Unlike any other ocean beaches in the area, campfires are allowed in the national park. They must be built below the high-tide mark. It's easiest to bring your own wood -- sometimes you can find places to buy it right along Route 611. Fires must be extinguished until cold with water, not sand; never leave a fire unattended.
Canoeing, Kayaking & Boating
The only launch facility on the island is for canoes. It's at the end of Ferry Landing Road on the Maryland side. Larger boats can be launched for the day from the state park's marina just west of the bridge (across from the Barrier Island Visitor Center). The fee is $10.
Waters at the Maryland end of Chincoteague Bay are usually ideal for canoeing, though the tidal currents around Chincoteague Island are strong. The bay is generally shallow, so operators of larger boats should watch for sandbars. In summer, you can rent canoes from the concession at the end of Bayside Drive. Four backcountry canoe-in campsites are located in the national park. Permits are required and can be obtained at the ranger station in Maryland or at the Toms Cove Visitor Center in Virginia.
Coastal Kayak (tel. 877/445-2925 or 302/539-7999; www.coastalkayak.com) offers eco-tours of the Assateague back bay. Tours cost about $40 for adults and $30 for children. (Get a coupon from their website.) Assateague Explorer (tel. 757/336-5956; www.assateagueisland.com/kayaktours.htm) runs kayaking tours off Assateague between Memorial Day and Columbus Day six times a day for $40 for adults, $36 for children.
The park's own Coastal Bays Program (tel. 410/726-3217) offers canoe rentals for $40 a day, kayak rentals for $45, bicycles for $20, and clam rakes for $10. Hourly rentals as well as overnight and weekend are also available.
Crabbing, Clamming & Fishing
Pick up the Shellfishing in Maryland brochure at the visitor center for a map showing the best places to catch crabs, clams, and mussels. The best time to crab is late summer to early fall, in the morning or early evening. The most common approach is the string, bait, and net method: Attach a piece of bony chicken or a fish head to a string (chicken necks are the preferred bait) and cast out in shallow water. When you feel a tug, gently tow the line in. If there's a crab on the end, net it before you take it out of the water, then transfer it to a basket or other container and continue crabbing.
A single collapsible crab pot or trap may also be used, if it is attended at all times. You can purchase a crab pot at bait-and-tackle shops; they look like large chicken-wire boxes. Place bait in the center of the trap; drop it in clear, shallow water; and pull it up as soon as a crab walks in. All crabs must measure 5 inches point to point, and all egg-bearing females must be released. Limits are 1 bushel per person per day, or 2 bushels per boat per day. Crabbing is prohibited January through March.
Signing and raking are accepted methods for clamming. The mudflats at Virginia's Toms Cove are more suitable for signing. To sign for clams, walk along the mudflats at low tide and look for small keyhole openings, or "signs," indicating the presence of a clam. Then dig it out with a hand trowel or small digging tool. Raking can be done at any tide level, but you need a clamming rake, which has a basket to catch the clams. Drag the rake through the mud until the tines scrape a shell; then dig up the mud, shake it loose, and catch the clam in the basket. Clams must be 1 inch wide; the limit is 1 bushel per person per day.
Mussels and oysters are rare in the waters surrounding the island. Oysters are rarely found off the private leased beds (and trespassing is prohibited). The park service asks that you take only what you will consume in mussels and oysters.
No saltwater license is required for surf fishing on the coast, though an after-hours permit is required on the Virginia end of the island. Fishing is prohibited on the guarded beaches and in the designated surf zones.
Hiking & Biking
Conditions and trails for hiking and biking are better at the Virginia end of the island, but there are three .5-mile self-guided hiking trails on the Maryland end of the national park: Life of the Marsh, Life of the Forest, and Life of the Dunes. All are short, and all require bug repellent. Cyclists can use the 3-mile paved bike path along Bayberry Drive and the Oceanside campground.
In Virginia, about 5 of the 15 miles of trails are paved for cycling. The Wildlife Tour is closed to car traffic until 3pm each day, so hikers and bikers can have it all to themselves. The Woodland Trail, which leads to a pony observation platform, is also paved. These wooded paths are serene but exciting if you find the sought-after ponies.
The vast majority of Assateague is not accessible by car; however, off-road (or over-sand) vehicle routes stretch for 12 miles. Permits are required and are issued for a $70 to $150 annual fee. Call tel. 410/641-3030 or see www.nps.gov/asis for information and ORV regulations.
The state park has guarded beaches Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend daily 10am to 5pm.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.