Posted: January 2nd, 2022
So you’ve always wanted to see the Chincoteague Ponies in the wild. Maybe you read the book “Misty of Chincoteague” as a child and you’ve decided to make the trip to Chincoteague Island to finally check seeing the ponies off your bucket list. The information in this blog post will help you best utilize your time here and maximize your chances of actually seeing the Ponies.
Where The Ponies Live
The first thing to know is that the Chincoteague Ponies do not actually live on Chincoteague Island. They live in the wild on Assateague Island. Assateague Island is about 38 miles long, half of the Island is in Maryland and half is in Virginia.
Two herds of wild horses make their home on Assateague Island, separated by a fence at the Maryland-Virginia line. The Maryland herd is managed by the National Park Service. The Virginia herd is owned and managed by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company. This article focuses on seeing the Virginia herd.
Approximately 150 adult wild ponies live on the Virginia portion of Assateague Island, along with about 60 to 70 foals that are born in each spring. Most of the foals are sold at the Pony Auction each summer, with the exception of a few buyback ponies. The Ponies are fenced into two large areas on the Virginia portion of Assateague Island. About fifty adult ponies are fenced into a large area at the south end of the Island and are referred to as the “southern herd”. About 100 adult ponies are fenced into an even larger area a little further to the north and are referred to as the “northern herd”.
The areas that the Ponies are fenced into are large, and the ponies are always on the move. There is no guarantee that you’ll see them, but with some effort and little luck there is a pretty good chance you will.
See The Ponies By Boat
In our opinion, the best way to see the Ponies is on a local boat tour. The boat tours will take you to all the best locations to see the Ponies. They typically cruise the coastline where the southern herd lives, as well as where the northern herd lives, increasing your odds of seeing the ponies up close. Again, the Ponies are always on the move and there is no guarantee you will see them, even from a boat. But on a boat tour you also have a chance to other wildlife, including shore birds, bald eagles, and dolphins. Follow this link for a list of local tour boat companies: https://www.chincoteague.com/scenic-cruises.html
See The Ponies By Car
The south herd can sometimes be seen from the main road that leads to the beach. If your lucky they will be really close to the road. Look for them to the right, along the final straightaway that goes to the beach, as shown on the map below. If they are near the road you will see them right away and you can park along the side of the road. You can also try walking to the Pony Overlook, off of the Woodland Trail.
Hike/Bike To See The Ponies
The north herd has more ponies, but they are not accessible by private vehicle. Reaching the north herd ponies requires hiking up the “Service Road” (or a combination of biking and hiking). The Service Road is a 7.5 mile (one-way) gravel foot path located off of the Wildlife Loop Trail.
Park in the Wildlife Loop parking lot. Entering the Wildlife Loop trail hang a left, so that you are traversing the loop clockwise. After about 0.7 miles you will reach the entrance to the Service Road. You will exit the paved WIldlife Loop and enter the gravel Service Road. Bicycles are allowed on the trail for the first 1.25 miles, up to the D-Dike beach access area. From there you will need to hike a few more miles to reach where the Ponies live.
Hiking up the Service Road to find ponies requires a lot of effort, but can be very rewarding with a little luck.
Take The Refuge Trek Bus To See The Ponies
The Chincoteague National History Association offers bus tours up the Service Road. This is another great option for pony viewing. For bus schedule and pricing call 757-336-3696 or follow this link: http://www.piping-plover.org/refuge-bus-trek
Come During Pony Penning To See The Ponies