Wednesday, October 10, 2018

10 Free Things to do at Chincoteague Island

Our family has wanted to visit Chincoteague Island for a long time. Last fall, a few days before our planned vacation, our son had his accident, and we had to cancel. This summer between rain and Ed's health, we wondered if we should attempt a vacation. 

Last week we looked at the weather forecast and decided to try camping. We knew Ed's fatigue would curtail activities we formerly enjoyed such as kayaking, biking, and hiking. But we still found many activities that we could all enjoy. And the added benefit was that they were free. 

First a little background. Chincoteague Island is located on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. It is a popular vacation destination with all the typical tourist traps like ice cream shops and mini-golf. A short bridge allows you to travel from Chinoteague Island to Assateague Island. Assateague is a wildlife refuge and no camping, stores, or homes are allowed on the island. 

1. Travel with a Fourth Grader
It costs $20 for a pass to enter Assateague Island. I think the pass is good for one week. (A year's pass is $40.) But because it is a national park, you can use a Every Kid In A Park pass if you have a fourth grader (or homeschool equivalent.) Just ask the park ranger or print off a voucher online. All your child needs is to sign their name. 

This pass allows the fourth grader - and everyone in their vehicle - to enter the park free. A great benefit for large families who frequently have a fourth grader. Just choose the year your family visits national parks to coincide with your fourth graders.

2. Climb a lighthouse. 
It is a short walk to the Assateague Lighthouse. (Bring bug spray because the mosquitoes are bad. We didn't not have bug problems anywhere else on the island.) 

The lighthouse was beautifully restored a few years ago.

We all made it to the top, even the two year old (and no, she wasn't carried.) The views are stunning.

3. Walk a wildlife trail.
There are many trails which allow you to see the waterfowl and wildflowers up close. We walked the Marsh Trail, which was one of the shortest. If you bring bikes, you can cover more ground. I would have enjoyed spending far more hours with a camera and binoculars on these trails.

4. Learn at a Visitor's Center
Both the Herbert Bateman Education Center and the Toms Cove Visitor's Center have displays to learn about the wildlife on the island. We happened to hit the Refuge Celebration Day, and they had lots of extra displays and crafts for the children.

5. Fly a kite.
The first day we were there it was very windy. It only took minutes to put our kite high in the sky.

6. Have a picnic on the beach.
Food always tastes better in the fresh air, except when it is full of sand. The wind that was great for kite flying wasn't the best for our lunch. But we had picked the windiest day of our stay for our picnic. You can pick up a fire permit at the visitor's center to have a campfire right on the beach.

7. Watch the ponies.
After reading Misty of Chincoteague, our children were eager to see the wild  ponies. I told them not to have their hopes too high, but we saw a whole herd of wild ponies soon after arriving on the island. Since the wild ponies never got very close to the road, we stopped at McDonalds where there is a pen of ponies to observe up close. 

8. Go to Memorial Park.
At the famous Pony Swim each summer, this park is teeming with people. But when we were there it was a quiet place for the children to play. There is a great view of the lighthouse across the cove. 

9. Gather Shells.
Our little girls spent hours searching for shells then washing and sorting them back at our campsite. We finally persuaded them to leave most of them there for "another little girl to find."

10. Visit Wallops Visitor Center.
Back on the mainland, just a few miles from Chincoteague is the Wallops Flight Facility. We stopped by the visitor's center only 20 minutes before their closing, but we were able to learn a lot about their rocket launches and research balloons. Maybe it was good we only had a few minutes because some of our family could have enjoyed being here for hours longer than others.

There are many more things to do on the island. Museums, seafood restaurants, bikes and boats to rent. I didn't mention the obvious of playing in the waves. We didn't find it difficult to keep busy for a few days with very inexpensive options.

Those of you who have enjoyed Chincoteague, did I miss anything?


  1. Mari in SC (No longer in MD)October 10, 2018 at 5:30 PM

    I love both Chincoteague and Assateague and am happy you were able to visit. If you don't already know the story, look up the 8/22/1933 hurricane and it's effect on Ocean City and Assateague. There is an interesting article at describing the storm and it's afteraffects.
    One correction: You can camp on the northern end of Assateague, just across the inlet from Ocean City, Maryland. There are both a state park and a national park and you can camp in both. We will not discuss how two friends of my daughter received citations for rowdy behavior while camping in the state park this past June. Fortunately, she was already in her tent.

    1. Yes. I should have mentioned that. Ed and I camped on the Maryland side of the island soon after we married. In November! We nearly froze. But the wild ponies ran through our campsite at dawn and the memory of those beautiful animals is thrilling.

      But you can't get from the Maryland side to the Virginia side without returning to the mainland. There is a lot of miles between them.

  2. We visited the statue of Misty and saw the stable she was to have been kept, on the Bebe property.

  3. I've always wanted to visit there, thanks for all the info! Our granddaughter likes to give the sea shells back to the ocean after playing with them....her idea :)

  4. What a lovely place, and great memories, too! I'd like to visit there, as a fan of the Misty books.

  5. This was lovely! Thank you for sharing!! I am going to keep this post in mind for when our children read Misty, so that I can send them back to see the pictures and read your story! :)

  6. I enjoyed reading about your trip as it brought back memories of our trip in 2007. Seeing the ponies swim the bay was so moving as was watching them stroll up the beach in the sunrise! There is a wonderful local museum on the island as well as a few free ones on the Virginia and Maryland side... I wish I could remember the names... One was a fabulous maritime museum!

  7. Our family went there this past summer and loved it! If you have kayaks, that is something to do as well as fishing/crabbing. If you own the gear, it is free and fun to do. I'm so glad that you got to enjoy a family getaway weekend. :-)

  8. Gina, I am glad you had such a nice family trip together. Looks like the weather cooperated well for you. We have only been there once when the 5 children were young, 10 and under. They are all in their 20's now, though the oldest will be 30 soon. We did the collecting, watched for ponies, camped. We, however, would have been there in April. It was the same trip we visited Colonial Williamsburg.

  9. I am praying for your Husbands health issues. I'm also praying for you. Its a road I had to go down 18 years ago. Stay strong. God Bless you


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