Assateague Island is 37-miles of sand, maritime forests, and salt marshes that is shared by Maryland and Virginia. Most people are drawn to Assateague by the untamed horses. But if you’re looking for a back-to-nature dog friendly beach getaway, Assateague Island is hard to beat!
Assateague Island is a great choice for a laid-back dog friendly beach vacation on the east coast. With miles and miles of beach, great hiking trails, paved bike paths, and canoe and kayak launching areas, this is a place where you can really enjoy nature!
Assateague Island – The Lay Of The Land
Assateague Island is located just 150 miles east of Washington, DC and is divided by the Maryland-Virginia state line. Virginia’s southern third of the island is home to the Assateague Lighthouse and the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. But pets are prohibited on Virginia’s portion of the island – even if they stay inside your vehicle.
Fortunately, you’ll find plenty to do on Maryland’s portion of the island! Most of the Assateague Island National Seashore and Assateague State Park – Maryland’s only oceanfront park – are located there. And, in an interesting twist, the national seashore is actually more pet friendly than the state park!
READ MORE ⇒ America’s Best Dog Friendly National Parks
There is no road that runs the length of the island. And traveling from the northern access near Ocean City, Maryland to the southern access in Chincoteague, Virginia requires a 50-mile drive through the mainland countryside. Therefore, if you’re traveling with pets, it’s important to plan your accommodations accordingly.
Pet Policies At Assateague Island
As we already mentioned, pets are prohibited in the entire Virginia portion of Assateague Island, even in your car.
The northern two-thirds of the island is in Maryland, and is divided between the National Seashore and Assateague State Park. Each of these parks sets their own pet policy.
Assateague Island National Seashore Pet Policy
Pets are welcome year-round in most areas of the Maryland portion of Assateague Island National Seashore, as long as they are on a leash no longer than 6 feet at all times. This includes most beaches, in the water at those beaches, most campsites, and in the marina area to board vessels. Pets cannot go in the following places at the National Seashore:
- backcountry campsites
- nature trails
- the lifeguard-protected beach
- north of the the state park border to the Ocean City inlet
Assateague State Park Pet Policy
Leashed pets are allowed year-round in the marina and on the Rackliffe Trail on the mainland. During the camping season (last week of April – November 1st), pets are welcime in camp loops G, H, and I and on the beaches (and in the water) adjoining those loops, plus on the hiker/biker path on the west side of Campground Road.
When the campground is closed (November 1st- third week of April), leashed pets are permitted in all campground loops and adjoining beaches, including being in the water.
Pets on leash can also join you in the state park day use areas after Labor Day though the Friday of Memorial Day weekend.
Dog Friendly Beach On Assateague Island
Assateague Island’s northern entrance can be accessed from Berlin or Ocean City, Maryland. The Verrazano Bridge crosses from the mainland to the island and brings you into Assateague State Park.
Remember that the state park allows dogs only on the beaches adjoining camp loops G, H, and I from last week of April – November 1st. When the campground is closed (November 1st- third week of April), pets are permitted on the beaches adjoining all campground loops. You can pick up a map to locate the campground loops at the visitor center.
READ MORE ⇒ Keeping Your Dog Safe At The Beach
Continuing south, the dog friendly beach stretches for miles at Assateague Island National Seashore. Here leashed pets are welcome all along the shore, except at the lifeguard-protected beach, which is directly across from the Bayside Drive-in Campground.
The beach is vast, deep, and sparsely populated once you move away from the parking areas. We saw people fishing, napping, cooking out, and warming up by fires after surfing.
For even more seclusion, you can get a permit to drive your vehicle right on the beach! The Over Sand Vehicle (OSV) permits cost $110, are good for one year, and are available for purchased online at www.recreation.gov. You must pick up your permit within 10 days from the date of purchase, and it allows you to drive on the sand after the paved road ends at South Ocean Beach!
Seeing The Wild Horses
While the dog friendly beach is spectacular, Assateague Island is best known for its herd of untamed horses. Descended from the domesticated horses that were introduced to the island in the late 17th century, the herd is now feral.
It’s absolutely vital that visitors do not to feed the horses. This herd has evolved to survive on the scraggly vegetation found on the island. If the animals are fed during the tourist season, they have a hard time adjusting back to their normal diet when the crowds disappear. And in a severe winter, that could lead to disaster.
The horses are smaller than I expected — in fact, many people call them “ponies.” But they’re wild animals and they could bite or kick if approached, so don’t underestimate them. It’s best to view them from a distance – especially when you have your dog along.
Where To Find Assateague’s Wild Horses
Finding the wild ponies is generally pretty easy. There are about 150 horses in each of Maryland and Virginia herds. And they like to hang out in small groups around the parking lots and mosey along the trails and roadways. They also enjoy long walks on the beach, where they check picnic baskets along the way. So keep an eye on your lunch!
Still concerned you might miss them? Stop at the Assateague Island Visitor Center for a “horse report” just before crossing the Verrazano Bridge into the park.
Take A Dog Friendly Boat Tour
Another fun way to see the Assateague and Chincoteague Island is by boat! Choose from dog friendly guided cruises or kayak tours and experience wild ponies, dolphins, birds and scenery that can only be appreciated from the water.
READ MORE ⇒ Tips for Canoeing or Kayaking with Dogs
Where To Stay
Camping is one of the most popular ways to stay on Assateague, and both Assateague State Park and Assateague Island National Seashore have pet friendly campgrounds with beachfront sites. Reservations are required March 15 through November 15 and can be made up to six months in advance. But they fill up fast! So if you want to stay within walking distance of the beach, plan ahead.
Also keep in mind that you’re not going to find restaurants, grocery stores, hotels, or shopping on the island. If you’re attracted to those amenities, there are good pet friendly lodging options in nearby Berlin and Ocean City, Maryland.
Pet Friendly Berlin, Maryland
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. It then became the Philadelphia Post Road, which connected centers of commerce to the north and west in colonial times.
Today the city is a showcase 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!
We hope our visit to the dog friendly beach on Assateague Island inspires you! If you’ve already been there, tell us about your favorite things to do in the comments below.