Winter on Chincoteague and Assateague
December 17, 2017 7:29 PM   Subscribe

First-time visitors would love your advice for winter activities and accommodations on the islands!

My partner and I will be visiting Chincoteague and Assateague islands for two days around Christmas. We hope to stay at a hotel or Airbnb on Chincoteague with our small dog and go out to eat for lunch or dinner. We'd like to spend one day exploring Assateague by foot or bike (if it's not too cold?!) and see the wild ponies, of course! Any and all advice, however general or specific, would be much appreciated. Thank you!
posted by smorgasbord to Travel & Transportation (3 answers total)
I can't really speak to Chincoteague, but if you are going to be in Assateague I'd recommend a visit to the park during the day, and then going to Berlin, MD for food in the evening. They have several good places to eat (I like Blacksmith and the Globe) and you might like a visit to the local Burley Oak Brewing Company tap room if you like beer. The main street deli is a great stop for sandwiches if you are there for lunch.

As for the beach itself, it's one of my favorite places. You can walk for ages along the beach (I'd recommend starting on the south side), or explore the bayside areas that have several short trails and observation decks. There's loads of parking in the wintertime, so you may want to just drive around and park to do small excursions, even if it's cold. The ponies can be hit or miss. If you don't see any in the main areas of the park, drive down through the oceanside campsite road - they will sometimes gather there between the dunes and the road.

Enjoy! I'll be going to stay at the Atlantic Hotel in Berlin and visiting the park as well for a few days at some point this January/February. I do every winter; it's a great vacation.
posted by gemmy at 9:12 PM on December 17, 2017 [3 favorites]

A lot of the Chincoteague restaurants are seasonal, either closing fully or going to a very limited menu. So even if their website says they will be open, call first and ask about their menu.

I found the NASA wallops visitor center interesting, but it has limited hours, 10am-4pm, certain days.
posted by TheAdamist at 5:07 AM on December 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

Okay, so this question is my jam...

I know this area really well, and I love walking on Assateague and Chincoteague in the winter. It's one of my favorite times.

First things first: you are far, far more likely to see wild ponies on Assateague, especially close up. They can often be found on the sides of the road, or the beach,e.g. They tend to be more active in the early morning/just before dusk. Make sure to go down all the side roads - there are only a few.

The ponies on Chincoteague are fenced away from the human used areas, and I've never done more than see them in the distance. There is a trail back into the woods with an overlook of an area ponies like to hang out in; it's a nice walk, especially since you don't have to deal with mosquitoes.

Reminder: the ponies on Assateague are very habituated to humans but they are not domesticated or handled, and they have learned that people sometimes feed them (though the park patrol has cracked down on that in the last several years) so they might approach you very closely. Just keep your distance, so you don't get bitten or kicked.

The park visitor centers are free and worth visiting, as is the Wallops Flight Facility visitors center. Be sure to check hours. If you are so inclined, bringing a guidebook to plants/shells/animals for the area can be a lot of fun.

Absolutely check ahead of time to see if restaurants etc are open. A lot of them close in late fall and don't reopen till spring.

It will be colder on the islands than on the mainland, especially on the beach. Dress/layer accordingly. Bring snacks and drinks with you if you plan on spending a chunk of time, since you'll have to leave the parks to get those, and it can be a little distance before you can get to a shop.

You might do better to stay in Berlin, since it's a year round type of town. It's got several restaurants and a lot of interesting shops, if you had the time to check it out...there will also be more stuff open in West Ocean City, than Chincoteague. Mind you, Chincoteague will be really peaceful this time of year, which can be really nice...of course it's up to you where you stay.

Bring a camera/make sure you charge your phones.

The beaches on the islands are a great experience this time of year; they feel very wild, there are few to no people out there. If you are on the beach early morning you might see dolphins not too far off shore.

That's what I can think of off the top of my head. Memail at any point if you have any more questions.

I'm sure you'll have a great time.
posted by Archipelago at 3:48 PM on December 19, 2017 [2 favorites]

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