Living in the East Coast is so amazing! We love getting to explore all the historic places and finding hidden gems.
We recently discovered Chincoteague Island and it was such an amazing experience. Chincoteague is a small barrier island town in Virginia’s Eastern Shore region, which is famous for the wild Chincoteague ponies, and is also the gateway to the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, on Assateague Island.
On the blog I will share the top things to do in Chincoteague Island. We spent the weekend here, but you can easily spend the day and explore all there is to see in this beautiful island.
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Where is Chincoteague Island
Chincoteague Island is located in Virginia’s Eastern Shores. It’s about a 3 hour drive from Washington DC (depending on traffic) and is so worth the visit if you ever plan a trip to the region.
The drive takes you across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge tunnel, which is a 17.6 mile drive across the Chesapeake. There is a toll fee which costs about $12. Make sure to leave early in the morning to avoid heavy traffic, especially during the summer.
*Check out our blog on the top things to do in Washington D.C., I highlight all the main attractions and how to make the most of your visit.
Top things to do on Chincoteague Island
Chincoteague Wild Ponies
One of the top things to do in Chincoteague Island are the wild ponies. The Chincoteague wild ponies, and the annual Pony Penning Day are the subject of the famous children’s book Misty of Chincoteague.
Legend has it that the ponies on Assateague are descendants of survivors of a Spanish galleon that sank off the east coast during a storm in the 1750’s.
Although, some believe they descended from stock released on the island by 17th century colonists looking to escape livestock laws and taxes.
Whichever story is true, these wild ponies are just so beautiful and it’s amazing that they live in the wild in this beautiful island.
Where can I find the Chincoteague Wild Ponies
Although the ponies are known as Chincoteague ponies, they actually live on Assateague Island, which is owned by the federal government. Half of the wild ponies are managed by the National Park Service, while the other half is owned by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire company.
There is a National Park service fee when entering Assateague Island National Seashore, which costs about $20 for a 7 day vehicle pass, $15 on a motorcycle, and FREE on foot or bicycle, which you can rent on the island. You can also purchase an annual pass for $40 and can be used in both the Maryland and Virginia districts.
*You can rent bicycles at the Bike Depot located close to the entrance to Assateague Island National Seashore. Rentals usually costs about $14-$22 a day.
How to see the Chincoteague Wild Ponies
There are a few ways to see the Chincoteague wild ponies. One of the best way to admire these wild horses, are on a Chincoteague Island boat tour. There are a few boat tours to choose from, just make sure to reserve them in advance, as they are on specific time slots, and usually sell out for the day.
You can also spot the wild ponies in one of the pony corrals or grazing through the island. Make sure to follow the rules and do not approach or feed the ponies.
Chincoteague Pony Swim
One thing not to miss when planning a trip to Chincoteague Island is the annual Chinctoeague Pony Swim. The Chincoteague Pony Swim was made famous by the book “Misty of Chincoteague”, and draws thousands of spectators from around the world.
The highlight of the pony swim is watching the wild horses swim across the Assateague Channel when the tide is “slack calm” so the young ponies, which are born during spring or early summer, are safe from any strong currents.
The pony swim ends with a Pony auction, which helps to control the overall size of the herd, and a fundraiser for the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company, who uses the funds for veterinary care for the ponies through out the year.
We missed this event during our visit, which is usually held the last consective Wednesday & Thursday of July (swim on Wed & auction on Thurs). I heard this event gets very crowded, so if you plan a visit, plan ahead and make reservations for hotels in advance.
Chincoteague Island Attractions
On your visit to Chincoteague, make sure to stop by the Assateague Lighthouse. A visit to the lighthouse is one of the top things to do on Assateague Island. The historic red and white lighthouse was built in 1833 and is still in use today.
You can climb up the lighthouse for the most amazing panoramic views of the island. Just make sure to bring along some bug spray as the area is infested with mosquitos!
The Assateague Lighthouse is FREE to visit and is open each weekend from April through November from 9am to 3pm(closed from 12pm-12:30pm for lunch).
*My top tip for outdoor adventures on Chincoteague and Assateague Island is to bring some mosquito repellent. We were eaten alive on the short hike to the lighthouse.
Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge
Another reason to visit Chincoteague Island is to explore the National Wildlife Refuge. This is an excellent place for birdwatching and other outdoor activities.
The Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge includes more than 14,000 acres of beach, dunes, marsh, and maritime forest. There are so many fun activities here for the whole family.
Fishing, crabbing and clamming are some of the most popular activities, including hunting, horseback riding, wildlife viewing and more.
Make sure to visit the Herbert Bateman Educational and Administrative Center. There are a variety of exhibits, displays, brochures and wildlife-oriented programs, as well as a gift shop.
Assateague Island National Seashore
One of the best things to do on a visit to Chincoteague Island is a day of relaxation on Assateague Beach. Assateague Island is a 37 mile long barrier island. Two thirds of the island is in Maryland, while the southern third is in Virginia, managed by the National Park Service.
This is one of the best beaches for families in the Eastern shores. The waters are calm, with miles of sand and beautiful beaches.
You can also go camping on Assateague island, but only only in the Maryland district of Assateague Island. Camping is on first come first served basis, and the facilities include chemical toilets, cold water showers and drinking water. Campsites are $30 and are available from about March 14 through November 16.
Visit Toms Cove Visitors Center
On your visit to Chincoteague Island, stop by Toms Cove Visitors Center. There is a marine aquarium and touch tank, as well as beachcombing exhibits and educational brochures.
There is also a gift shop here, and where you can get an overnight fishing pass, over-sand vehicle permits, and campfire reservations. Toms Cove Visitors Center is open daily from about 9:00-4:00 pm.
There are so many opportunities for outdoor adventures in Chincoteague Island. One of the best things to do is a family hike along one of the many trails on Chincoteague island.
One hike in particular is the Wildlife Loop trail. This 3.25 mile loop is perfect for all the nature lovers out there, and is paved and wheelchair accessible. Observe the wildlife on your hike while also admiring the nature views.
Stroll around the Town
Make sure to take some time out of your day to take a stroll around the town of Chincoteague as well. It’s a small town and you can easily explore on foot or on a bicycle.
One of the best places to visit on Chincoteague Island is the Chincoteague Waterfront Park. This is the best place to catch the sunset over the island, and its one of the most beautiful!
There is also a boat pier you can walk through, as well as these giant Adirondack LOVE Chairs, which were pretty cool, and a great photo op.
Don’t miss a visit to the Sundial bookstore as you make your way through the town. It’s one of the most charming bookstores, and it’s so worth the visit.
Where to Eat
One of the best places to eat on Chincoteague Island is Woody’s Serious Food. This outdoor beach themed shack serves some amazing bbq and seafood, and the setting is quite unique.
Another popular place to eat amongst visitors is Pico Taqueria, Captain Zacks seafood, ice cream at Island Creamery Ice Cream, and the amazing donuts at Sandy Pony Donuts.
Make sure to stop by Poseidons Pantry, which is a gourmet grocery store and deli. Make sure to try their famous house made Pimento cheese spread, it’s one of the best we’ve tasted!
Where to Stay on Chincoteague Island
During our weekend trip to Chincoteague Island we stayed at the Marina Bay Hotel and Suites. This hotel was so amazing with it’s location overlooking the bay.
Some of the hotels amenities are a free breakfast, and an outdoor grill and patio if you want to cook your own food. There is also an outdoor pool, an indoor gym, and free parking as well. I highly recommend this hotel when visiting Chincoteague Island.
Chincoteague KOA/ Maui Jacks Waterpark
You can also stay on the Chincoteague KOA campsite. You can pitch a tent, park your RV, or sleep in a safari tent. You can also get the ultimate glamping experience in of their deluxe cabins or Island Bungalow.
Located next door is Maui Jacks Waterpark, where you can cool off in the lazy river or get on one of the water slides.
Other Recommended Hotels in Chincoteague Island:
Chincoteague Island Hotels
NASA Wallops Flight Facility
On your visit to Chincoteague Island, make sure to visit the NASA Wallops Flight facility, located just a short drive away.
This facility is operated by the Goddard Space Flight Center, and primarily as a rocket launch site to support science and exploration missions for NASA and other Federal agencies.
The Visitor Center at NASA Wallops Flight Facility provides an educational and fun experience for visitors of all ages.
The exhibit hall and museum take you on a journey through past projects conducted at Wallops Flight Facility. Admission is free to the public and is usually open from 10am-4pm daily.