Assateague Island National Seashore (Berlin)
7206 National Seashore Lane, Berlin, MD 21085
Assateague Island National Seashore is located in Berlin, MD, just off Route 50. There are several exits that lead to Assateague, all of which lead to Route 611. Follow Route 611 all the way to the end, and you will see the Assteague Island Visitor’s Center on the right, just before crossing the Verrazano Bridge onto Assateague Island. There are two parks on the Maryland side, one which is run by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and the other which is run by the National Park Service. Different rules apply at each park, however, the beach is essentially the same at both. The National Park includes the bay side of Assateague, including two designated portage areas: the end of Bayside Drive, and my personal favorite – the Old Ferry Landing. You can also launch your vessel into the ocean anywhere within the park. There is a fee to enter the National Park, you check for the current fee rates and pass information for Assateague here.
Of all the places I have paddled, Assateague Island remains my favorite. The island itself reminds me of the beaches and wildlife refuges of OBX, but without the real estate and tourist traffic. The Maryland side of the island is only a hop-skip-and-a-jump away from Ocean City’s inlet and boardwalk, but it is far enough away to feel secluded and remote. The beaches are rarely crowded, and there are no restrictions surfing, body boarding, surf fishing, etc.
The bay side of the island offers a picturesque paddling opportunity. The waters are relatively warm and shallow. There are numerous salt water marshes and small islands to explore, and it is quite common to find Assateague’s wild horses grazing on them. You will also find colonies of seagulls and other birds resting and nesting throughout the island and its marshes. There is ample sealife that can be seen in the bay side’s brackish water, including an abundance of crab, fish, and even rays. The waters are too shallow for motorized boats, so the only other guests you may pass on the water are the occassional kayakers, paddle boarders, and kite surfers.
The Old Ferry Landing has a lovely wooden pier / path that extends over marshes, providing beautiful views and photo opportunities. There is also a small beach, made of gravel and shells, which you can launch your vessel from. This area has frequent visitors, many of whom come to fish, clam, and enjoy the scenery. I think that the Old Ferry Landing provides some of the most beautiful sunset views on the island. It is also the most convenient place to launch on the bay side. Another launch spot is a small, sandy beach area at the end of Bay Side Drive. This area has picnic tables, and a shallow sandy beach. It is frequented by picnicers and is a favorite launch spot for kite surfers.
You can launch at any time, and any location, on the oceanfront beaches. There is never a shortage of fishermen, though, and you will be hard pressed to find a spot on the beach that they are not occupying outside of the early morning and late afternoon hours. The waves break very close to shore, most of the time, so you will need to be wary of fishing lines. That being said, you will often find surfers and paddle boarders in the early morning hours catching waves and paddling with pods of dolphins just off shore.
Unfortunatley, the rumors are true, and during the summer months you will also find mosquitos and biting flies on the island. It is highly recommended to wear bug spray, and avoid days where there is zero wind. Thankfully, the ocean seems to always provide light winds, which, when present, cut down on the biting bugs significantly. I find that most days, a spritz of bug spray is enough, and often altogether unneccessary on the oceanfront. On bad days, however, where there is no wind, there is no amount of bug spray that will save you. Avoid the island, or at the very least, avoid the bay side on those days! During spring and late fall, the bugs are non existent, and the bay waters may have already slightly warmed. The island is also much more secluded outside of the summer months, but still just as beautiful.