The 14,000-acre Refuge is the place to be on Chincoteague Island! Nature-loving families will enjoy hiking or bicycling through the trails while searching for wild ponies, birds and other wildlife. The peaceful Refuge offers almost a calming effect upon entering with its giant trees, marsh lands, creeks and overall serenity.
Travel to the end of the Refuge and families will find a large beach, perfect for sunning, splashing, fishing or crabbing. It’s about 2 miles or a five-minute drive from the entrance of the Chincoteague Natural Wildlife Refuge to the beach. The wide beaches situated on the Atlantic Ocean feature perfect spots to launch a kayak, and lifeguards are on duty from about 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the summer months. Vehicles are permitted to drive onto the beach at Toms Hook Cove. However, a permit is required and “over-sand” vehicles are only permitted. Boats are also permitted to land at Toms Hook Cove from September through mid-March.
At night, stock up on S’mores fixings because campfires are permitted on the beach with the proper and free permits. Regulations must be followed and a site assignment can be obtained from the Toms Cove Visitors Center.
The Toms Cove Visitors Center, located by the beach, offers an outdoor viewing deck and small eco-educational center for kids inside, as well as a gift shop. The Herbert H. Bateman Educational and Administrative Center, located closer to the entrance of the Refuge, offers a larger eco-educational center for kids. There are several interactive exhibits and displays focused on wildlife for kids. Throughout the summer, different wildlife programs are available at the center. Make time to climb to the top of the Assateague Lighthouse and check out the gorgeous views for miles, too.
What to Bring
Don’t forget to bring your camera, as well as bug spray. Ticks, mosquitos and poison ivy are abundant throughout the Refuge. The wild ponies and other wildlife may appear tame, but visitors are warned that they are in fact wild animals and asked not to touch them. Observe from a safe distance.
The Refuge is open seven days a week from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. from May through September, 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. April and October, and 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. from November through March. The Visitors Center is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the summer and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the spring, fall and winter. The Refuge is closed Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.
Several Refuge fee options are available. There is no cost for visitors who walk or bike into the Refuge. A daily pass is $8, weekly pass is $15 and an annual pass is $30. The passes are per vehicle, not per person. An over-sand vehicle is $70 and valid for one year. Visitors are welcome to come and go with the passes as they please.
Port-o-Potties can be found in the parking lot area of the beach. There are no restrooms inside the Toms Cove Visitors Center but outdoor restrooms are nearby and indoor restrooms can be found inside the Herbert H. Bateman Educational and Administrative Center.
Once inside the Refuge, parking is free in large lots along the beach and throughout the Refuge.