shaggy, wild horses (adamantly called "ponies" by the public) that roam freely along the beaches and roads, this stunning island is also worth getting to know for its wildland, wildlife (including the beautiful sika deer), and for simply enjoying a pristine ocean-side environment. In summer the seashore's mild surf is where you can find shorebirds tracing the lapping waves back down the beach. There are three self-guided nature trails behind the dunes that encourage exploration of the island's forests and bay-side marshes.
Driving is permitted the length of—and several miles south of—the state park. Appropriate off-road vehicles with special permits may drive the length of the National Seashore as far as the
Maryland-Virginia line. Remember that the animals here are wild, and follow the signs about not feeding or trying to pet the horses (or ponies).
Swimming, biking, hiking, surf fishing, picnicking, and camping are all available on the island. The visitor center at the entrance to the park has aquariums and hands-on exhibits about the seashore's birds and ocean creatures as well as the famous ponies.