At a Glance


  • National Seashore: Grounds open 24 hrs a day, daily, including holidays.
  • National Seashore Visitor Center: Open 7 days/week, 9 am – 4 pm. Closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas.
  • State Park Day Use Area: Public access to the beach and the day use parking lot from 7 am to sunset, 7 days a week, year-round. Certain activities are permitted outside of the regular park hours (e.g. fishing, boat launch, hunting where permitted). Please check with the park before your visit if you plan to be in the park before or after the posted hours.


  • National Seashore: The federal entrance is now using CASHLESS operation. Have a credit card ready.  7-day per vehicle pass = $25.00; also covers entrance into Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. Walkers and bicyclists enter FREE. Annual federal passes and Golden Age Passes accepted.
  • State Park Day Use Area: Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day: $5/person (both in-state and out-of-state residents). After Labor Day to Memorial Day weekend: $5/vehicle (both in-state and out-of-state residents). Annual state park passes and senior passes accepted. Additional charges for boat launch and camping.

Tips: Bring a scope. ◾ Be prepared for biting insects in the warm months. ◾ Limited hunting occurs is a designated section of the State Park. Be aware of hunting seasons and plan your visit accordingly. ◾ Don’t pet or feed or attempt to approach or scare the Assateague wild ponies. They bite and kick.◾ Restrooms are at the National Seashore Visitor Center, on the right just before crossing the Verrazano Bridge to come onto the island, and there are restrooms in both the State Park and National Seashore. Some restrooms are not available during the winter. ◾ At the National Seashore, there are limited food concessions in the summer season  at the Beach Hut at North Beach and at Assateague Outfitters on Bayside Drive. In the State Park, a concession restaurant and retail shop called “5 Tides” (new in 2023) offers breakfast and lunch selections as well as snacks. Restaurant operates 7 am – 3 pm from Memorial Day to Labor Day; hours for the retail shop are 9 am – 5 pm. ◾ In both the National Seashore and the State Park, keep any food items out of reach of the wild ponies and other critters. Even a knapsack left unguarded may be carried off, and ponies may attempt to nip at a knapsack on your back.

Best Seasons: Year round, but summer is almost always crowded, even on weekdays.

Breeding Bird Atlas Blocks:  Ocean City CW, Ocean City SW, Berlin SE, Tingles Island NE, Tingles Island CE, Tingles Island CW, Tingles Island SW, Tingles Island SE, Whittington Point NW, Whittington Point NE, Whittington Point CW, Whittington Point SW, Boxiron CE, Boxiron SE

Local MOS Chapter: Tri-County Bird Club

Assateague Island National Seashore & Assateague Island State Park

National Seashore: 7206 National Seashore Lane, Berlin, MD 21811

State Park Ranger Station: 6915 Gatehouse Rd, Berlin, MD 21811
410-641-2120 or email to

Assateague Island is a unique birding site, offering access to the only remaining segment of unspoiled ocean beach habitat within the State of Maryland. Based on number of bird species reported, Assateague is the #1 eBird hotspot in all of MD and DC, with a total of more than 345 species reported at the various hotspots on the island.

Assateague is a 37-mile long barrier island along the Atlantic Coast of Maryland and Virginia. The Maryland portion of the island is shared by two separately operated visitor facilities: the Assateague Island National Seashore, operated by the National Park Service, and Assateague State Park, operated by the Maryland Park Service. The State Park portion covers about two miles of Atlantic Ocean shoreline, while the National Seashore extends for about 20 miles in Maryland, with sections both north and south of the State Park, plus another 15 miles in Virginia. The Virginia portion is managed cooperatively by the NPS and US Fish and Wildlife Service as the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. For birding Chincoteague, see the Birding Virginia website entry, or the Chincoteagure entry on the Virginia Bird and Wildlife Trail website maintained by the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources.

This description will cover the part of Assateague Island within the State of Maryland which includes both the National Seashore and the State Park.

Sinepuxent Bay and Chincoteague Bay lie behind Assateague Island, separating it from the mainland. The island’s rich mosaic of beach, dune, forest, and marsh habitats offers feeding and nesting opportunities for a wide array of shorebirds, songbirds, raptors, waterfowl, and waders. The Island is also famous for its wild ponies, which roam free throughout the island. Assateague presents a vivid picture of what the Atlantic Coast looked like before beach resorts were developed.

Both the State Park and the National Seashore are reached from the mainland via Verrazano Bridge, which carries MD Route 611 over the Sinepuxent Bay. At the foot of the bridge on the mainland side, NPS operates the Assateague Island Visitor Center, which houses exhibits and provides brochures, maps and a film about the wild ponies. The Visitor Center has restrooms, a bookstore, and emergency services, and offers park activities in season.

Behind the Visitor Center, MD DNR maintains a walking trail that loops around an area of bayside scrub and wetlands on the shore of Sinepuxent Bay, offering good habitat for passerines. The trail provides access to the historic Rackcliffe House, a restored 18th-century coastal plantation house that is open to the public from May through October. Note that there is no public parking area at Rackcliffe House; it can be reached only via the trail.

Across the road from the Visitor Center, the State of Maryland has a marina with boat launch and fishing pier, and a large parking area. Particularly in the winter, the marina is a good place to check the waters of Sinepuxent Bay for waterfowl, loons, and grebes. Year-round, the scrubby vegetation and grass near the marina parking area can hold interesting land birds. Often Merlins and other raptors hang out here.

On Assateague Island itself, there are a lot of areas and habitats to explore. Consult the assortment of maps at the trail guide link at left. Both the State Park and the National Seashore have overnight camping as well as day use areas. Within the National Seashore, there are three main walking trails: the Life of the Marsh and the Life of the Forest Trails (both on the bay side of the island), and the Life of the Dunes Trail, where the paved road heading south ends in a circle. Birders should consider walking all three trails, or parts of them, because each goes through different habitat.

Note that parts of the National Seashore beach at the northern end of the island (see maps) are off-limits from April 15th to September 15th, to protect nesting areas for endangered Piping Plovers and other shore nesting species. In the National Seashore portion that lies south of the State Park, there is an extensive zone where Over-Sand-Vehicles (OSV) can drive on the beach (permit required). The OSV zone can provide a good way to explore the back-country areas of Assateague, in search of birds that prefer to avoid human disturbance. Read about the OSV regulations and tips before you go there.

Also before you go, explore the wealth of information on the NPS Assateague Island website, especially a set of brochures that include detailed guides for the three walking trails, an information sheet on Piping Plover management, and basic information for planning your visit, including operating hours, fees, and so on. Also take a look at the separate website for Assateague State Park, which also offers much information to help plan your visit.


Assateague Island is a mecca for birders with over 345 species of migratory and resident birds, including some western vagrants. There are over 40 eBird hotspots that dot the Maryland portion of the Island, including the Over-Sand-Vehicle Zone: the abundance of eBird hotspots corresponds to the many habitats to explore at Assateague. See the eBird hotspot map at for hotspot locations. The top three among the individual hotspots are Assateague I. NS–Bayside peninsula, with 275+ species reported; Assateague State Park, with 260+ species reported; and Assateague I. NS–Bayside Campground, with 250+ species reported.

In winter, Northern Saw-whet Owls may roost in the little pines near the State Park entrance, and also in winter, Short-eared Owls hunt over the marshes. During winter irruptions, Snowy Owls may appear anywhere on the beach or dunes. Northern Gannet is reliable offshore, with Common and Red-throated Loons flying and swimming offshore. Also in winter, Northern Harriers fly low over the marsh grasses as they scan for prey and flocks of Brant, diving ducks, loons, grebes, and an occasional alcid occur in the waters offshore. The Bayside Camping Area in the National Seashore can produce landbird rarities in fall or winter: Northern Shrike, Ash-throated Flycatcher, and Clay-colored Sparrow have appeared in recent years. The bayberries that cover the island are filled with Yellow-rumped Warblers in winter.

In early spring, Piping Plovers arrive and begin to perform their elaborate territorial and courtship displays. Very small numbers of these shorebirds, endangered in Maryland, nest on Assateague, and parts of the beach may be closed to protect their nests. In spring after sunset, several species of owls become active, including Great Horned and Eastern Screech. Spring also brings migrating waves of passerines, usually found in the bayside thickets.

During the summer months, wading birds like Great and Snowy Egrets and Clapper Rails hunt in the shallow waters along the marsh edges, also populated by Saltmarsh Sparrows (may linger into fall) and Seaside Sparrows. Terns and Laughing Gulls hunt the waters.

Fall once again brings migrants, including flights of southbound raptors and passerines. Waterfowl start arriving in November.

Wheelchair Access:

In the National Seashore, all visitor centers, two nature trails (Life of the Forest, Life of the Marsh), bathhouses, and wayside exhibits are accessible. There is a separate hiker-biker bridge that parallels the Verrazano vehicle bridge that can be used by wheelchairs. There are two accessible campsites available by reservation. Beach wheelchairs (not motorized, must be pushed) are available for use.

In the State Park, most of the visitor facilities are accessible. Some trails, however, are sand-surfaced and might not be navigable by a wheelchair.

Pet Policy:

In both the National Seashore and the State Park, when and where permitted (see detailsbelow), pets must be on a leash at all times; pick up after your pet and take the bagged waste with you when you leave.

Pets should not be left unattended. Summer sunshine poses a threat to pets left in vehicles. On a bright, sunny day, even in temperatures as low as 60° F, temperatures inside a vehicle can reach dangerous levels. On an 85-degree day, the temperature inside a car—even with the windows cracked—can reach over 100 degrees within 10 minutes.

State Park

  • In the State Park day-use areas, pets are only allowed after Labor Day to the Friday before Memorial Day.
  • Pets are allowed year-round on the Rackcliffe Trail behind the mainland Visitor Center.
  • In the State Park campground during camping season (last week of April-November 1), pets are allowed in designated camping areas and their adjoining beaches, as well as on the hiker-biker path on the west side of the campground.
  • During the off-season for camping in the State Park (November 2-third week of April), pets are allowed in all campground loops and on the beach.
  • At the State Park Marina (on the mainland opposite the Visitor Center at the Verrazano Bridge), pets are allowed at all times. Must be leashed.

National Seashore

Pets are permitted only in specific areas of the National Seashore. Please manage your pets. Pets must be kept on a leash no longer than 6 feet at all times! Please pick up after your pet.The hot sand and sun can be harder on your pet than it is on you. Unattended and unrestrained animals can disturb and harm island wildlife and other park visitors.

Pets are prohibited in the following National Seashore areas to protect wildlife, habitat and visitors:
• All backcountry campsites
• Nature trails
• Lifeguard-protected beach
• North of the State Park to the Ocean City inlet

Special Designations:

Assateague Island is the focal point of the Assateague Island Important Bird Area and the adjoining Maryland Coastal Bays Important Bird Area, as designated by the National Audubon Society. ◾ Assateague State Park is a certified Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education (MAEOE) Green Center.

Special Features:

Both the State Park and the National Seashore offer many nature education programs seasonally. ◾ Canoe and kayak rentals are available from a concessionaire in the National Seashore. ◾ If you’re not a paddler, consider a guided boat trip for the chance to see more of the refuge and its wildlife. Check out Eco Tours and Dolphin Tours & Cruises.

Local MOS Chapter:

The Tri-county Bird Club is the local chapter of the Maryland Ornithological Society, serving Wicomico, Worcester, and Somerset Counties; the club offers field trips to local birding areas and meetings with informative presentations, all free and open to the public.


Episode 2701 of Outdoors Maryland from Maryland Public Television has a segment called “To Trap a Raptor,” showing how Snowy Owls on Assateague Island are trapped and banded for studies of their movements. The segment features MD DNR Biologist David Brinker. Other segments in this episode include “Walking Over Winter,” about snow-shoeing in the winter, and “Cub Scouts,” about surveying black bear cubs born in Maryland.


Designated parking lots in both the State Park and National Seashore. See trail maps at the link at left. No parking on roadsides.

Special warning: the wild ponies are often on the roads. Tragically, some are killed by vehicles each year. Drive slowly and be aware that the ponies’ behavior around cars can be unpredictable – they may be grazing peacefully by the roadside at one minute and then take off across the road with no warning. They may also be hidden by vegetation and emerge onto the road unexpectedly. Be extremely vigilant when driving.


From US Route 50 west of Ocean City: Go south on MD Route 611/Stephen Decatur Highway for 7.1 miles. Route 611 ends at the Verrazano Bridge to Assateague Island. The National Seashore Visitor Center will be on your right (south side of road) just before the bridge, and the State marina and fishing pier will be on your left (north side of the road). Upon crossing the bridge onto the island, follow signs for the State Park and the National Seashore entrances and parking areas.

Nearby Sites:

Worcester County:  Castaways RV Resort & Campgrounds/Sun Outdoors ■ E.A. Vaughn Wildlife Management Area ■ Heron Park (formerly Berlin Falls Park)Isle of Wight Park & Wildlife Management AreaOcean City Inlet & Sunset ParkOcean City: Skimmer Island (4th Street Mudflats)Pocomoke River State Park – Shad Landing & Milburn Landing ■  Pocomoke State Forest – Hickory Point Cypress Swamp Natural AreaSouth Point ■ Truitts Landing & Other Bayside Landings ■ West Ocean City Park-n-Ride & Homer Gudelsky ParkWest Ocean City Pond


ConifersHedgerows Old Fields, Shrubby MeadowsSandy Beach or Dunes Forested SwampJetties & SeawallsMud Flats (Tidal or Non-Tidal)Open Ocean, Bay, or EstuarySalt or Brackish Marsh


BeginnersBicycle Trails (Bikes may be prohibited on some trails)BoardwalkBoat or Canoe/Kayak LaunchBoat RentalsCampingFishingHiking/Walking TrailsHistorical FeaturesNative Plant Garden or Meadow/Pollinator PlantsNature Education ProgramsObservation Platform or TowerParkingPets AllowedPicnic AreaRestroomsSnack Bar, Camp Store, Food ConcessionsSwimmingVisitor Center, Interpretive Displays, ExhibitsWater ViewWheelchair Accessible FeaturesYoung People / Families


#1 Hotspot in County or CityAtlantic Ocean and Intercoastal WaterwaysAudubon Important Bird AreasHiker-Biker Trails (Paved)MAEOE Green CenterNational Parks & MonumentsNature CentersState Natural Areas & WildlandsState ParksWater Trails