No one knows for sure how the wild ponies came to Assateague Island. Perhaps they were shipwrecked and swam to shore, or wandered away from early colonists, but they are descendants of domestic horses. Over 200-300 years have gone by and now they are wild, dealing with the burning sun and biting bugs – the hardships of living on a barrier island by the sea. The herds are split into two, Assateague Island National Seashore in Maryland and Chincoteage National Wildlife Refuge [8231 Beach Rd, Chincoteague Island, VA] in Virginia. As I was on a VA roadtrip and had minimal time I only got to see Chincoteage, but certainly got my fill of ponies.
First stop at the NWR was at the trailhead for the Assateague Lighthouse.
After a few hours of driving we were keen to stretch our legs. The trail to the base is a quick quarter mile through quiet woods.
When you get there you can climb up the lighthouse (for free with entrance fee!) and get a lay of the land.
We got back to the car and continued down the road towards the rest of the activities ahead, there was a bit of a slow down and saw a line of cars stopped on a long stretch. We were about to see our first ponies!
The ponies are penned in on Chincoteague, different from in Maryland where they roam free, but they were close enough to observe with ease. I loved looking at the different patterns and the wild manes. My heart flittered as I saw one playful rolling in the grass, and another nuzzle its mother.
What character each individual had! I found that many of the horses had a buddy, saddled by cattle egret!
Feeling the excitement, we decided to take a hike on the 1.6 mile Woodland Trail. In the middle of the summer it was very green, exceedingly buggy (you must have spray), and blazing hot.
We were dripping with sweat, but soldiered on in hopes of seeing more ponies. We made it to the boardwalk spur where we would catch a glimpse of some far off horses grazing in the field.
It is such a brutal environment these creatures are surviving in. There are other hiking trails such as the Marsh Trail, and the Wildlife Loop, but on a day like the one we visited – we had enough, it was time for the beach. Continuing down the road the drive was gorgeous, views of the lighthouse and such a serious diversity of birds.
We made it to the parking lot and were thankful to see the inviting Atlantic Ocean.
It was a bit crowded (understandably on a weekend in August), but my goodness was the water perfect! Not too cold, great tiny waves, we stayed in forever! Well, just short of forever. Wild horses didn’t drag me away, but hunger did. There are clean water showers in the parking lot which were very convenient, with clean feet we bid the island adieu.
We were off to nearby Captain Zack’s Seafood [4422 Deep Hole Rd, Chincoteague Island, VA 23336] for our last stop of the day, and the last of our Virginia adventures. This is more of a carry out, with some outdoor picnic tables. Order in the little shack and wait for your name to get shouted. It was way too hot, 100 degrees, to sit outside and eat. We took our booty to the air conditioned car and chowed down – worth the lack of ambiance for the enticing food.
Jeff went for the generous portion of shrimp tacos which were so fresh and flavorful, which came paired with a side of hush puppies. I’m not a big crab person, but being as we were in crab-country I decided to just go for it and get a blackened crabcake sandwich (my first crabcake ever!) and I’m sad to say I’m ruined for all future crabcakes. It was truly blissful. Made with lots of fresh crabmeat, light veggies, and a fluffy bun – oh yes, it was the perfect ending to say goodbye to Virginia.