Distance: 5.3 miles
Time: 2 hours
Conditions: Perfect, approx. 80F, zero to mild winds
Teeming with Wildlife - Ponies, Stingrays and More
Coolest paddle I've ever done!
Assateague Island is to Maryland as the Outer Banks is to North Carolina without all the development. This barrier island has abundant wildlife on the bay side and the storming Atlantic Oceanside. Like the NC Outer Banks, they host a herd of feral (wild) ponies.
The origin of these ponies go back to either the British or the early federal government starting to tax livestock, so local farmers started pasturing their horses on the islands to avoid paying taxes on them. Some of them got away.
Since I was traveling down from Rehoboth Beach DE, I didn't get on the water until 1:30 pm. At the put-in you've got people in the water raking for clams and fishing for crabs, activities you don't see that much on the Carolina shores. I paddled left (south) from the put-in through the marsh. I explored the coves and byways through the marsh on the left side of the channel. There was a maze of channels through the grass. Thanks to the ponies the marsh grass is short enough that you can pretty much see the exhaust pipe on the upscale porta-john to guide you back.
The water was surprisingly clear and shallow. I don't think I was ever in water deeper than 3.5 feet. Water was pancake flat at start. Small ripples developed as we got a little wind toward end of this paddle. At the put-in, minnows and crabs scampered around my kayak. I saw minnows, crabs, horseshoe crabs, turtles and jellyfish clearly throughout the paddle. Fish were splashing. Constantly came on mud explosions, where some type of fish or aquatic animal did a quick departure, just as it detected my approach.
Three special experiences standout during this paddle.
First, seeing the ponies. Because I started so late in the day, I figured they'd be chilling out in the marine forest and not by the shore. But, I saw a band of 5 up a channel in the marsh. A couple other paddlers returning from their paddle were disappointed in not seeing ponies. Cool.
Second, I saw what I initially thought was a white snake in the water. It turned out to be the wing edge of a ray whose wing span was 4 feet across. He sat on the bottom and we had a stare down until I moved on.
Third, I happened upon a jellyfish swimming right to my kayak amidships. It had three white circles and foot long tentacles.
There was a parade of birds. Great egrets (white ones), great blue heron, gulls, oyster-catchers, pipers, ducks and more. One bald eagle did a flyby. Turtle heads kept popping out of the water as they kept me under surveillance.
There's miles and miles of saltmarsh to explore. It could easily take 3-4 days to check it out. Plus the inlet also has plenty of places to explore.
I was traveling through between Delaware and North Carolina, so I didn't stay in the local area. However, there are several campgrounds at the park.
$8 daily or $15 weekly fee per car.
From Washington, DC:
From the Bay Bridge Tunnel, take US 50 East, follow signs for Ocean City. A few mile outside Ocean City, turn right on Route 611 to Assateague Island
The National Park office provides a basic map