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!

A Dog Friendly Day on the Beach at Maryland's Assateague Island National Seashore from GoPetFriendly.com
 

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

Dog Friendly Beach at Assateague Island National Seashore
 

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.

Map showing Assateague Island off the east coast of the United States
 

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
Dog Friendly Beach at Assateague Island National Seashore
 

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.

Assateague Island Lighthouse, MD
 

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

Map showing Assateague National Seashore
 

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!

Dog Friendly Beach at Assateague Island National Seashore
Dog Friendly Beach at Assateague Island National Seashore
 

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.

Dog Friendly Beach at Assateague Island National Seashore
Dog Friendly Beach at Assateague Island National Seashore
 

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.

Dog Friendly Beach at Assateague Island National Seashore
 

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.

Dog Friendly Beach at Assateague Island National Seashore
Dog Friendly Beach at Assateague Island National Seashore
 

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.  

Dog friendly tours are available from Chincoteague Island, Virginia. Or rent a pontoon boat to pilot yourself in Ocean City, Maryland.

READ MORE ⇒ Tips for Canoeing or Kayaking with Dogs

Dog and woman sitting with a man kayaking
 

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.

Topnotch Resort and Spa - Stowe, VT
 

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.

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  • I’ve been meaning to take my dog for its first real holiday. I found some useful tips on PetMD and PetCareRx, but your post has given me more handy ideas. Thanks for this.

  • Hi, thanks for this article. I went on the Assateague website and saw this:

    Pets are completely prohibited in the following areas:
    – All backcountry campsites
    – Nature trails
    – Llifeguard-protected beach
    – The State Park
    – North of the State Park to the Ocean City inlet
    – The entire Virginia portion of Assateague Island
    Pets are prohibited in the entire Virginia portion of Assateague Island, even in your car. The land area on the Virginia portion of Assateague Island is a National Wildlife Refuge and National Park.

    Their website says dogs aren’t allowed in the State Park. Did something change? And I have no idea what “North of the State Park to the Ocean City inlet”. We actually will be stopping in Assateague on our way to Virginia Beach. We were thinking of doggy day care for a few hours but if we can take our pup, it would be great.

    • Hi Julissa! Thanks for your note. You can definitely take your pup!

      I double checked the Assateague website (https://www.nps.gov/asis/planyourvisit/pets.htm), and it says that pets are prohibited from “portions of the state park.” The state park website (https://dnr.maryland.gov/publiclands/Documents/Pet-Policy-ASP.pdf) lays out where pets are allowed and not.

      “North of the state Park to the Ocean City inlet” can best be visualized on the first map in the blog post. There is a section of the island north of the road that comes over from the mainland that is white on the map. It runs north toward Ocean City. This is the area they’re referring to. But there’s a lot more of the island you can explore together.

      I hope that helps and that you all have a great time!

  • Wait a minute. If dogs are not allowed anywhere on the Virginia side (even in cars – which I think is bullshit), how are they allowed on a boat tour on the Virginia side?!?!

    • Hi JW! My understanding is that the pet friendly boat tours depart from outside the preserve area. However, we’ve not taken a tour ourselves. Of course you can always reach out to the tour operators for more information. Here’s a link where you can find their details >> https://www.gopetfriendly.com/activities/va/chincoteague
      Wishing you safe and happy travels!

  • This is a great article. As a child in the 50’s, my favorite children’s book was Misty of Chincoteague. It had been on my bucket list for many years. I found out the hard way the different dog policies between Maryland and Virginia parks. I was so glad Maryland did allow dogs. I was also able to go on a dog-friendly boat ride that was informative. I got some new info for my next trip with my grandkids.

    • Thank you for the note, Mary – that’s wonderful! Do you remember the name of the company offering the dog friendly boat tours? If so, we’ll make sure to include them on the website!

      • It was 6 years ago. I think it was Chincoteague Boat Tours. I also learned that while they cull the herd in Virginia with the fire department auction, in Maryland they use birth control. Can’t wait to go back! Keep up the good work. My dog is Annabelle, a 13 year old Boston Terrier.

        • Thanks, Mary! We’ll do some research on the dog friendly boat tours. Happy trails to you and Annabelle!

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