A Childhood Dream Road Trip | Assateague and Chincoteague Islands

When I opened up my birthday present in December, I never expected that part of my present would be a family road trip to a place I’ve wanted to go to since I was 10, Chincoteague and Assateague Islands. I fell in love with the book Misty of Chincoteague when I was young and have wanted to see the wild horses mentioned in the book ever since. We didn’t know much about the islands (aside from what was in Misty of Chincoteague) as we started researching what we would do while there, but what we discovered during our stay was some fascinating history, breathtaking scenery, and of course, wild horses.

It was quite an eventful trip. My parents bought a motorhome specifically for this trip as we would be camping everywhere we went, and this was the first time they had spent a long period of time in it. Part of our trip included going to Pennsylvania for a family friend’s wedding so we traveled through 6 states on our trip. We traveled to Harrisburg, PA for the wedding and spent two nights at Harrisburg East Campground. This was definitely an older campground with not very large sites which made setting up my sister’s 8 man tent on our site quite a feat. While in Harrisburg, we sampled some local fare and were really big fans of Lancaster Brewing! Maybe it was because we were so hungry, but the food was awesome and the drinks were delicious! It was a great cap to our first night in PA. The next day was hot and humid for the wedding, but it was so good to see our friends! Before we left for Chincoteague the following morning, we stopped in at a bistro called Tomato Pie Cafe(?) which had good food, but if you want to get in and out in a timely manner, show up earlier in the morning.

Leaving Pennsylvania, there was a bit of apprehension since we knew that we would be crossing the Chesapeake Bridge (which has been labeled one of the scariest bridges in the U.S.). The views though all through Pennsylvania and Maryland were pretty cool. Tons of woods and hills with some great outlooks. As we got closer to the bridge, traffic was pretty heavy. We had discovered earlier in the day that we had a loose hubcap on the motorhome, and of course, in the middle of stop-and-go traffic, the last lug nut fell out. After a quick pull-off to remove the hubcap, we were on the bridge. Now, I’ve crossed the Mackinac Bridge multiple times-have even driven across it, but this bridge was much more nerve-wracking. As my sister said afterward, “I started sweating in weird places.” We made it across, though!

Without any more mishap, we arrived in Chincoteague. Driving into Chincoteague from the mainland, we got our first taste of the views that we would see for the next few days. Marshes surrounded us with golden light touching them from the sun. Rivulets of water flowing around grassy islands, birds everywhere, and the mood of a seaside town. It was beautiful! We stayed at the KOA on the island which has a waterpark attached to it (unfortunately it wasn’t open) and is right in town (as most things are because Chincoteague is only about 9 miles long.) The weather cooled off considerably our first night on the island, making the next day cool and rainy. We decided to check out the historic downtown area and do some shopping, between the rain, some closed shops, and just being tired, the town didn’t really captivate us like we thought it would. We decided to eat dinner out and get seafood because we were in a seaside town. There were very few places open on Monday in the off-season, so we tried Etta’s Channel Side Restaurant. It was kind of a mixed bag as far as the food went, but the views from the restaurant were nice. I think we would all recommend the seafood sampler platter as the plate to order if you go there!

The next day, however, proved to be better. We decided to spend the majority of the day on Assateague. Assateague is to the east of Chincoteague and is much longer, extending along the coast of Maryland and Virginia. There are only two bridges to Assateague-one from each state. We were on the Virginia side, which we found out later isn’t the best side from which to see wild horses. We knew there were trails for biking on the island from our research, so we had packed our own bikes, and I’m so glad we did! We spent the afternoon biking around the island seeing the Assateague Lighthouse, dipping our toes in the Atlantic Ocean, and just enjoying the scenery. There were woods everywhere! Beautiful lush green forests opened up to more marshes, leading to the ocean. The scenery was diverse and beautiful. We saw fiddler crabs, sandpipers, cranes, cactus, seashells, diving birds, herons, and so many more things. We also saw one mare and her foal so far in the distance that it was hard to see them, but no horses up close. We spent the evening in town shopping, eating ice cream at the Island Creamery, and getting pizza from a local shop.

The next morning my siblings and I hit the road on our bikes around 5:15 am to try and catch the sunrise over the ocean. Unfortunately, it was cloudy and there was no sunrise, but it was a great ride and a fun memory. We were at least rewarded with some great coffee, tea, and pastries from AmaRin Coffee (the only open coffee shop). Highly recommend stopping there if you make a visit. For the rest of the day, our itinerary included a guided tour of downtown and Beebe Ranch and visiting the Maryland side of Assateague to try and see wild horses. The downtown tour was fascinating. The lady made the downtown come alive and the whole area changed in our eyes after walking around with her. She was very knowledgeable and passionate about the area. From there we went to Beebe Ranch and met a relative of the Beebes in the Misty of Chincoteague book. It was cool to see some of the descendants of the horse Misty and hear more about the history of the ranch. Highly recommend doing a tour if you can! They have other ones to choose from that sounded pretty fun as well.

After driving an hour to the Maryland side of Assateague, we began trying to find some horses. The scenery on the Maryland side is almost the opposite of the Virginia side. It’s rolling dunes and marsh with open ocean views. Shorter shrubbery and red pines. It was pretty incredible to see the difference from one side of the island to the other. After a short time, we found a band of wild horses! Because it was low tide, we were able to walk out and get relatively close to them for pictures. One mare and foal even started walking toward us trying to get away from the band, but the stallion was quick to herd them back in. We then traveled back toward the campground (yes, there is camping on Assateague, and it is now on our bucket list!) where there was another small band of some young horses snooping around that a park ranger was shooing out. As we were leaving the sun was going down and the light was just perfect when we saw the last band off the road. It was absolutely stunning. The night was capped off by seeing the flower moonrise which was incredible!

Leaving Chincoteague the next day was a bit sad as it just felt like we were becoming familiar with the island and really understanding it, but it was a trip that fulfilled so many childhood dreams. I would love to go back in the future and explore more! If you ever get the chance to go, I highly recommend it. It was definitely a trip to remember.