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Latest update: June 2022

Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge... Virginia

Paved Biking and Chincoteague Ponies

Assateague Island is a barrier island spanning 37 miles along the Atlantic Coast in Virginia and Maryland. Paved biking is available in two areas: (1) Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia, located to the south, which we describe on this page, and (2) Assateague Island National Seashore in Maryland to the north (see link below). A major storm in 1962 wiped out all development on Assateague Island, and it was set aside as a national seashore covering 14,000 acres of beach, dunes, marsh, and maritime forest - a wonderful, unspoiled area. The island is also home to the Chincoteague Ponies (aka Assateague Horses), made famous by Marguerite Henry's book, Misty of Chincoteague (more below). (Detailed map and photos below.)

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Biking Map...
Chincoteague NWR

View Larger Map external

Location: Assateague Island, Accomack County (See map)
Distance: 6.3 miles of paved trails, more on park roads
Surface: Paved, 8 feet

Support and Advocacy:
Chincoteague Natural History Association external

Bike Shops/Rentals:
Bike Depot external (Chincoteague; rentals)
Jus' Bikes external  (Chincoteague; rentals)

Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge... Comments and Photos

Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge reminds us of Florida's Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge external, with one difference - the wonderful paved trails! Paved biking is on the Wildlife Loop, Woodland Trail loop, Black Duck Marsh Trail, and Swan Cove Trail. Hiking-only trails are generally unpaved. Due to mosquitoes, not recommended in the summer. Pedestrians and bicyclists are free, a day fee applies for other activities.

We visited trails off Beach Road, the main park road (also bikeable, but watch for traffic). The  trails link or intersect, making for a longer ride.

Page Summary:

  1. Biking at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge
    - Woodland Trail, Black Duck Trail, Wildlife Loop, Swan Cove Trail
  2. Other Points of Interest at the Refuge
    - Assateague Lighthouse, Tom's Cove Visitor Center and Beach
  3. Visit Chincoteague Island
  4. Chincoteague Ponies
    - Viewing the Chincoteague Ponies, About Misty of Chincoteague
  5. More Information and Resources

Biking at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge

Woodland Trail - 2 mile loop

The Trailhead (parking, portalet) is off Beach Road near the South Pony (Wilgus) Corral, used during the annual roundup when horses are auctioned to thin the herd (more below). From here, the Woodland Trail loops through pine forest with mixed sun and shade, benches are provided. Shortly after leaving the trailhead the trail splits, stay to the right to go to the Pony Overlook. At about 0.6 mile a short trail (300 feet, walk, no bikes) branches to the Overlook, where we were able to see some wild ponies in the distance. Continuing on the loop at about 1.4 the Bivalve Trail crosses, an unpaved (shell) hiking-only trail to the beach.

Black Duck Trail - 1 mile

Black Duck Trail starts from the Pony Corral and runs along Beach Road, then cuts off to connect to the Wildlife Loop. Along the park road across from the trail, a herd of wild horses brought many people to a stop on this visit. The trail roadside is unshaded, the portion running to Wildlife Loop is mostly sunny with some shady spots.

Wildlife Loop - 3.2 miles

Wildlife Loop can be accessed from the parking area just over the bridge from Chincoteague Island, or biked from Black Duck Trail. This is a paved road, wider than the other trails at about 20 feet. Open for biking and walking all day; cars are allowed from 3 p.m. to dusk. The trail circles the marsh, no shade. Benches are provided at intervals. Marsh Trail (hiking only, bike racks provided) branches off the trail, 0.6 mile to a viewing platform.

Wildlife Loop at Trailhead

Wildlife Loop at Black Duck Trail

Swan Cove Trail - 0.4 mile

The Swan Cove Trail also branches off the Wildlife Loop, and is a popular route to the beach.

Other Points of Interest at the Refuge

Assateague Lighthouse

The 142-foot Assateague Lighthouse was built in 1867 (replacing an earlier one dating from 1833). It remains active today. It's accessed off the main park road on the Lighthouse Trail, a 0.3 mile loop (walking only).

Fun Fact: When built the lighthouse was at the southern end of Assateague Island. Over the years, the land has grown out about 2 miles to the south.

Tom's Cove Visitor Center and Assateague Beach

Tom's Cove Visitor Center is located at the end of Beach Road (parking, restrooms, beach access, bookstore, exhibits and information, aquarium, touch tank). The beach is a beautiful, untouched area. In addition to admission fees (free for bikers), permits can be obtained here for some restricted activities: vehicle use within the Over-Sand Vehicle Zone; open campfires on the beach (fires fully contained within a metal container are allowed without permit), and overnight fishing.

Visit Chincoteague Island

Bridge to Chincoteague Island - 1 mile

Chincoteague Island lies between the mainland and Assateague Island. Leaving Assateague Island, a trail spans the Assateague Bridge to the Museum of Chincoteague Island. From here, a street route leads into town.

Chincoteague Island was first settled in the 1600's with the community based on farming and fishing. The town gained fame with the publication of Misty of Chincoteague in 1947 and release of the motion picture - filmed on location - in 1961. Today, Chincoteague Island is a major tourist destination. The town publishes a handy Walking and Biking Tour Guide external for visiting its historical areas. Several bike shops offer rentals.

Chincoteague Ponies

The wild horses of Assateague Island are a big draw to the area. It's not known exactly how they arrived, described either as descendants of horses brought to the island by settlers in the 17th century, or as survivors of shipwrecks. Two herds reside on Assateague Island - called Chincoteague Ponies in Virginia to the south, and Assateague Horses in Maryland to the north. The two herds are separated by a fence at the state line. In Virginia, the horses are owned by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department and are fenced within two areas. In Maryland, the horses are owned by the National Park Service and roam freely.

Viewing the Chincoteague Ponies

Visitors are reminded that these are wild animals and not to be approached or touched. Since they roam freely, viewing is not guaranteed. Viewing tours also are provided by boat or bus.

We were able to spot some ponies along Beach Road (main park road) while biking on Black Duck Trail, and from the Pony Overlook off Woodland Trail.

At Chincoteague, the annual Pony Penning and Swim event draws thousands. The practice of pony penning dates to 1835. Today, the grazing permit at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge allows for 150 ponies, so each year a roundup is held to thin the herd. "Salt Water Cowboys" swim the ponies across the channel from Assateague Island to Chincoteague Island where an auction is held as a fundraiser at the Firemen's Carnival in July.

More about the Chincoteague Ponies external.

About Misty of Chincoteague

Marguerite Henry was inspired to write Misty of Chincoteague, published in 1947, while visiting Chincoteague Island for the Pony Penning and Swim. The story is based on the real-life Beebe family and their filly, Misty. With the publication of the book and release of the 1961 movie, Misty became an international celebrity. Misty and her foal Stormy have been taxidermied and can be seen at the Museum of Chincoteague Island.

More about Misty of Chincoteague external

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Misty statue at Robert Reed Waterfront Park in downtown Chincoteague

More Information and Resources

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