The wild, wind-swept beaches of Assateague Island stretch for 37 miles along the east coast of the United States, forming a barrier between the Delmarva peninsula and the Atlantic Ocean. Bisected by the Maryland-Virginia state line, there is no road running the length of Assateague. So traveling from the northern access near Ocean City, Maryland to the southern access in Virginia requires a 50-mile drive through mainland countryside.

A Dog Friendly Day on the Beach at Maryland's Assateague Island National Seashore from GoPetFriendly.comVirginia claims the southern third of the island, home to the Assateague Lighthouse and the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge where pets are prohibited – even inside your vehicle. We focused our attention on Maryland’s northern two-thirds of the island, where you’ll find the majority of the Assateague Island National Seashore and Assateague State Park. In an interesting twist, the national park here is actually more pet friendly than the state park!

Pet Policies at Assateague Island

Pets are permitted in the Maryland portion of the National Seashore and must be on leashes no longer than 6 feet at all times. This include the marina area to board vessels, most beaches, and most campsites. Pets are not allowed in the following areas of the National Seashore:

  • the backcountry campsites
  • the nature trails (1.75 miles, one mile of which is wheelchair accessible)
  • the lifeguard-protected beach
  • north of the the state park border to the Ocean City inlet
  • the entire Virginia portion of Assateague Island, including inside vehicles

The State Park allows leashed pets in the marina area to board vessels, in camp loop J and the adjoining beach, and in the day use areas of the park from October 1st – April 30th.

Dog Friendly Beach at Assateague Island National Seashore

Assateague Island’s Wild Horses

Assateague Island is probably best known for its herd of wild horses or “ponies” as many people call them. While they’re smaller than than you might expect, these horses are tough and should be viewed from a distance – especially if you have your dog along! Descended from the domesticated horses that were introduced to the island in the late 17th century, the herd is feral and could bite or kick if approached.

Dog Friendly Beach at Assateague Island National Seashore

Dog Friendly Beach at Assateague Island National Seashore

It’s also very important not to feed the horses. This herd has evolved to survive on the sparse supply of scraggly vegetation found on the island, and animals that are fed during the tourist season have a hard time adjusting back to their normal diet when the crowds disappear. In a severe winter, that could lead to disaster.

Dog Friendly Beach at Assateague Island National Seashore

Finding the wild ponies is generally pretty easy – the Maryland and Virginia herds each number about 150 horses, and they are kept separate by a fence. The horses tend to hang out in small groups around the parking lots, mosey along the trails and roadways where they’re easy to spot, and enjoy long walks on the beach where they check picnic baskets along the way. You can also stop in at the Assateague Island Visitor Center for a “horse report” just before crossing the Verrazano Bridge into the park.

Dog Friendly Beach at Assateague Island National Seashore

Dog Friendly Beach at Assateague Island National Seashore

An Afternoon on the Sand

The beach at Assateague is sumptuous, deep, and thinly populated once you move away from the parking areas. We saw people fishing, napping, cooking out, and warming up by fires after surfing. If you’d like to take your vehicle on the beach, that’s allowed south of South Ocean Beach. You’ll just need to stop in the visitor center to get a Over Sand Vehicle (OSV) permit.

Dog Friendly Beach at Assateague Island National Seashore

Dog Friendly Beach at Assateague Island National Seashore

Dog Friendly Beach at Assateague Island National Seashore

Stopping in Berlin

Named the 2014 Coolest Small Town in America by Budget Travel, the village of Berlin has a long and interesting history. What’s now the town’s main street was originally a path used by the Assateague and Pocomoke Indians, and then became the Philadelphia Post Road – the main route connecting centers of commerce to the north and west in colonial times.

Today the city is a showcase of two centuries of architecture, with many buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The old commercial buildings that line Main Street now house art galleries, antique shops, boutiques, and some fantastic eateries. We chose the cozy back patio at Blacksmith – the staff couldn’t have been nicer about the boys joining us, and the food was delicious!

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    • Hi Ali! Yes, dogs are allowed to go in the ocean at Assateague Island National Seashore, as long as they are on a leash no longer than six feet at all times. Have a great trip!

  • I think you lucked out. Visited there this spring, and while they claim to be pet friendly, they are certainly not pet welcoming. Don’t even try to camp there with a dog.

    • I’m so sorry to hear that was your experience, Pete! While we didn’t camp in the park, we did spend the day on the beach and had a great time with the dogs. We also saw several other dogs there that day, and they all seemed to be enjoying themselves. Perhaps we did just get lucky!

      I appreciate your note and the heads up, and I hope your experience didn’t ruin your trip. Waggin’ trails!

    • We camped at the National Seashore for a week in August 2018, and had no problem with our dog being there. We also met several other campers with dogs- no one had a problem with the rangers or volunteers, while we were there.

      • where did you camp–at an established campsite, and in the va or md side? planning a trip there and that sounds amazing!

        • Hi Aaron! It sounds like you have a great trip in the works. We stayed at a VA state park south of the National Seashore and drove up for our visit. Hopefully Rachael sees your note and is able to provide you with some additional information. Waggin’ trails!

  • Category: Travel Destinations / Tagged with: Beaches, Maryland, National Parks