Chincoteague and assateague islands

When it comes to Chincoteague vs Assateague, people have a lot of questions. Is one better than the other? How do I get to these islands? Let’s take a look at Chincoteague Island and Assateague Island and how they are different.

Chincoteague Vs Assateague: Background

Chincoteague Island and Assateague Island are two neighboring barrier islands off the Virginia Coast, right near the border of Maryland. They each have unique experiences and attractions for visitors.

In recent years, the Maryland portion of Assateague Island, the Virginia portion of the island, and visiting the wild ponies of Assateague have become quite popular. The Chincoteague wildlife refuge is one of the most visited refuges in the country.

Chincoteague Vs Assateague: Location And Access

Let’s first start by looking at how to access both of these beautiful areas. 

Chincoteague Island

This island is located on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, just below the Maryland state line. Chincoteague is a small town known for its easier access when compared to the neighboring island of Assateague. 

It is a short drive from Ocean City, Maryland which is a very popular beach town. Many visitors to Ocean City, Maryland and the small historic town of Berlin, Maryland plan a visit to Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge during their stays in the respective towns.

Assateague Island

Assateague Island is much bigger than Chincoteague and also much less developed. This island stretches between Maryland and Virginia. The island is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the east and Chincoteague Bay to the west. 

The island is divided into two parts. One area is called the Assateague Island National Seashore and it is managed by the National Park Service. The second area is called the Assateague State Park in Maryland.

Chincoteague Vs Assateague: Parking

Planning is an important part of visiting these islands. If you are driving here, as many people are it is important to know how parking works. 

Assateague Island

Assateague Island has specific regulations for bringing your car onto the beach. For visitors bringing Over Sand Vehicles (OSV), the OSV zones on Assateague Island are strictly controlled to protect the natural environment and wildlife. There are two sides to the island – the Maryland side, and the Virginia side.

Maryland Side Access

The Maryland side of Assateague Island allows a maximum of 145 vehicles in the OSV area at any one time. Access is managed on a one-off, one-on basis once this limit is reached. If you want to be able to bring your car on, you should arrive very early in the morning. 

If you are not one of the first 145 cars to make it on, you have two options. 

  • Option 1: The first option is to come back with your car later into the afternoon. By this time, some of the morning cars have started to leave. However, if there is a long line of cars waiting, you will be pushed to the back of the line.
  • Option 2: The second option is to park nearby and walk or bike onto the island. The Verrazano bridge connects the mainland to Assateague Island. It has a separate walking and biking path that is totally different from the path that the cars take. 

Virginia Side Access

The Virginia section permits up to 48 vehicles in its OSV area. This limit is reduced to 18 vehicles when the Toms Cove Hook area is closed for bird nesting. This time period is typically between March 15 and August 31st. There is a separate northern fishing mile open to only 12 vehicles during this time period.

Car Permits

Before you drive over to Assateague Island, you need to obtain a permit. It is also important that your vehicle is appropriate to drive over sand. The National Park Service recommends that you have a car with high-clearance as well as four-wheel-drive. These types of vehicles are the best for beach driving so that you do not get stuck in the sand.

Chincoteague Island

Chincoteague Island is a bit easier to visit from a planning standpoint. This island is entirely located in Virginia, just south of Maryland.

Virginia Side Access

Although Chincoteague Island and Assateague Island are adjacent islands, there is no way to bring a car from Assateague to Chincoteague. The best way to get to Chincoteague is using the Chincoteague Road, which is also Route 175. This will put you right in the middle of the small downtown area that has hotels and restaurants. 

Car Permits

Chincoteague Island has far more development than Assateague. There are hotels, parking lots, and numerous restaurants. There is no car permit required to drive onto Chincoteague Island.

Chincoteague Vs Assateague: Management And Facilities

Because this area is full of wildlife, there are many agencies involved in managing these islands. This is to ensure that the natural beauty and landscape remain as unharmed as possible. 

Chincoteague Island

The Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge is a popular attraction on the island. It is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Other places and facilities to visit include the Herbert H. Bateman Educational and Administrative Center, nature trails like the Woodland Trail, and the popular Assateague Lighthouse. The town itself has amenities like parking, hotels, and restaurants. 

Assateague Island

The island of Assateague is managed by the National Park Service and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. The Assateague Island National Seashore and Assateague State Park provide camping, hiking, and beach access. Park rangers can provide visitors with guided tours as well.

Chincoteague Vs Assateague: Wildlife

Wildlife is one of the primary reasons people want to visit these two islands. Let’s take a look at the differences in what you can view on each island.


Known for the Chincoteague Ponies, these wild ponies are managed by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company. The Fire Company also hosts the annual Pony Swim. During this popular event, the ponies swim across the channel to Chincoteague. The island also hosts a variety of migratory birds, bald eagles, as well as white-tailed deer.


Assateague Island is home to the famous Assateague horses, also known as Assateague ponies. These animals roam freely in their natural habitat and visitors are able to witness this up close. 

The island supports two main herds: the Maryland herd and the Virginia herd. There is other wildlife as well, and this includes sika deer and a big variety of migratory birds.

Chincoteague Vs Assateague: Activities

If enjoy being active, there is plenty to do on both of these islands. Here is a brief overview of what each island has to offer in terms of activities and things to do.


Offers a range of activities such as boat tours, kayaking, and scenic island cruises. Popular spots include Beach Road and Wallops Island. 

Outdoor Activities

The Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge provides excellent opportunities for bird watching and nature trails. Taking a boat tour to explore the area by water is also a popular activity. There is a good chance you can see some of the adult ponies by boat as well. 

The Lighthouse Trail offers a scenic hike to the historic lighthouse. There is parking available nearby.

Culture And Education

The Herbert H. Bateman Educational and Administrative Center offers a wealth of information about the early settlers and the natural history of the area. Marguerite Henry’s books are set on the Virginia side of Assateague Island and Chincoteague Island.


After a day of activities, you can enjoy some of the restaurants on the island. Many of these locally owned restaurants have beautiful water views. 


This island is well known for its natural beauty and outdoor activities. There are many things to do here including horseback riding, biking on service roads, and exploring the acres of beach along the Atlantic coastline. The island’s state park and national seashore are great places for camping and hiking. 

Chincoteague Vs Assateague: Visitor Experience

Each island has a different experience for people visiting.


This island has a more developed and tourist-friendly environment with amenities and services for visitors. The Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department plays a key role in managing the pony population. The town is a popular spot for long weekends and spring breaks.


This island has a more rustic and natural experience, ideal for those interested in wildlife observation and outdoor activities. The island’s undeveloped landscape and scenic beauty provide a great way to connect with nature. 

A good rule of thumb when visiting is to always secure a special use permit for certain activities. OSV permits should be obtained well in advance of your visit. 

Chincoteague Vs Assateague: When To Visit

The best time to visit both of these areas is during the warmer months so that you can enjoy the beach and the outdoors. The Day Use area of Assateague Island is open year round from 7 AM to sunset. 

A long weekend or spring break trip to the islands is a fantastic getaway. You can visit during the winter months but remember that it will be much colder and certain activities like taking a scenic tour boat may not be possible.

If you are able to, consider visiting during the week rather than on a weekend. Weekends during the summer months can be quite crowded and popular. 

Chincoteague Vs Assateague: Which One Is Better?

When it comes to determining which one is better Chincoteague or Assateague, it really depends on what you are looking for as a visitor. 

Assateague Island For Peace And Seclusion – Planning Required!

For a more secluded experience, you will want to put the time and effort into planning a visit to Assateague. This means getting permits ahead of time for your over sand vehicle. It also means arriving early to ensure that you are one of the first 145 cars onto the island. 

Consider visiting during the week rather than the weekend so that there is a higher chance of being able to bring your car onto the island. Remember to bring supplies with you including food, water and any beach amenities that you want to use. 

Once you are on the island, you will feel like you have the entire island to yourself. Because access is limited, it is quite easy to find a stretch of sand all to yourself. It is a great place for enjoying some quiet time with your family and maybe some herds of wild horses. 

Chincoteague Island For Tours And Easy Access

If you are planning a last minute visit or will be driving through the region, Chincoteauge may be a better choice. You can easily drive onto the island and find a place to stay or a restaurant to eat in. You don’t need to plan too much in advance because car permits are not required. As expected, the main downtown area of Chincoteague is much busier than Assateague. 

Chincoteague Vs Assateague: Summary

From wild animals to beautiful beaces, both Chincoteague Island and Assateague Island are a great experience for visitors. The major differences are that the town of Chincoteague has more amenities when compared to the Assateague National Seashore. But, if you are looking for seclusion, then Assateague Island provides a more wild and natural experience. OSV permits are required for driving off-road vehicles on the beach.

Chincoteague, with its developed infrastructure, charming town, and famous Chincoteague Ponies, provides a more accessible and comfortable visit, ideal for families and tourists seeking a blend of natural beauty and convenience. In contrast, Assateague’s vast, undeveloped landscape and its wild Assateague horses cater to those looking for a more rustic and immersive outdoor adventure. 

Both islands have a ton of opportunities for outdoor activities and wildlife observation. Bird watchers will be delighted by the spectacular variety of migratory birds found in the area. Relaxing on the beach with a beach chair is a perfect way to end the day. The visitor center offers information, maps, and group discounts for larger parties. Kayak tours are a popular activity for those wanting to explore the waterways up close.

Both islands are rich in history and natural wonders, attracting visitors from around the world.

Whether you’re drawn to Chincoteague’s quaint amenities or Assateague’s pristine natural environment, both islands promise enriching and diverse experiences that highlight the best of Virginia’s and Maryland’s coastal beauty.

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