The bay side of Virginia's and Maryland's Assateague Island National Seashore is touted in many guidebooks and websites as an ideal place to paddle. We wish we had paddled the ocean side first!
This was supposed to be a two-day paddle with one day on the sound and one day on the ocean side. Our first day was supposed to be on the bay and we paid our $15 entry fee at the National Seashore office and made our way to the Ferry Landing launch area. The temperature was approximately 25 degrees with calm winds and the park was essentially deserted except for the shaggy ponies that roam the barrier islands.
We offloaded at the launch area, donned several layers and our drysuits, put poggies on our paddles (an absolute necessity in very cold weather to keep the hands functioning) and launched into the partially frozen inlet. The ice was unexpected; we hadn't expected a tidal, salt water body to freeze over at all, but there was a tremendous amount of ice. We punched our paddles through the ice and pushed the kayaks forward, crunching away until we got to some unfrozen water.
Our path took us generally south and we kept somewhat close to the shoreline in order to see the scenery. This led to two challenges that made this 13 mile paddle feel like a 30 mile paddle. Ice was everywhere, which made it very tough going breaking through and plowing the kayaks forward, creating a path for each other. The other challenge was the shallow water; the big draw at Assateague is the shoreline and the birds and animals, but the water depth is mere inches in most places, meaning that it's actually much better to walk than paddle in many cases.
Although we truly enjoyed the paddle, it was very physically challenging to paddle in the ice and shallow water. We could have avoided some of the ice by pushing further into the channel that runs in the center of the sound, but then we would have lost the charm of the area, so there's a definite trade off.
We eventually decided to see if we could find a good portage spot, and went inland for a while, but couldn't find a very good spot, although we got a chance to see a herd of ponies. There was one point where we got out of our kayak and towed them behind us since the ice and shallow water made paddling nearly impossible. On our paddle back we did a better job avoiding the ice by finding seams caused by currents and slightly deeper water, but we were quite tired by the end of the paddle, and certainly more tired than we would be after a fairly short 13 mile jaunt.
The next day's weather precluded our ocean paddle, but we'll definitely come back and continue to explore this area.
The launch point is an old ferry landing on the sound side of Assateague Island
$15 entrance fee to the national seashore.
launch point is at lat=38.200546084, lon=-75.163033856
Chart 12211_1 and _2
You can grab a GPS file of the trip or a Google Earth overlay at www.brkayak.com.