On the OSV (over sand vehicles) side of Assateague Island National Seashore, there are miles of unspoiled beaches with ample private space between each beach goer. For a truly peaceful and amazing day at the beach, Assateague is, without doubt, the place to go. If you have a four wheel drive vehicle with good clearance, you can enjoy a truly unique experience . You must buy a day use OSV pass to drive on the beach. Passes are available at the Ranger Station at the toll gate to the National Park. The state portion of the beach is not available to over sand vehicles. Here are a few tips to help make your OSV experience on Assategue the best.
145 over sand vehicles are allowed on Assateague National beach at one time. Once the max number of allowed vehicles is reached, a line starts to form with a “one car off, one car on policy.” It may be some time before the 146th car is allowed to pull forward onto the beach. For this reason, it is best to arrive no later than 7:00 am to pick a good beach spot. The best time is just before sunrise.
You will need:
A car jack, a board (to put under a car jack to support it), a shovel, a tire gauge, and a rope or tow strap, at least 10 feet long.
Before you drive on sand, your vehicle’s tires must to be deflated to 15 pounds, use the tire gauge frequently as too little air in a tire could cause the tire to roll off the rim, or allow sand to enter the rim. Too much air and the tire will be more likely to “bog down” in the sand and you’ll need to dig or get towed out. Shift to 4 wheel drive and you are ready to go!
Plan for fun
Bring at least three bundles of firewood (which may be purchased on Rt 376, Berlin-Assateague road, or in one of the small beach shops along the way). A starter log might be useful to bring along as well.
Also bring a lighter, beach chairs, blanket, umbrella, starter log, and cookout food like hot dogs, rolls, marshmallows, graham crackers, two or three Hershey bars and enough long sticks (bayberry, hickory or walnut are best) for everyone to have one.
A bucket of fried chicken always tastes better on the beach than anywhere in the world!!
Be certain you bring enough water for each person to consume at least eight – 8 oz bottles of water for the day.
A fishing rod, sand spike, bait, net and sharp knife will also add to your enjoyment.
Do not make sharp turns in soft sand. Try to stay in tracks when possible. Second gear is typically the right speed for the beach. When you find the perfect spot, steer gently towards the ocean then pull forward and back in the same tracks. By driving over the same tracks repeatedly, the sand becomes packed down and this should prevent your vehicle from becoming stuck when you decide to leave at the end of the day. Be cautious and mindful of the tides. If the tide is low, allow a minimum of 10 feet for high tide. It will keep you from scurrying to move your vehicle when the tide rolls in. It is best for the life of your vehicle to stay out of wet sand. Etiquette dictates that you be at least 50 yards away from the closest fellow beach goer.
Enjoy the sights
Sunrise is amazing on the beach with the sun reflecting on the ocean and the brilliant orange, yellow and red flowing across the water. With the sun up, It is time to bait your hook, throw your line into the surf and set your pole in the sand with a sand spike. Put up the umbrella, spread out your blanket and set up the beach chairs. The umbrella will come in handy when that sun is a little higher overhead to help prevent too much sun exposure or to cut some of the wind.
Frequently wild ponies will walk close by on the beach. While they are a pleasure to watch, please do not touch or feed them. Ponies kick and bite. Fishing, surfing, playing frisbee, and sleeping peacefully on the beach with the sound of the waves washing onto the shore, makes the day pass all too quickly.
Have a fire
Dig your campfire hole with your shovel, place the paper in the bottom of the pit with the starter log on top of the paper. Lay a bundle of wood on top and light it. The sticks are the cooking utensils for perfect bonfire hot dogs. Marshmallows on graham crackers with a square of Hershey’s chocolate is legendary!
When you are ready to break camp and head home, fill in the campfire pit to prevent another vehicle from pulling onto hot coals, or drive into a hole. Pick up and remove all trash and take it to the trash receptacles by the air station back at the entrance/exit to the off road access.
Inflate your tires at the air station. Most tires require 35 pounds, but check required pressure for your specific tire, and drive slowly as you leave the park. Many wild animals move about at the end of each day and into the early evening. Fox, deer, rabbits, and raccoons are all frequently observed. Before leaving the island, take a minute to look at the stars. Away from the city lights, the stars are a vibrant ending to a magical day!