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National Park Getaway: Assateague Island National Seashore

Seal sitting on a white sand beach
Assateague Island National Seashore has many visitors throughout the year—humans and wildlife!

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Have you ever thought about a late winter getaway to the beach? We are serious! Get ready for salt air, seascapes and solitude. Assateague Island National Seashore is a place recreated each day by ocean wind and waves. Life here has adapted to an existence on the move and wintertime is the best time to watch the island change. Explore uncrowded sandy beaches, salt marshes, maritime forests, and coastal bays. Rest, relax, recreate, and enjoy some time on the edge of the continent.

Assateague Island is one of the largest undeveloped mid-Atlantic barrier islands containing intact coastal habitats where dynamic natural processes may occur with little or no human interference. The island’s habitats support numerous aquatic and terrestrial species, many of which are rare, uniquely adapted to life at the edge of the sea, and dependent upon natural ecosystem processes. The unique environmental conditions found on barrier islands are reflected in the range of habitats stretching from ocean to bay, including beaches, dunes, grass and shrublands, freshwater wetlands, maritime forests, and salt marshes. The winter months are a great time to explore these habitats and their wildlife without the company of our famous mosquitoes!

Brown and white horse running on a beach
Assateague Island is brimming with opportunity to watch wildlife from a safe distance. Wild horses are probably the island's most famous residents.

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The winter months are also some of the best times to observe birds on Assateague Island. Many species of ducks and geese overwinter in the national seashore waters and early arriving migratory species of shorebirds and songbirds use the island as a stopover on their journeys north.

Make sure to look for our most famous wildlife species. The wild horses of Assateague Island are descendants of domesticated animals brought to the island more than 300 hundreds years ago. Horses tough enough to survive the scorching heat, abundant insects, and stormy weather found on this windswept barrier island have formed a unique wild horse society. Check out these wildlife viewing and horse safety tips before you visit to make the most of your time at the park. Enjoy the horses from a distance and help ensure these living cultural resources will continue to thrive on Assateague Island.

Large two-story white house on a marsh
The Assateague Beach Coast Guard Station on Toms Cove is on the National Register of Historic Places.

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The national seashore contains a variety of locally and nationally significant cultural resources, ranging from US Coast Guard stations and boathouses to archeological objects and sites. These structures and sites, as well as the associated documents and objects, are all that remain from the relatively brief periods when humans occupied Assateague Island. Combined, the national seashore’s cultural resources tell the story of mankind’s inability to establish a permanent foothold on the constantly changing barrier island environment.

When visiting Assateague Island in the winter, remember that is often colder and much windier than on the nearby mainland. Dress in layers and bring sturdy shoes or hiking boots to explore the trails and beach. Rain gear, hats, gloves, and sunglasses will keep you prepared for changing weather conditions.

Two camping tents in a wooded area
Camping is very popular way to experience the park throughout the year. Remember to plan ahead for a fun, safe camping adventure!

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Assateague Island’s extraordinary natural resources offer visitors a wide variety of recreational and educational opportunities. Visitors may experience the island year-round in a multitude of ways from camping, oversand vehicle driving on the beach, counting the stars by a campfire, to peaceful self-guided explorations. Expansive seascapes of ocean and bay, panoramic views, natural sounds, inviting waters, ocean breezes, and dark night skies provide a dramatic setting for an exceptional seashore experience.

The National Park Getaways series helps people find new places to connect with nature, history, family, and friends. Explore more than 400 unique national parks across the country sharing the nation's diverse natural and cultural heritage and recreational opportunities.

Last updated: February 24, 2021