161 miles S of Wilmington; 57 miles S of Ocean City; 174 miles SE of Baltimore; 177 miles SE of Washington, D.C.

Imagine yourself here on a sunny afternoon -- enjoying the surf, ocean breezes, and warm sand with your family, your friends, and a fat white-and-brown pony. The famous wild horses of Assateague are not shy. The band of bachelor ponies isn't, anyway. The majority of the horses try to stay away from people, but the rest hang around the parking lot, poke their noses in open car windows, pose for pictures along the highway, or stand completely still on the beach while the wind tosses their manes.

More than 2.5 million people come to Assateague Island each year to enjoy this pristine barrier island and those ponies. On the Maryland half of this 37-mile-long island, you can see some of the 150 ponies up close. They are harder to see on the Virginia side, where they tend to stay farther from the walking trails.

Heed the warnings and don't touch or feed the ponies. They are wild and can be unpredictable. They're pretty, but they do bite and kick.

Most visitors are drawn to the guarded beaches in front of the state park's store, refreshment stands, and restrooms, or the nearby campgrounds. But you don't have to walk too far to find deserted beaches, inhabited only by the aforementioned horses and a few sika deer and shorebirds, including the endangered piping plover.

Wherever you go, be aware of Assateague's second-most-famous inhabitants -- mosquitoes. They really are as bad as the brochures, guidebooks, and park rangers tell you, so come prepared with bug spray, citronella candles, and long sleeves. Compared to nearby Ocean City, Assateague is still wild and primitive -- no hotels, restaurants, convenience stores, or gas stations. Just people. And ponies. And mosquitoes.

Assateague is part state park and part national seashore. The descriptions of rules, regulations, and activities we've listed indicate which authority has jurisdiction over which parts. For specifics on the Virginia side of the island, see Frommer's Virginia.