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Assateague Island in Maryland - Weekend Trip Report

Trip Overview

Easily one of the most scenic, and accessible paddling spots on the intracoastal waterway, Assateague Island, offers a variety of paddling options that are suitable for almost every level of touring or recreational paddler. Plus, if you�re a first-timer to the island like we were, it is a popular enough paddling site that you can generally hook-up with other paddlers of your ability who know the area well enough to steer you in the right direction.

For inexperienced or first time paddlers - or as a tune-up paddle - the back bays and waterways provided us with sheltered paddling on flat, slow moving water that gave us time to enjoy the bay�s wild life - up close and personal - without focusing too much on our paddling skills. Which is good, because, the diversity of wildlife kept us oohing and aahing the whole time that we were out. The ponies and sika deer are abundant and made great backdrops for snapshots of my kids from my kayak. So, don�t forget your camera.

If you�re a bird bird-watcher, you�re in for a treat. If you�re not, which we weren't, you�ll become one. Make sure that you bring a field guide with you. Barnes and Nobel sells a plastic laminated one for the bay area that sells for $5.95 and folds up into a pocket.

For more experienced day-trip paddlers and overnight touring/campers there are a number of picnic and backcountry campsites on the larger islands scattered throughout the bay. The longest open water trip we took lasted about 7 hours. In that time, we were able visit a couple of islands and had one island all to our selves for a nice family picnic. Permits for backcountry camping cost $5.00 are available at the Park Headquarters. No permits are required for picnicking. Bring bug spray if you plan to explore the islands.

Open water crossings on Sinepuxent, Newport and Chincoteague Bays are generally easy under most conditions and the shore is never out of site. It was a new moon when we were there so tidal currents were not overly strong. However, the western side of the bay is shallow and the waves did build up quickly when the breeze suddenly shifted from the south to off shore. In fact, the wave build-up is enough to give you a nice surf-assisted ride or keep you alert if you are on a beam reach�

Launching in the Maryland end of the island (north end) can be accomplished from a number of bayside campsites - if you�re lucky enough to get one, as we were when we camped there or from well-marked sites in the National Park. A seven-day pass to enter the Park costs $10 and allows you to leave or enter as many times as you want. There is a canoe rental livery operated by a non-profit organization that rents canoes by the hour and by the day. Rental fees are $10 an hour and $40 for the day. Proceeds from the fees go to protecting the bay and marshlands.

For us, we combined camping with extended day trips. Reserved camping sites cost $20 a night and included access to fresh water, cold water showers and porta-potties. The campsites are clean and well maintained. Mosquitoes are a major problem, so come prepared to deal with them.

Assateague Island is one of the best paddling values around. Three days of paddling and camping for three people cost us less than $100, excluding a special family night out at a local crab house and the gas to get there.

Additional activities�

  • Crabbing don�t forget a bag of crab boil.
  • Fishing didn�t see a lot on the bay. Mostly surf fishing on the beach.
  • Swimming the beaches are guarded and the island is home to a native pod of dolphins that routinely cruise just off shore.
  • Hiking there are a number of marked hiking and nature trails. Stories about the mosquitoes from other campers scared us away from these best viewed, I was told in the early spring or late fall.
  • Bay Tours and Nature Programs - Several volunteer groups run on-water nature tours. Pick-up a schedule from the ranger station in the park.
  • Super Treat Assateague Crab House located on Route 611 just outside the park. It looks a little sketchy from the outside, but inside it is clean and friendly. The �all you can eat� meal comes complete with steamed crabs, spiced shrimp, fried chicken, corn on the cob and coleslaw - cost $24.


Back county and fixed campsites. Fresh water, cold water showers and porta-potties at campsites and launch points


Touring Kayaks


Park Fees - Seven Day Pass $10

Camping - $20 per night reserved

Back country camping - $5 per night


From NY, NJ, PA Route 95 to Route 1 South to 113 South in Delaware

From Washington, Route 50 East




  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Water Type: Open Water/Ocean
  • Group Rates: No

Locations on this Trip