Skip Bosley shares forty years of stories, wisdom, and advice on Assateague National Seashore, one of the most rewarding truck camping destinations on Earth. Don’t miss Skip’s mods and tips.
Linda and I have had a close relationship with Assateague Island since its transition from a private development to a National Seashore. In the late 1960s, the National Park Service bought out private land and home owners to develop a preserve and recreation complex on the forty mile long barrier island.
Maryland and Virginia share the island at its southern end, the smaller and inhabited Chincoteague Island. Virginia tucks in closely between the mainland and Assateague. A hurricane in 1932 created an inlet at Ocean City, Maryland thereby causing the remaining long barrier spit to become an island. Before the hurricane, the area was sparsely built up with a few summer houses and a small ferry for access.
Today there is a bridge close to the northern end, in Maryland, to access a 680 acre Maryland State camping park. The park offers a limited number of sites with electric, many sites just over a dune from the beach, and bath houses with hot showers.
The National Seashore, which is managed by the United States Park Service, extends southward about twenty miles to the Virginia line. The United States Park Service operates a large campground for both RV and tent camping. The campground also offers many recreational opportunities including swimming, hiking, birding, fishing, bicycling, canoeing, and off-road vehicle use.
In 1968, I was a real estate broker selling property at Ocean Pines, then a brand new community not far from the new bridge to Assateague. For several years there were no improvements on Assateague, other than the bridge, a road, and parking. We were able to drive onto the beach, after airing down the tires, and there was little to no supervision. Dune buggies, dirt bikes, and anything with wheels was found on the beach. Fisherman, campers, and surfers all clamored for spaces. I took my real estate prospects to see Assateague, as I considered the developing park to be a major asset to the area.
In those days, we had a VW Campmobile. We would let some air out of the tires and camp on the beach. During those early years, many vehicles got caught in the soft sand below the tide lines and were lost to the sea. As facilities were built, including a ranger station, pavilions, and bath houses, the United States Park Service began to actively manage and supervise the activities. Out of chaos, came order.
“Home is the sailor, home from the sea, and the hunter home from the hill.”
– Robert Louis Stevenson
The Assateague Island National Seashore Experience
A stay on the beach at Assateague Island is like no other US Park Service facility experience. The sun rises out of the sea, dolphins play in the surf, a herd of wild ponies graze over the dunes, and the yearling colts kick up their heels. It’s a place of many wonders.
In the Spring and Fall, the weekends are busy. On the weekdays, we have gone for days seeing only the rangers making their rounds. During the summer, it is recommended to arrive early, as a limited number of vehicles are permitted on the beach at any one time. I think it’s 145 vehicles, and then it’s one vehicle off, one vehicle on. During the weekdays in summer, the Bull Pen is not crowded.
Should you get stuck in the sand, another rig will always stop to help. As with everything, experience is the best teacher. If stuck, let out a little more air from your tires, then slowly drive forward, or back up a little, and then go ahead. Spinning wheels will just take the rig down into the sand and up to the frame.
Always use wide turns on the beach. Drive slow and steady, stay on the level areas, and never drive on the dunes. Whenever possible stop on level sand, never facing up or down hill. With a bit of care, driving and camping on the sand is very doable.
What You Need for Beach Camping
In order to buy a permit for over sand vehicle use on Assateague Island National Seashore, several things are needed. Specifically, you need a single-rear wheel, four wheel drive licensed vehicle, a towing strap or cable, a jack capable of lifting the vehicle above the sand, an 18”x18” three-quarters of an inch plywood pad for the jack, and a shovel.
If you wish to spend the night on the beach, you must be actively engaged in fishing, or have an upgraded permit. Overnight camping on Assateague Island National Seashore requires a fully-self contained camper and is only available inside a designated, “Bull Pen” area. You can stay on Assateague for as long as your tanks hold out.