American Horse Trail Road Trip, Stop Four: Assateague Island
Leave Middleburg and head east on I-270, to the Washington, D.C. beltway, where drivers go round and round like ponies on a carousel, often at the same slow speed. Continue east to Annapolis, cross the Chesapeake Bay and then it's straight south on US-50 through the quaint towns of Easton and Cambridge. Head east, bisecting the coastal plain of the Delmarva Peninsula where the flat landscape is pocked with poultry farms. Chicken poop is not a pleasant odor, but by the time you reach Assateague, you'll smell nothing but sea breeze.
Road Trip Starting Point:
Driving the American Horse Trail
Located on Maryland and Virginia's Eastern Shore, Assateague Island is renowned for two herds of wild horses, one herd in each state (a fence separates them; they do not intuitively recognize state boundaries). The horses, of course, aren't really wild; they are feral. As the National Park Service's Assateague website explains, "they are descendants of domestic animals that have reverted to a wild state." Wild sounds more romantic than feral though, which evokes images of a nasty cat tormenting you as you take out the garbage. Truly wild horses have not roamed the Americas for thousands of years, so herds that have been feral for a few centuries are as close as you're going to be able to get on a road trip.
Camping is permitted only on the Maryland side of Assateague. Both the National Park Service and Maryland Department of Natural Resources maintain campsites. Demand can be heavy though, so make reservations in advance.
The two herds are subdivided into bands of two to 12 horses, with each band occupying a home range. Your ability to view the horses really depends on them. Sometimes, you may have to drive around the island. Other times, they may approach your tent, trying to snap into your uneaten Slim Jims. The National Park Service recommends staying at least a bus length away though, even if the horses are the ones seemingly initiating contact.
EAT AND DRINK HERE
Food-wise, you'll mostly be making use of a cooler beside the campfire. But you'll want to make use of the campground's showers to clean up and visit the Assateague Crab House, located just outside of the campgrounds, at least once. Of course, by the time you're done inhaling all of the batter, butter and tartar sauce there, you might feel the need to shower again on your return.
ROAD TRIP TIP
While you shouldn't pet or feed the horses, you can buy one as a souvenir from your horse-themed road trip. On the last Thursday in July, the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company, which owns the Virginia herd, hosts a pony auction to help it manage the herd's size. You're on own though for a tip on how to get your new pony back home. And, no, these formerly feral horses aren't eligible for Derby.
Previous Stop: Northern Virginia
Starting Point:Driving the American Horse Trail
Looking for more road trip ideas? Visit our Great American Road Trips home page.