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6 ways to get the most out of driving on the Assateague Island Beach

If you are in Ocean City this week, you may notice a couple of changes as you drive down Coastal Highway. The speed limit, normally 40 mph through North Ocean City, has been reduced to 30 mph, and Downtown, the speed limit has also been reduced. This is due to the expected, unauthorized H2Oi Pop-Up Rally.  It is reasonable to expect heavier than usual traffic, noise and strict enforcement of vehicle laws during the week and weekend.

 

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.

Arrive Early

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.

 

Come prepared

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.

Drive safe!

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!

evening bonfire

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!

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33 COMMENTS

    • I don’t believe so, but if you are only here for a week, you may just want to walk across the dune line rather than drive down the beach for several reasons:
      You need a number of items such as boards to put under your tires when you are stuck, jack, tire gauge, shovel, tow belt or rope, etc.
      If you are not experienced in driving on the beach, it may be more of a challenge than you would have thought….

  1. Coming from CT this Friday, what are the chances I get to ORV if I get there mid morning Friday? I am experienced at ORV and have done it here before, albeit not for some years so I don’t have a good idea of the backlog on a Friday.

        • yes…in fact, any day in the summer, I would be there by at least 9:00. It is a long day at the beach if you begin that early, but with an umbrella, a screen tent (watch out for biting flies on day with winds from the West), firewood (at dusk you will be an immediate target for a mosquito so have the pit dug and fire laid in advance), it will be a fun day.

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  3. Hi, we are driving down to SC with plans to stop an visit the horses on the Island. We will not be driving as my friend is older an don’t ant to take the chance with my car, which is a Mercedes an is an SUV but don’t think that would be possible. Can you park close enough to take a walk on the beach an actual see the horses? Also how far are you from Baltimore? Thank you, April Purpora.

  4. Can you take a licensed Dual sport bike on there? I have also heard there is no way between Maryland side and Virginia side of the beaches?

    • You need to have materials to drive on the beach that would not fit on the bike. There may be some exceptions, I would recommend contacting the Visitor Center 410-641-1441.

      There is a fence that separates Maryland and Virginia, so you cannot drive between the two states on the beach.

  5. If we were planning a trip end of March, early May. How crowded is it that time of year? I imagine seeing the horses that time of year is not a problem?

    • Before I wrote on this topic in 2017, I would have said it would not be very busy, except Memorial weekend. However, I noticed the increase in traffic on Assateague Island over the past couple of years. Your best bet would be the March – April time frame. Further, I would recommend you arrive on the island before 11:00, it should be more peaceful then. Horses and deer can be seen all year.

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