During tourist season, the horses are kept within the preserve. You can see them by booking a tour through the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, where park rangers take you on a small open bus through the preserve to follow the herds. The fee is minimal and definitely worth the price.
If you prefer, you can walk along the beach or the many hiking trails and maybe catch a glimpse of the horses, but I would only recommend this for the most adventurous of souls. I did that on one trip and was confronted by an angry stallion trying to protect his herd.
There are numerous trails throughout the refuge on which to hike or bike and enjoy the wildlife. There are many species of waterfowl, herons, and egrets in the preserve, as wall as black squirrels and small Asian deer. A good camera with lots of film (or disk space) is a must.
I highly recommend bringing insect repellent and using it liberally, as bugs are definitely plentiful during the summer months.
The island itself is beautiful, a windswept barrier island that straddles the Virginia-Maryland border. The 14,000-acre refuge also includes land on neighboring islands, most of which are inaccessible to tourists.
The entry fee is $10 per vehicle, good for 7 consecutive days, and also covers admission to the adjoining National Seashore, another must-see.
Results 1-5of 5 Reviews
March 17, 2006
From journal Virginia to New England, March 2006
August 2, 2005
From journal Wild ponies, sandy beaches, and crabs abound
New York, New York
July 18, 2005
But the highlight, of course, was the wild ponies. Both the Virginia side and the Maryland side of Assateague are permitted to have 150 ponies. These ponies had their babies a few weeks before we arrived, so we got to see the wild ponies, as well as the babies frolicking in the fields. Every year at the end of July (this July it will be the 80th year), Chincoteague has the annual pony swim and auction. The ponies swim from Assateague to Chincoteague Island, and the Chincoteague Fire Department then sells the baby ponies at a giant auction that attracts up to 50,000 people. The Chincoteague endearingly say that their fire department is the richest in the country because of the pony sales.
From journal Greatest State Park/Wildlife Refuge
February 28, 2004
While the refuge is home to an impressive population of migratory birds, and protected native wildlife, the most famous residents are wild ponies who live on the island year-round. About 150 ponies live on the Virginia end of the island. Visitors can frequently see clusters of ponies in the marshy pine groves visible from the road to the beach. Perhaps most endearing are the ponies' puffy bellies from eating salty grasses. Occasionally, you might encounter a pair on the bike trail, such as the ones in the picture below.
At the end of each summer, the Volunteer Fireman's Association of Chincoteague rounds up a herd to swim across the Assateague Channel for a pony auction. This major tourist attraction is also a habitat maintenance program which helps keep the Refuge in balance. Several legends exist behind the existence of wild ponies -- most practical is the theory that colonial settlers took advantage of the barrier islands as natural penning areas. More romantic is a story about a Spanish shipwreck in which a herd of horses swam ashore and survived to become permanent residents. Whatever their history, the ponies are intriguing to visitors. Quite wonderfully, the ponies seem to live independently on the island, despite their admirers. Surprisingly, it doesn't feel like the ponies are tourism gimmick. Rather, just another example of wildlife in the refuge.
The refuge is home to several miles of paved bike trails which are perfect for observing wildlife. The trails wind through wetland areas, pine forests, and most lead to the national seashore beach.
Several spots within the refuge are popular for blue crab fishing. Make sure you bring your chicken neck, string and net to catch a few for yourself!
From journal Misty of Chincoteague
February 23, 2003
From journal Feb vacation