Assateague Island Camping Guide | Tips, Sites, & Essentials

Are you looking for a beautiful campground where you can enjoy the best of the sun, the beach, and the forest all in one fell swoop? Assateague Island is a popular destination for campers with its wildlife, gorgeous weather, and even more scenic views. You just have to know how to prepare for this type of camping trip, as Assateague Island has many rules and regulations.

Assateague Island permits camping on the Maryland portion of the park. Reservations can be made up to 6 months in advance from March 15 to November 15 or first-come, first-served in the off-season. Sites cost $30 to $50. Bring bug spray, long tent stakes, and drinking water to be prepared.

If you’ve been thinking about making a beautiful camping trip, here is what you need to know in our Assateague State Park camping guide.  

What to Expect When Camping at Assateague Island?

Assateague Island is a memorable place to pitch your tent for a weekend camping trip. The island itself stretches for almost 40 miles between Maryland and Virginia.

It includes destinations like the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge and the Toms Cove Visitor Center alongside the beach.

Most of the Maryland portion of the island is under the purview of the National Park Service. However, a small portion of it is managed by the State of Maryland.

The portions that extend into Virginia are managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It’s key to note here that there is no camping in the Virginia portion of the island. 

1. Hours and Seasons

The hours and seasons that Assateague Island park is open vary depending on which portion of the park you desire to visit.

The Maryland district is open all year round, allowing you to come and go as you please, 24 hours a day. The only days of the year that the Maryland district will not be open include Christmas and Thanksgiving.

However, their ranger station and campground office are not open 24/7. If you need a permit or a pass, you must visit daily from 9:00 to 5:00.

On the other hand, the Virginia district is not as flexible as that managed by Maryland. The hours for Virginia vary depending on the season. Sometimes they are open:

  • 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM (November to March 15)
  • 6:00 AM to 8:00 PM (March 15 to April)
  • 5:00 AM to 10:00 PM (May to September)
  • 6:00 AM to 8:00 PM (October)
Hours and Seasons

2. Packing Food and Water

If you plan to stay in Assateague Island National Park or Assateague Island State Park, you’ll want to come prepared. Once you’re on the island, there are no real places to stop for snacks or bottled water.

The Maryland district is a little more flexible with this policy, having public water fountains if you run out of water. Some snacks are available seasonally at both North Beach and Bayside Drive.

However, this isn’t something you’ll want to rely on as your main source of food and water. Always be prepared with plenty to eat and drink.

Visiting the Virginia portion of Assateague Island gives even fewer options. Unless you plan a day trip to Chincoteague Island, you’ll have no access to food.

Tom’s Cove Visitor Center and the educational center have a public drinking fountain. Virginia doesn’t allow alcohol on the island, either.

Regardless of what you decide to bring or what you need to pack, it’s important to note that wildlife will consume your food.

While you may not find a bear on the island, the wild horses and seagulls will quickly snack on your food if it isn’t in a sealed container to limit the smell and make retrieval difficult.

3. Weather

One of the things that you’ll need to prepare for if you want to camp at Assateague Island is the weather. The summer months are accompanied by hot weather and high humidity levels.

If you want to spend the days lounging around and enjoying the water, this might be your perfect destination.

Winter is a little less favorable, though it’s important to note that snow is a rarity. Instead, you’ll want to bundle up as the wind rolls through the park along with the cold, damp weather.

Be sure to bring a sturdy tent that can withstand the wind and keep out the chill if you want to stay comfortable camping here in the winter.


4. Reservations

If you know that you want to stay on the island overnight, it’s important to note that the system for reservations opens up six months in advance.

This is because the prime camping times (mostly the weekends) tend to book quickly.

For campers planning an overnight trip during the weekend in the busy season (March 15 to November 15), you’ll need to be ready to make a reservation as soon as they open.

During this busy season, reservations are required if you want to camp. You can make your reservation over the phone at (877) 444-6777 or online.

Campers who don’t intend to go during the peak season will find it easy to plan a weekend trip to Assateague Island.

From November 16 to March 14, all campsites are handled on a first-come-first-served basis at the same rates as during peak season. You’ll find that the walk-in sites are closed during this time, though.

You can stay at the park for 14 consecutive days or 28 cumulative days between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

5. Pricing

The good news is that Assateague Island likely fits neatly into your budget if you aren’t looking to spend a small fortune on a camping site.

Each site costs $30 per night, except for group and horse camping. The latter two options are a bit more expensive, costing $50 per night.

You may even be eligible for a discount on your campsite. If you have any of these passports, you can receive a 50 percent discount on the cost of your campsite:

  • Golden Age
  • Interagency Senior
  • Golden Access
  • Interagency Access

6. Campground Options

Staying on Assateague Island offers five different campgrounds that you might want to explore, making this great for repeated trips back to the island.

Here is a quick overview of the different sites that you can make reservations for and the type of camping they permit:

  • Oceanside: The drive-in permits almost all types of camping, ranging from tents to RVs to trailers, but there are no hookups. The walk-in is for tents only but is relatively close to the parking areas to make unloading your equipment easier. Remember that the walk-in section is closed from November 16 to March 14 for winter weather.
  • Bayside Drive-In: Much like the oceanside drive-in, you can stay in a tent, trailer, or RV at bayside with no hookups. Some sites permit generators, but generator-free portions of the space exist.
  • Group Camping: If you intend to go with an organized group, use the group camping site for tents only.
  • Horse Camp: Horse camping permits up to six people with their accompanying person and can be booked from October 16 to April 14.

7. Check In and Check Out

Once you finally arrive for your camping trip, you must ensure that you abide by their rules regarding check-ins and check-outs.

On the way in, you must register at the Ranger Station at noon and be over 18. While children are welcome at the park, at least one party member must be an adult.

Arriving after the ranger station has closed poses a different problem. If you have a reservation, you must register by 11:00 AM at the Ranger Station.

Check-out is firmly scheduled at 11:00 AM. Campers who don’t abide by this rule may face a fine.

You can leave your permit at the Ranger Station or in the camper checkout box near the entrance. Anything you leave behind won’t be returned to you.

Check In and Check Out

8. Quiet Hours

Assateague Island observes clear, quiet hours stretching from 10:00 PM to 6:00 AM. During this time, you won’t be permitted to use your generator or idle your car to charge much-needed batteries.

That said, they strive to keep the campgrounds serene for everyone to enjoy, even outside of quiet hours.

9. Insects

Come prepared if you want to camp at Assateague Island. This park is home to many insects that can make your camping trip miserable if you aren’t prepared.

Especially during the summer, it’s relatively common to find mosquitos, biting flies, and gnats. The island also has a population of ticks, so you’ll want to lather on the insect repellant or keep your skin covered.

10. Firewood

If you want a raging fire during your evening camping excursion, be prepared with locally sourced firewood. They don’t permit anyone to use firewood brought from a different state.

The best thing to do is to visit a local shop on your way to Assateague Island to procure firewood that’ll be safe to use in the fire ring to warm up your food or hang out around the fire.

Or you can use a candle heater from my recommendations of the best candle heaters for camping.

All fires should be started and kept within the confines of the fire ring provided by the campsite. Alternatively, you can start a fire in your grill for cooking.

Beach fires are also allowed if they are below the high tide line. Remember that fires should be put out with water, not sand.


11. Pet Policy

Sometimes, you want to bring the whole family on your camping trip, including your four-legged friends! Pets are permitted if they are under your control and are on a 6-foot leash (or shorter).

Do check out my article on family camping tips for more details.

Campers are held accountable for their pet’s behavior, including nuisance behavior like barking. Don’t leave your pet unattended anywhere at the park.

That being said, plenty of places are pet-free zones, including the lifeguarded beach during the regular season, on backcountry campsites, on the nature trails, in Assateague State Park, and inside of the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge.

12. Recreation

Some campers want to explore the beauty of the Assateague Island National or State Park. There are some designated bicycle paths that you can explore, or you can ride along the public roads in the park.

You should also feel free to bring skates, skateboards, and scooters for the kids to enjoy as long as they stay on the bike path.

13. Being Prepared with Necessary Equipment

When you stay on Assateague Island, you’ll want to ensure you have everything needed to make your trip more comfortable.

To this end, you’ll want to pack lots of sunscreen as the sun can be quite harsh during the prime camping season. You don’t want a painful sunburn the first day you’re in town.

If you don’t know much about the camping season, do check out my article on Camping Seasons in the US and Canada.

You’ll also want to bring tent stakes longer than average to secure your tent.

The sand makes it more difficult to secure tents using traditional stakes, which may not hold in the windy conditions along the island.

Sand stakes are a great investment if you think your camping trip on Assateague Island may be your go-to moving forward.

Being Prepared with Necessary Equipment

14. Facilities

While there may not be many amenities at Assateague Island campground sites, you have a few small luxuries to consider.

All of their camping facilities include chemical toilets and cold-water showers.

This may not be the epitome of luxury and comfort, but you’ll be grateful for it, especially if you stay for more than one or two nights.

15. Backcountry Camping

Exploring the island or roughing it for the weekend is also an option. They have several backcountry campsites that lack the amenities of their standard campsites.

You’ll need to bring your own water and be prepared for harsher conditions. You can camp in a bayside or an oceanside spot with groups of up to 25 people.

These sites can range anywhere from 2 or 3 miles from the Ranger Station to up to 13 miles, so be ready to carry your gear for a while if you want a more secluded spot.

Both oceanside and bayside campsites have a chemical toilet.

Many people find that they don’t have good cell phone reception at these sites, so be sure to familiarize yourself with the location of the 911 phone.

Backcountry campsites prohibit pets, but many other rules for their traditional campsites are the same.

Backcountry Camping

Final Thoughts

Assateague Island is a beautiful place to visit and can make for a great camping getaway if you know the rules and how to adequately prepare.

Whether you want to stay on the beach or prefer a more traditional forest campsite, you can explore the best the island offers.

Consider making your first reservation and packing your bags for a trip you won’t soon forget!

Shailen Vandeyar

A proud Indian origin Kiwi who loves to plant trees and play with his pet bunny when not out in the woods, exploring the infinite beauty of mother nature.

Recent Posts