Wild Ponies, Good Friends & A Rocket Launch – Assateague Island, MD
When we changed our fall travel plans to drive down the East coast one thing I knew I really, really wanted to see was the wild ponies of Assateague Island.
You see I’ve always been a horse girl at heart, despite the fact that I grew up in dense Asian cities. As a kid all my books were about horses, and as soon as I was old enough I begged my parents to learn to ride. It was touch and go too. When I was learning to ride in Hong Kong the only horses available were ex-racehorses all of which were rather crazy from their time on the tracks.
So my mom sat through interminable hours of horse lessons, while I in turn endured my fair share of horse accidents. I got kicked, bucked off, bitten and even had a horse gallop straight over me breaking my arm clean in 2 places. Despite all that I never lost my love of these beautiful creatures, and to this day I’m still a horse girl through and through.
But I digress….
A Relaxing Ferry Trip & Arrival To A Near-Empty Campground
The point is I was excited, very excited to be seeing the ponies. So, it was with much anticipation that we drove south from Jersey City, loaded “the beast” on a very pleasant ~90-min ferry ride from Cape May, New Jersey to Lewes, Delaware (which was way more spacious than the ferries we took on the West Coast in WA in 2014) and headed out to the 37-mile barrier island that is Assateague Island.
We arrived at the State Park early afternoon to an almost entirely empty campground (it did fill-up on the week-end, but it was fabulously empty mid-week) and took doggie for her first long walk on the beautiful, white-sand deserted beach. It was gorgeous and serene. Oh yeah I could get used to this!
We Meet-Up With Good Friends
But there was more goodness to come. We’d plotted this whole trip to coincide with good friends of ours Chris and Cherie (Technomadia) who are driving south and boat-hunting for their new life adventure. They motored their vintage bus into camp just down the loop only hours after we arrived, and we all joined in a big group hug and evening meal.
There’s something comforting about connecting with RV friends that you know and mesh with well. Not only do you pick up your friendship like you never parted ways, but you know each others likes, quirks and habits so well that travel is easy. This eliminates a lot of the (sometimes) uncomfortable first steps of figuring out how you’re going to get along on the road.
We’ll actually be caravanning down with them, on and off, all the way to Florida so expect to see many more pics of their smiling faces and sexy bus on the blog.
We Catch the Wild(ish) Ponies
The ponies were soon to follow. Assateague Island is a long, skinny thing that crosses 2 states (Maryland & Virginia) each of which have their very own horse population (separated by a fence) and each of which manages their pony population quite differently.
Only the MD part has camping right on the Island and (more importantly for us) only the MD part allows dogs, so that’s where we planted our “beastly” butts for the week.
In total there are around 300 wild ponies on Assateague which either arrived when a Spanish galleon ship sank offshore, or were brought in by early colonial settlers (their exact origins are not known). They roam around in small herds of 5-10 and feed on sea and sand dune grasses, rosehips, bayberry twigs, and persimmon….oh, and left-over camp food.
You see despite large signs absolutely everywhere instructing campers to not touch or approach the wild ponies (the rangers WILL fine you -> we saw it happen), and very specific check-in instructions not to leave ANY food outside, lots of people do. And the ponies have become so used to this arrangement that they regularly walk right up to people, meander through camp, trash coolers and leave large piles of horse poop as friendly souvenirs. Suffice to say these ponies are wildish, rather than truly wild and the image I had in my minds eye of feral herds galloping along the beach did not quite fit the reality.
Still, they are gorgeous creatures nonetheless and the upside of all this is that you’d be hard pressed to come to Assateague and NOT see the ponies. They are literally everywhere and so easily approachable even a disposable camera would get you close enough for good shots. Plus, how often do you get to enjoy the company of wildish ponies at your campsite?
We Grab a Brew In Berlin
Just 9 miles inland from Assateague lies “America’s Coolest Small Town ” (as voted by Budget Travels in 2014). It’s a teeny little ~5-block place that packs in over 50 retail shops and 10 dining spots, most of which occupy one of the no less than 47 historic structures listed the National Historic Register. There’s old-time East Coast atmosphere here, but more importantly (for us) there’s a dog-friendly brewery too.
On one of our lazier afternoons we loaded Polly in the car and drove on over to Burley Oak Brewery, an airy yet cozy spot just outside of town that welcomes both kids and dogs inside the building. They have quite an extensive selection of Sours (I particularly liked their Bluberry “Fruits of Our Labor”) as well as some very nice IPA, Session & Saison offerings (Paul was immediately hooked on their lemongrass basil saison, rather superbly named “Golden Sex Panther”). They pride themselves on their use of local ingredients too. A seriously cool spot!
We followed our little tasting by a walk through historic downtown, and although we didn’t try any of the eateries they all looked enticingly good. A recommended stop if you come to the area!
We Bike, Beach-Bum & See A Rocket Launch
The rest of our time we literally just hung out at camp with our buddies. We didn’t make it to nearby Ocean City (oh well), but we did take Polly on long walks on the dog beach at Assateague, had a blast biking the many miles of bike trails from the bridge through the end of the National Seashore (on MD side) and finished our stay in the most dramatic way possible by seeing a real, live rocket launch.
Just after sunset on Monday night (Oct 17th) we enjoyed the launch of an Orbital ATK Antares 230 rocket carrying 5,100 lbs of NASA cargo. Although the launch itself was done ~20 miles away at the NASA flight facility on Wallops Island, the bright light and subsequent rumble was quite clear from our campsite beach lookout. It was my first (ever) live launch and I can honestly say it totally rocked LOL!
And We Head South….
We could easily have stayed in Assateague much longer. Weather was near-perfect while we were there (sunny mid-70’s almost all week), the ocean breeze kept most of the mosquitoes away (we definitely encountered some, but it honestly wasn’t as bad as I expected) and mid-week (when practically no-one else was around) the campground was super-relaxing. We had an AWESOME time here and enjoyed not the only the wildish company, but the company of our friends too.
Alas, the nomadic traveler never rests. Our fall travel time is ticking away and another set of barrier islands (and a few sweet lighthouses) are calling our name further south. Stay tuned and perhaps we’ll see you there…
Coming Up Next -> Assateague State Park Campground review
Post-Post Note: Didn’t You Mention A Podcast?
If you managed to make it the whole way through my last post on Taggart, you might have seen a passing mention about a Podcast at the very bottom. While we were in NYC, we had the honor of being interviewed by the lovely Heath Padgett for his RV Entrepeneur Series (click HERE for our particular interview). If you haven’t had a chance to check out his Podcast, I absolutely recommend you do. He’s interviewed some cool young (well, let’s call it “ish” in our case) RVers, all of whom are making it work pre-retirement on the road. Not only does he have a great interview style, but he gets into some deep stuff in each of his Podcasts. So, if you’ve ever wanted to discover the nitty gritty of how other folks do it, load him up for your next road-trip and you’ll enjoy many hours of entertaining listening.
Useful External Links:
- Assateague Island State Park -> Click HERE for official website
- Assateague Island National Seashore -> Click HERE for official website and HERE for visitor site
- Berlin “America’s Coolest Small Town” -> Click HERE and HERE for visitor sites
- Burley Oak Brewery -> Click HERE. And yes, it’s dog-friendly!!
- NASA Wallops Flight Facility & Launch Schedule -> Click HERE
Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in this blog post may be affiliate links, so, if you click on the link and make a purchase, I will receive a commission. Amazon, the Amazon logo, AmazonSupply, and the AmazonSupply logo are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc. or its affiliates. WheelingIt is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
We LOooVE Comments, So Please Do
Wow, I had heard of this place and not really looked into it. Looking forward to your campground review. Definitely seems like a cool place to see and I love downtowns!
It’s definitely a fun place to visit. I gather the bugs can get really bad in summer, but we didn’t see too much of them in Oct. I think the shoulder seasons are likely the best time to come.
Jerry and Judy says
Nice to see you folks are still traveling and living the good life. We are preparing for our return to the nomadic life, at least for the winter. Last year at this time we were already on the road, with no destination in mind, other then the Kingman area of Arizona. When we arrived in Kingman, it just wasn’t what we were seeking, too many people, to much crime, and just to much. So we headed south and found a little rv park near the Cal, Az, Nv borders in Arizona, and set up for two weeks. Those two weeks morphed into all winter, and since we had no towed, it eventually became a bit tedious, and we were anxious to hit the road once more. When we finally dropped by our house in Sd, we discovered that Doctors can put the kebash on your plans, but now we are nearly done with the doctoring, and packing up our goods once again, this time with a Jeep Liberty in tow and heading back for that lovely little RV park we found last year. Going to use it as a base to discover the area with the Jeep, hopefully for a much more for-filling stay. Not sure if we will remain there all winter or branch out and find new digs, it’s just that that little RV park is quiet, safe, and ever so friendly.
Glad to hear you’ve gotten past the health issues and ready for new travels. I know exactly what you mean about finding that “comfortable” place. We’ve wintered the last 5 winters in the West, many times in the same spots. Going East this year has been completely new for us and pushed us (once again) out of our comfort zone. It’s actually re-energized my love of travel and made RVing “new” all over again. I recommend it!
I read a blog from Lynne of WinnieViews on this park last year and so wanted to go, even made the reservations! But alas as all travelers know – and you most certainly! – travel plans change and sometimes reservations go unused … It’s still on the wish list, thanks for sharing.
It was a long time on our wish list too. I can’t recall the first blog I read about it, but I think it was over 4 years ago. So glad we finally made it here!
We are so thrilled that our routing south converged so wonderfully, and we got to spend this time together in an amazing location. Can’t wait until the next spot, counting down the days! *big hugs*
It’s awesome to be able to spend quality time together again. See you soon!
Oh what a grand place to stay!! I read wonderful books about the island ponies when I was a girl – also a horse lover and owner for years. The beach is beautiful – wonderful pic Paul got of you and doggie! So fun that you’ve re-connected with C&C for the trip south. Great shot of Cherie :-))))
Sounds like we have a lot in common and you’d love this place too! It was really fun to see the ponies up close, especially as a few of them had young ones with them. Very cute.
Gail J Morris says
Sounds like a lot of fun and lovely pictures!
Erma B says
Have you seen the ads at the bottom of your blog? Probably not.
Oh dear me no. Amazon ads pick up on key words from your post and I guess the beer name is a popular one LOL. I’m going to have to look into that. I know there’s a way to exclude certain words from the code, but just haven’t figured it out yet. I’ll get it fixed once I get back on my main computer. Sorry about that!
Update: I believe I managed to get the worst ad removed. Thanks for alerting me. My computer was showing something completely different since I’d been searching other stuff on Amazon just previously. It should show up much more decent for everyone now 🙂
Another idea is to install the Adblock Plus app. At least in Google Chrome on a Windows PC, I see no ads at all on this blog (or others). 🙂
It’s an option, but keep in mind that many bloggers (especially self-hosted) rely on Google ad revenue to keep the site running. I typically leave ads to play on the bloggers I enjoy the most 🙂
The foot prints in the sand photo was great!
Mary Hone says
Love this. Especially since we have been hanging out with the wild mustangs here. Meeting, and hanging out with other full time Rvers is the very best!
The Wild Mustangs in MT are truly wild, as horse herds go. I love the pics you take of them. The Assateague ponies are not quite in the same caliber of “wild”, but they are still quite impressive nonetheless. We definitely had fun here!
Denise Taylor says
I can see why you stayed a week! Beautiful photos! I have always wanted to visit that island. How fun you were able to meet up with Technomadia and will be able to do some connecting for awhile. That will make for a fun trip! Have a blast!!
Love the Polly tail photo–and all the rest of them–great photos!!! I gave the granddaughters books about the Assateague ponies long ago when they were little girls.
Pam Wright says
I like the looks of the place you stayed. When we camped there, we were living in northern PA and it was 33 years ago! We tent camped with friends and we were on the sand. I am sure this made a huge difference with our encounter with mosquitoes and ticks! I have not forgotten how horrible our experience was. Not to mention the showers were only cold water. Can you tell that I will never return:) Glad you had a nice experience. Your photos are lovely, especially the one with Paul’s footprints on the beach:)
I’ve heard the bugs can be really bad in summer. We had lots of people warn us about mosquitoes, ticks and gnats but we only ended up encountering some skeeters which wasn’t too bad. I’m sure the season (coming in Oct) made a huge difference.
Oh and I hear the showers are still cold if you camp within the National Seashore. The State Park campground (right next door) however has awesome (hot, wonderful) showers.
I’ve been spending some summer weeks on Chincoteague Island, watched the pony swim, attended the carnival, camped at Tom’s Cove, crabbing, bird watching, etc. since I was in my early teens. The surf and erosion has changed over the decades. As has the construction by man. Still enjoy the area.
Oh cool! We didn’t make it down to Chincoteague Island, but it certainly looks (from the map) to be a place with lots of interesting nature. One day we’ll have to come back and explore the Virginia side.
Lori N says
Since I live in coastal NC, I’m partial to our wild horses. Shackleford Banks makes a great day trip, as does Carrot Island, across from the downtown Beaufort waterfront.
I’m hoping we catch some of the Wild Horses in NC too. They’re harder to find, so I hear, than the herds on Assateague so we’ll have to see if we get lucky enough to see them.
Lori N says
They are much easier to find on the uninhabited islands, like Shackleford Banks and Carrot Island (which is teeny) than the very populated islands most people see in the typical Outer Banks visit. Many visitors (and even natives) don’t realize we have lots of islands, a National Seashore and a great lighthouse all south of Ocracoke. (And more trees. OBX is rather sparsely treed.)
Good to know. Our goal is to make it all the way down to Ocracoke, so we’ll see how much time we get when we’re there.
Elizabeth Bartlett says
If you’re going that far, head on down to Cumberland Island off the coast of Georgia. I don’t know any details about where to camp or if it’s dog friendly, as it has been many years since I visited. But the wild horses and old plantation ruins are beautiful, and it is definitely an experience that stays with you. There are several islands (some with lighthouses!) from Savannah to Jacksonville, FL that are great places to visit.
PS ~ LOVE your blog! You are living my dream! xo
Carolyn Burelbach says
I am so happy you are enjoying Maryland. I would love to see the Rocket Launch up close. We can see it from our neighborhood near the Appalachian Trail with binoculars. Next time you around these parts I hope you visit Washington DC. There is so much to see and do with all the free museums and zoo-pandas! Loved listening to the podcast. Your pictures are so beautiful Nina. Can’t wait to read your next blog post and thank you for taking us on your journey.
Thank you much for the lovely comments! Watching the Rocket Launch was pretty thrilling, especially the huge rumble that came after. I read that you can watch it directly at the Flight Center (Wallop Island) only 4 miles away. Can’t even imagine how that would feel!
Heath Padgett says
The beach, beer, horses and hang outs all look amazing and like the best time ever. Wish you guys safe travels and it was so great meeting you. Look forward to getting to hang out in person one day soon (maybe San Diego?)!
Anyway, tell Chris and Cherie hi for me and have an amazing Friday! 🙂
A San Diego meet-up sounds like the perfect plan! Good travels to you both!
I’m so glad you got to my part of town. It would have been a treat to meet you all. The weather has been great for the last weeks of October. I’m sure you are enjoying the changing of the colors. Hope you have a great ride south.
Weather has indeed been wonderful, although we’ve missed most of the fall color change, being on the coast (mostly sea grass and sand out here). I’m still hoping to catch some fall colors as we travel south.
Great post on one probably my favorite mid-Atlantic spot. Usually stay in the National Seashore and love every minute of it. Lots cheaper if you aren’t too big.
When I checked the camping rates the State Park ($27.50/night) was actually a tad cheaper than the National Seashore ($30/night). Did I miss a good deal somewhere?
Hi Nina and Paul,
My husband Mark and I have been following your blog since we made the decision 3 years ago to retire to the full time RV life and the time is nearly here. We head out on our big adventure in February! Your blog has been incredibly helpful to us for making plans. We have modified our RV for boondocking (solar and composting toilet) and many more things to work with our lifestyle, which revolves around our 4 dogs who will be travelling with us. So many of the things you all do and chronicle have saved me many hours of research and your efforts are truly appreciated.
We currently live near Wilmington, NC and I was wondering if you all were planning on travelling further down the coast from Assateague. If you haven’t done the trip before you may enjoy the Outer Banks of NC, especially now that hurricane season is basically over. If you pass through Wilmington, Mark and I would very much like to treat you to dinner in historic downtown Wilmington. If you do come this way, Wilmington has a beautiful historic district and river walk along the Cape Fear River ( yes dog friendly), as well as several breweries. Though we are not aficionados (I am a wine girl and Mark, my British husband, loves his Guinness) you might enjoy tasting some of their brews.
If you don’t pass this way, I do hope our paths will meet somewhere out West in the future.
I sent you a personal e-mail. We’re kind of racing thro’ Wilmington on our way to Charleston, but we may be able to stop by.
Steve & Gari says
Nina your post made our eyes trickle thinking of home… we lived about 20 miles from Berlin, MD for 30 years. Gari worked on the Antares Program for the first 4 launches…. sniff
Sweet memories indeed. Cheers for sharing.
OK OK. Another place we need to go to! Odd that just a few days ago we watched Chris and Cherie’s video about the ponies eating the food from their neighbor’s picnic table.
Was the ferry expensive?
Great post as always.
The ferry cost $96 for both RV and car together. That’s the current season (Apr-Oct) rate for 60 foot or longer. If you’re below 60 (hooked up) you’ll pay less. You can see full rates at the very bottom of this page:
Note that you don’t *have* to take the ferry to get here. You can drive around Cape May by taking an inland route. Then you simply catch the coastal road on the other side and drive down from there. That’s the route Chris and Cherie took.
We camp on the NP side, cold showers for sure.. brrr, we also go crabbing in the cove.. and also watched the horses raid the beach and eat off the neighbors table.. they sure have learned survival tricks.. and fun to watch.. we WILL be back… we were there the day the colt was born. So darn cute.
We enjoy your site
What an experience to be there the day the colt was born!
We loved hunting for the wild ponies. What a beautiful area. As always your photos are simply stunning!
I remember your blog post about the Outer Banks horses, but I also remember you talked about ticks there! Not sure we’ll make it to Shackleford as you did, but we’ll definitely be hitting as many of the lighthouses as we can.
Sherri Von Huene says
I’m so amazed by the camaraderie and friendships forged in the RV community. How wonderful to have fellow friends exploring the globe by land, sea and air; all sharing their experiences and favorite locals on your blog.
Thanks for opening up the world of possibilities and dreams, you’ve been an inspiration to my husband and I.
Kim Nowelll says
LOVED this post and just can not wait to go see these horses and this area. Thanks for sharing. Love your posts, pictures, camp reviews and much more. Hope to meet you on the road some day.
Patricia and Silver says
Hi there, been reading your blog for the past year or so along with several others (one of them Technomadia), as we prepare for our own full-timing adventure! This particular post really resonated since we live in DC and LOVE Berlin, and Assateague. Also were able to catch the rocket launch from our back deck with binoculars! It was amazing and thrilling to say the least. Hope to meet up with you on the road one of these days!
Kevin & Kim Fillmore says
I’ve always wanted to go there (Assateague and Chincoteague) ever since I read “Misty of Chincoteague” by Marguerite Henry in Junior High School. Maybe someday. Thanks again for posting. Love your blog always. I haven’t posted in a very long time. Cheers to you and Paul!
Oh gosh, I haven’t thought of that book in YEARS. I’m going to have to go back and read it now! I was an avid horse-book reader as a kid. Loved absolutely everything and anything to do with horses.