Editors' pick

Assateague Island and Chincoteague Beaches

Assateague Island is perhaps best known for its annual wild pony swim and as the setting of Marguerite Henry's novel "Misty of Chincoteague."
Daily Memorial Day through October
from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
with last climb at 2:30 p.m.; Friday through Sunday during the off-season.
(Virginia)
$5, $3 age 17 and younger.
757-336-3696
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Editorial Review

Assateague Island, a 37-mile-long barrier island, is one of an endangered species on the Mid-Atlantic coast -- an undeveloped, unspoiled beach. The island consists of three major areas: Assateague Island National Seashore, managed by the National Park Service; Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Assateague State Park, managed by Maryland's Department of Natural Resources.

The Assateague beach may be the best on the Mid-Atlantic. With no paved roads extending beyond the northern and southern tips, the sands remain blissfully empty. The island has two beaches with lifeguards, but it takes just a 15-minute hike to find yourself alone at last on an empty (and unguarded) beach.

Beyond the beach, nature is the center of attention. The island is home to 44 species of mammals and 260 species of birds and is a nature-lovers' nirvana. Biking and hiking trails lead you from forest to marsh and along shallows and dunes. Bird-watching platforms provide a panoramic view of the marsh and its feathered visitors. Crabbing, clamming, canoeing and boating are popular activities. The Barrier Island Visitor Center, on Route 611, offers daily marsh walks, aquarium talks, bird-watching treks, canoe trips and other eco-activities. Near the southern end of Assateague, wedged between the barrier island and the mainland, is the quaint island of Chincoteague, which was immortalized by Marguerite Henry in her "Misty of Chincoteague" children's books about the wild ponies of Assateague. Don't feed or touch the shaggy ponies; they have been known to bite and kick, and human food is bad for their health. Each year on the last Wednesday and Thursday of July, many of the younger horses are rounded up, forced to swim the inlet between the two islands and sold at an auction to benefit the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department.