Family field trip to Assateague and Chincoteague

Laughing on the beach at Assateague Island

In my snippets from unschooling post earlier this week, I mentioned we spent a few days last week in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.

It’s a great “home base” for a beach vacation, because you can drive up and down the Delmarva (that’s Delaware-Maryland-Virginia, for those non-East-Coasters!) shoreline and see a bunch of great things, everything from the Cape May/Lewes Ferry that’ll take you to New Jersey, smaller beaches like Dewey and Fenwick Island in Delaware, to Ocean City, Md., to Assateague and Chincoteague, islands in Maryland and Virginia respectively.

We’ve lately done most of our lodging through Airbnb, which is essentially a brokerage for private house or apartment rentals. We’ve stayed at some amazing places – for a fraction of the cost of hotels.

For this trip, we rented a two-bedroom apartment in Rehoboth, literally within view of Coastal Highway (Route 1, the main route down the coast).

And from there, it was about an hour’s drive to Assateague Island National Seashore and then another hour down through Maryland and Virginia farmland to Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. (If you’re planning a visit, this is important – there is no public road that goes from one end of the island to the other; you must return inland to travel to the southern end!)

These areas are most noted for being the home of wild ponies (and here’s a good overview about them)… but there is so much more to see there! Here’s a look at some of the highlights of our trip – and a list of resources available to you if your family would like to learn more about Assateague, MD, and Chincoteague, VA!

Great blue heron at Assateague Island

Assateague Island National Seashore

On our visit to the north end of Assateague Island (the Maryland side), we loved checking out the Assateague Island Visitor Center, where we spent a couple of hours (it’s that good). Then, we took a driving tour of about 45 minutes around the island, looking for the wild ponies! We didn’t see any up close, but spotted several birds (including the great blue heron seen above) and visited some wonderful areas of unspoiled beach.

And Sarah got to pet a horseshoe crab at the visitors’ center! She could have stared at it for a half-hour easily.

Petting a horseshoe crab at Assateague Island

Sarah also spotted a seahorse in another aquarium – probably the first I’d seen in person!

Seahorse at Assateague Island

After leaving the visitor center, there is a fee of $15 to enter the main part of the island by car on the Maryland side, but the pass is good for seven days!

Adopting a horse on Assateague Island

Here are some of the other cool Assateague things we found.

  • The Assateague Foster Horse Program allows you to help support the care of the ponies of Assateague by “adopting” a horse of your choice for about $40. In exchange, you receive a fact sheet on your horse, plus a nice portfolio with an 8×10 photo and a certificate. Conveniently, you can see an example above – as we are now proud supporters of “Boots.” (Boots, by the way, was the nickname of my mom’s dog in high school!) One of the great things about this program is you can support the horses even if you’re not able to visit in person – but we were lucky to be able to try to spot our horse while visiting! (No luck, but that’s OK!)
  • The foster horse program is run by a friends’ group called the Assateague Island Alliance.
  • The official National Park Service site on Assateague Island National Seashore is as thorough as I’ve come to expect from NPS! There’s much there to recommend, so browse around, but I’ll highlight a few of our favorite links here.
  • The NPS brochure on The Wild Horses of Assateague Island is a great basic overview of the herd, in easy-to-read Q&A format.
  • The Prince Georges Audubon Society offers a great map and links to other resources on the Assateague area.

Kingfisher at Assateague Island

Bald eagle at Assateague Island

Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge

We weren’t sure what to expect, but were lucky to have a slightly closer look at the ponies here on the southern end of the island!

Wild ponies at Chincoteague

There is a fee of $8 per car per day to enter the island from the Virginia side; and, like with the northern end, there is also an option for a $15 one-week pass.

  • While the ponies are the “main attraction” for many first-time visitors to Chincoteague or Assateague, we were just as impressed with the variety of birds we were able to see! We were amazed to be able to spot both a kingfisher and a bald eagle – and Sarah was the first to identify both! (You can see them above.)
  • Speaking of ponies, though, here’s a guide to some of them, along with photos. 
  • There are two visitors’ centers on the south end of the island – one operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the other by the National Park Service (that’s the “Tom’s Cove” visitors’ center that you might read about in some of the links above.) Here’s the Fish and Wildlife Service’s page on Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. Not only was their visitors’ center amazing, but the staff members working at it were too; they really enjoyed talking with Sarah about their projects and the wildlife of the area, including some interesting local squirrels!
  • The Fish and Wildlife Service offers a great resource page of lesson plans on local animal tracks, invasive plants and more topics.
  • The Chincoteague Natural History Association is a friends’ group that supports Chincoteague; their website has everything from information on the lighthouse to bird sightings and more!
  • And, because I can’t forget the obvious, the Misty of Chincoteague series by Marguerite Henry is a great realistic fiction acccount of the Chincoteague ponies!

Horseshoe crab tail on the beach at Chincoteague

The beaches on the Virginia end of the island are also beautiful; there, Sarah found the tail of a horseshoe crab!

Virginia farmland outside of Chincoteague

Sarah took this photo of the trip from Maryland to Virginia – very colorful fall fields along the way!

One other, uh, interesting facet to the trip occurs just as you’re crossing to Chincoteague Island. This was a first for me, and my photo isn’t particularly clear, but…

The whole highway is a bridge. And then there’s another bridge intersecting the main bridge, which you can see to the left! Bridge meets bridge… the first I’ve ever seen! (I’m not a huge bridge fan. So it was a little scary. Don’t make fun of me.)

Intersection of bridges near Chincoteague, Virginia

Other Great Assateague and Chincoteague Learning Resources

NASA Wallops Island Flight Facility main entrance sign

I can’t say enough good things about this trip. We actually didn’t know what to expect, but we were thrilled with what we found!

If you have any other suggestions for good Chincoteague or Assateague study ideas, please comment; I’ll be glad to add them to the list!

Read more

This post is part of an occasional series of “Family Field Trip” posts, combining our own adventures with resources we’ve found helpful.

Many of these will work even if you can’t visit in person!

Earlier in the series, we shared free resources to help you learn about Philadelphia, Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell!

This post is also part of the iHomeschool Network’s Best Homeschool Field Trips linkup. Click the image at right to read more!

26 thoughts on “Family field trip to Assateague and Chincoteague

  1. Last August (2011) we attended Family Camp at Marine Science Consortium on Whallops Island. It was the single best family experience we have ever had. I highly recommend it. We spent time on Chincoteague and Assateague. We went trawling and pulled up flounder, pufferfish and a sunfish. We mucked through marsh and learned about the local ecosystem. We kayaked and visited museums and bonded with our friends from Frog Creek who were our dorm-buddies. I blogged about it for a week!

    I am so glad you enjoyed your time there as well. It is one the most beautiful places in our country (in my opinion!)

    • Jessica, that sounds awesome! I am definitely going to have to go back and check out your posts from there! It was an amazing experience for us, for sure. I am just in awe at the great places we get to go sometimes!

    • I have been looking forward to a little retreat time. Going there at the end of m
      March. I don’t like over populate get always. Enjoyed the info. I am praying the weather is at least in the 50’s

  2. I have always wanted to go to Chincoteague and Assateague to see the wild ponies! I read the Misty of Chincoteague books as a kid and loved them. I’ve always loved horses 🙂 I think I’ll be pinning this post to refer back to someday when we plan our trip.

  3. I so wish I had seen these resources before we went to Assateague! Wow, what a great list! I am definitely going to look at and use all of them, if not now for a follow-up, but for the next time we go. You’re in PA, as well? We are right outside of Philadelphia. So nice to “meet” you! It is truly a small world and to have been at Assateague at the exact same time, too cool! 🙂 We had never been there before, so it was quite an amazing experience. We go to that area every year at the same time, as my husband and oldest go to the NASCAR race in Dover on Sunday, but this was our first time venturing to Assateague. 🙂 Hope you have a great weekend!

    • Oh, Lisa, that’s another amazing coincidence – much of my family lives in Delaware and Bucks counties in PA and also in Glouchester County, NJ, right across the bridge. I can’t even believe it.

      I’ll definitely be following you guys – I’m so glad I stumbled on your site!

  4. You go to the most amazing places Joan. This sounds wonderful. One of the things I have always wanted to do with Keilee is travel but haven’t been able to afford it. I also love that your Mom lives and goes with you. I would give ANYTHING if my Mom was still alive and lived with us. My Dad has remarried and I always say he could stay married and Mom could just live with us! 🙂 Love the seahorse, love the ponies, love the horseshoe crab tail [I didn’t realize they were that large!] and love Sarah’s shirt. 🙂

    • This level of travel is actually pretty rare for us – it’s kind of our family’s equivalent of Disneyworld, you know? Like you, though, I FIRMLY believe in taking advantage of absolutely any local event I can and embracing those! (We’re awfully lucky that we live so close to so many cool things – and I’m jealous of your Fiddlers’ Festival!)

  5. I LOVE Assateague! I grew up going there, and I have brought my kids there once (well my two oldest anyways…We lived in MD before we moved to HI. Thanks for linking up at FTF! Makes me miss home a bit 😉

  6. Be right there! Have you guys read The While Stallion of Lipizza? My personal Henry book – even my hubby loved that one. I guess I need to go to Vienna too.

  7. I went to Chincoteague as a kid for Pony Penning and we never made it out to Assteague. I’d love to go there sometime, but it hasn’t worked out on any of our trips. Someday…….. Someday I’ll go there again.

    Thanks for linking up to Science Sunday! Sorry I’m so late commenting.

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