One of the most gorgeous beaches found on the Atlantic Coast is the one at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. The white sands of this windswept barrier island are a major reason for visitors to flock to this area. For beach lovers, there are many miles of seashore to enjoy, including a recreational beach, wild beach and the Toms Cove Hook, also referred to as the Over-sand Vehicle Zone (OSV).
The changing tempo of tides and seasons help to shape the beach. It takes the smallest gust of wind or gentlest of waves to move sand in a ceaseless rearrangement of island terrain. While summer waves and longshore currents may build a wide beach, most of the year sand is scoured from the northshore and moved southward leaving a narrow, steep shoreline in various locations. Storms can create inlets or fill them in. They can cut away dunes and wash sand across the island. The retreating shoreline marks the island’s westward movement. New habitats are created --- old ones are reinvented. Plants, animals and people shift and adapt in counterpoint to these changes.
The recreational beach is a nature-lover’s paradise all year round. It is managed by the National Park Service (NPS), who provide and manage visitor contact, interpretive facilities and programs for public recreation and enjoyment. Swimming and sunbathing draws a large crowd during summer and early fall. NPS lifeguards are typically on duty from 10:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M daily during the summertime. Though camping is not allowed, the recreational beach remains a destination for birders, photographers, beachcombers, anglers, and outdoor enthusiasts. Appropriate recreational activities include those related to interpretation, environmental education, fishing; crabbing; clamming; access for boating and kayaking; and other uses approved by the Fish and Wildlife Service. Not all of these uses are priority public uses, however, some visitors that recreate on the beach also surf fish, clam and crab, as well as observe wildlife on the beach and refuge trails and roads ways.
Wild Beach stretches north 11 miles from the vicinity of D-Dike to the Virginia-Maryland boundary is a hiker’s paradise. Vehicles are not permitted here. As you walk north you will see fewer and fewer people, and if you go during the winter, you can have the beach virtually to yourself. Make note of how far you’ve walked, because you’ll need to cover the same distance upon return.
Toms Cove Hook provides an opportunity to walk along the ocean beach to Fishing Point and then back again by the way you came. The round trip distance between the recreational beach and the tip of the hook is about 10 miles. In order to safeguard threatened and endangered species, the hook (from the Coast Guard Station to Fishing Point) is closed to all access from March 15 – August 31. To protect the fragile dune system please stay out of the interior dunes along the hook, these are considered closed areas.
Over-sand vehicles (OSV) also have access to the hook, but a permit is required. Please see the NPS website for information about OSV permits.
Assawoman, Cedar and Metompkin Islands are additional beaches we manage with limited access opportunities for the public throughout the year. Assawoman Island is open in the winter for fishing and closes annually from March 15 - September 15 for nesting shorebirds. We manage portions of Cedar and Metompkin Islands for hiking, fishing and wildlife observation. These two islands are primarily owned and managed by the Nature Conservancy (www.nature.org/vcr) and Cedar Island also hosts some privately owned areas. When visiting any of these islands, please keep to the water's edge at all times and do not enter posted bird nesting areas.
Please refer to our introductory guide to Virginia's barrier islands for information on visiting beaches beyond Assateague Island, VA.
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Over the past 200-300 years, these modern-day descendants of domestic horses have adapted to the hardships of living near the ocean. Prior to the refuge's establishment in 1943, the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company purchased the ponies and continues ownership to this day. The Firemen are allowed to graze up to 150 ponies on refuge land through a Special Use Permit from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.