After COVID-19 dashed our vacation plans (first a trip to the United Kingdom, then Great Smoky Mountain National Park) we pivoted, and settled on staying in Virginia and visiting Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge (accessibility) and Assateague Island National Seashore (accessibility). We had wanted to visit this area anyway, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity. It did not disappoint.
Wild horses, birds, and beautiful beach landscapes. What more could anyone ask for? We visited this wonderful place at the beginning of September for three days, taking a pontoon boat tour at sunset, catching the sunrise on its beaches, hiking accessible trails, and driving the wildlife loop. Located near the border of Virginia and Maryland on the Delmarva Peninsula, its claim to fame is the yearly Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department wild pony swim and auction and the children’s book Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry.
From Northern Virginia, it took a leisurely 5 hours to reach our destination, driving south to cross the seemingly never ending Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel and north on the Delmarva Peninsula, passing NASA’s Wallops Island Launch Facility. Upon arriving in Chincoteague, we drove around the town and had lunch at Ropewalk, a local evening hotspot with ample outdoor seating and good eats. For a town that is secluded and seemingly stuck in time, many of the restaurants and storefronts had been made accessible.
After lunch, we took a quick drive through the wildlife refuge and got our first glimpse of the wild horses that inhabit the island. That evening, we took a sunset boat cruise around the island with Daisy’s Boat Cruises. Daisy’s team was very accommodating. For our tour, they specifically used a pontoon boat that had a wider door and was closer to the dock’s level for easy access. During the cruise, we learned about the island, got close to a small herd of horses, and saw eagles and ospreys. As a bonus, we encountered a pod of dolphins that swam all around the boat on our return to the dock. Sadly, it was very dark at that time, and we could not get good photos of them, but trust us, it was exhilarating.
The next two days began an hour before dawn with trips to the beach to photograph sunrise over the ocean. Coffee in hand, we trudged through the sand, being careful not to crush any crabs in our way. The beaches had rubber mats over the dunes to make wheelchair access easier; however they did not go very far onto the beach itself. We did see what appeared to be beach wheelchairs in locked sheds along the parking lot’s edge. Upon further research, somebody could request these wheelchairs by contacting the visitor center. We were happy to see these steps towards making this famous beach more accessible.
After mornings at the beach, we spent the remainder of each day exploring the various network of trails and drives on the refuge. Keep an eye out for snakes crossing the paths. The good news is that none of the species of snake on the island are poisonous. Again, we were pleased to see that approximately half the trails were listed as wheelchair accessible; however, some of the other trails would be doable based on personal evaluation. This is the most significant amount of accessible trails we’ve ever seen in a park that we’ve visited. One popular landmark on the island is the Assateague Lighthouse. The route to it is not listed as accessible, but there is a separate road for disability access, which leads to a parking lot beside the lighthouse.
A Few Quick Tips
- There was an entrance fee to the wildlife refuge and national seashore. You could purchase a daily or weekly pass, but if you have the America the Beautiful Access Pass, it’s free.
- The park has ample pit-style bathrooms located throughout, but many of them had a step up.
- If you visit in summer, be warned that you may be carried off or eaten alive by the abundant swarms of mosquitoes and other flying pests.
- We strongly recommend taking a boat tour to see wildlife from a better vantage point than you would from the trails.
This spot is now on our local getaway list. It offers abundant wildlife, tranquil landscapes and is widely accessible to boot. To see some of our favorite photos from this trip, view our Chincoteague/Assateague gallery.
Until our next adventure,
Maggie & Abe