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Trip Report: 2020-06 Assateague Island National Seashore, MD

Assateague Island National Seashore is operated by your National Parks Service. It offers great opportunities for wildlife and nature lovers, fishermen, and families to enjoy a treasured natural resource. Assateague is renowned for its native wild horses, diminutive in stature as an adaptation to the nutrient sparse brush on this barrier island. This location is a massive draw from visitors around the country and the residents of the DC metropolitan area, especially due to its close proximity to the highly developed resort town of Ocean City, MD only twenty minutes outside of the park.

Date(s)2020-06-15 to 19
TypeWeeklong Trip
ActivitiesBeach, Boating, Car Camping, Fishing, Hiking, Swimming
Transport3 hours by Car (from DC Chinatown)
ConditionsMixed rain and sunshine, mild temperatures.
DoggoOn-Leash
GearCore Survival, Base Camp, Kayaking, Specialty (Crabbing)
Repeatability10/10
Overall10/10

Assateague Island is an important part of Maryland heritage, one all Marylanders should partake in at least once. The mud doggo and I spent a week down by the ocean to take in the beginning of a COVID summer in immense and footloose style. What I really wanted out of this trip was to harvest clams out of the waters of the Sinepuxent bay. I’ve been to Assateague many times, especially because its beaches allow dogs, but there was so much more to the island that I wanted to take in. Entrance to the park is $25 for a 7 day pass per vehicle (at the time, I think this was the only option available), but my annual parks pass worked just as well. I hopped on to reserve a campsite early this year (they book out quickly) and was able to get a less than prime bayside campsite, but it hardly matters where on the island you end up so long as you’re on the island.

Even though the weather for this trip was less than optimal for beach days, we managed to get a couple in. The rest of the time, the mild weather was something of a blessing, allowing me to sleep comfortable at nights and be satisfied with two cold water showers in the shower houses per day. Camping on sand may be a little different than you’re used to, tent and tarp stakes may not be as effective as you might have hoped. Bring a little extra line to anchor some things down to fixtures like the picnic bench legs, your vehicle, or to where the ground is a little more firm. You can also make a makeshift sand anchor by tying two stakes together and burying that in the sand.

Other concerns about the island is that the moment you’re off the beach, you will be set upon by some of the most skilled ace mosquitoes on this side of the United States. They can fly against constant 30 mph winds to precisely land on your half square inch of exposed skin to leave you a welt you’ll regret not being more thorough with your deet repellent. Bring bug spray. Loose, breathable clothing with sleeves. Pants. Crew length socks. You’ll be a much happier camper. And don’t worry, once you’re at the beach, you’ll still be comfortable in a bikini. Unless you’re self conscious about your body and you’ve never worn one before.

Beach facilities are what you might expect. The advantage of being on a 37 mile long island is that you can just keep walking until the beach is uncrowded to your liking, even in the middle of summer weekends, although crowds tend to form in the lifeguarded area near the parking lot. Oceanside campers can expect pretty good uncrowded beach access near their tent sites. A snack bar carries things you might have missed. The waters on Assateague are very similar to those in Ocean City and are pretty comfortable temperature-wise and surf-wise throughout the summer season. There is fairly significant wave activity, but for the most part, kids don’t seem to struggle too much. Rip currents are relatively significant on the island, as they are along the Maryland coast, but always practice ocean safety when you go to the beach. (link)

Don’t miss the sunrise. Or the Assateague ponies. Also don’t leave any food out to hurt the ponies or to attract them to you and get you a fine, horse hoof, or both. If you find that you’re not so much into the ocean, it’s a very short drive to the bay side! Same sort of deal but slightly less salty water, waves become tiny, and that’s where you’ll find the shellfish I came here to hunt.

Sinepuxent bay is very shallow – during low tide, you can walk a hundred plus feet out in the bay without the water going over your knees. Sandy beaches with picnic tables, grills, etc., are available for families to spend a nice day down by the bay. I chose an overcast and slightly rainy day to take advantage of a mid-day low tide to go exploring and then clamming. After kayaking around the bay to look for sandy beds to rake over, I let Maggie wander around on the long lead and raked the sandy beds around Goose Point. After six hours of clamming I managed to find one very unhealthy looking clam after accidentally stabbing through four blue crabs and a small fish.

I was tired after a hard day of amature aquaculture (going at a very pokey and injured pace) and I didn’t have anything to eat after attempting to restore the clam to comfortable spot on the bed. I packed the mud doggo into the car – sand, mud, and all – and went into town. After being disappointed having only found one clam, I magically found a dozen of them swimming in garlic, white wine, and butter at The Shrimp Boat (link), on their outdoor patio, where the mud doggo developed an expensive taste in steamed shrimp.

I’ve learned that if you have patience, put in the hard work, and have a little luck, with a credit card, nature always provides. Our last day was punctuated by significant rain. I carefully packed up camp to minimize the amount of water I would be driving back home, but I had one last stop in mind for my pup after an excellent week of adventuring.

I know what you’re thinking. Peanut butter and chocolate? How decadent. And don’t worry about the mud doggo. There’s barely any chocolate in chocolate ice cream anyway. I mostly let her have some of the peanut butter side.

David

P.S. I was fairly injured before this trip, but after weeks of slow recovery I just wanted to lay in the sand for a while to feel better. I made use of some of the medical facilities in Ocean City as follow up treatments and to make sure everything was ok, get some dressings changed, etc. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of care in Ocean City during the summer season, although I should note that they demand cash payment up front ?

P.P.S. Seriously bring sandals – for the shower, for the beach, for your tent so the sand you track in won’t bother you too much. And maybe some spare carpet or a cheap rug to capture the sand. For car camping I use a cot to elevate myself off the ground so I don’t have to sleep in sand. Just FYI.

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