Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge

Quick Facts

Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge


(757) 336-6122

Map Directions

Things To Do


Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, located primarily on the Virginia side of Assateague Island, consists of more than 14,000 acres of beach, dunes, marsh, and maritime forest. Chincoteague Refuge, originally established in 1943 to provide habitat for migratory birds (with an emphasis on conserving greater snow geese), today provides habitat for waterfowl, wading birds, shorebirds, and song birds, as well as other species of wildlife and plants. Refuge staff manage this barrier island habitat to allow many species of wildlife to coexist, each establishing their own place in the environment. In fact, more than 320 species of birds are known to occur on the refuge. The refuge has been designated a Globally Important Bird Area, is part of the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network and designated as one of the top ten birding Hotspots by the National Audubon Society.

Refuge management programs restore threatened and endangered species such as the Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel, the bald eagle and the piping plover. More than 2,600 acres of man-made marshes, or moist soil management units, are managed for wintering waterfowl and shorebirds during migration. Unique residents of the island, the famous Chincoteague ponies, are housed in two areas on the refuge through a special agreement with the ponies' owners, the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company.

With approximately 1.4 million visits a year, Chincoteague NWR is one of the most visited refuges in the nation. Chincoteague Refuge provides visitors with extraordinary educational and recreational opportunities. In addition, a special partnership exists with the National Park Service which allows Assateague Island National Seashore to administer public activities on a five-mile portion of the refuge beach.

Map of Chincoteague NWR

Latitude, Longitude: 37.915154, -75.349903



  • Boating

    Boating is an exciting way to explore Assateague Island and the waters surrounding the refuge. Boats are allowed to land at Toms Cove Hook between September 1st and March 14th. However, there are no boat ramps or docks available for public use at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. Boats are not permitted in the refuge's impoundments and borrow ditches.

    Kayaks can be launched and beached at both the beach and Toms Cove areas, including Toms Cove Hook. If you will be kayaking during your visit, watch carefully for swimmers in both the ocean and the cove. Kayaks are not permitted in lifeguarded sections of the beach, nor are kayaks allowed in refuge impoundments or borrow ditches.

    The refuge does not rent kayaks. However, there are many places in Chincoteague that do rent kayaks. Please contact the Chincoteague Chamber of Commerce for suggestions and information at (757) 336-6161 or visit their website at The National Park Service, Assateague Island National Seashore also conducts summer kayaking programs from the Toms Cove Visitor Center. Please contact the Toms Cove Visitor Center for details at (757) 336-6577.

  • Bird Watching

    The refuge provides habitat for waterfowl, wading birds, shorebirds and songbirds. Other species, like the bald eagle and piping plover have been restored to the refuge. Assateague Island has been designated as one of the top 10 birding hotspots by the National Audubon Society.

  • Bicycling

    The refuge maintains several miles of trails for either hiking or biking. About half are paved while the rest are open to foot traffic only.

  • Fishing

    Boats are permitted to land on Tom Cove Hook from September 1 through March 14. Fishing, crabbing and shell-fishing are allowed in designated areas at Swan cove (adjacent to Tom Cove). A saltwater license is not required for surf fishing. Clamming is also allowed. Ask at the refuge for regulations.

    Some of the fish common to the waters around the refuge are bluefish, striped bass, summer flounder, Atlantic croaker, spot and red drum. Clearnose skate, bullfish, and Southern stingrays may be caught, as well as smooth or spiny dogfish sharks. Crabs are notorious bait thieves, and can include lady crab, spider crab and blue crab.

  • Hiking

    Six nature trails throughout the wildlife preserve. Four trails (Wildlife Loop, Woodland Trail, Black Duck Trail and Swan Cove Trail) are accessible.

  • Historic Sites

    Start your visit at the Herbert H. Bateman Educational and Administrative Center. This award-winning visitor center offers an information desk staffed by refuge employees and volunteers, where visitors can pick up brochures and trail maps, get directions and suggestions, purchase passes, and ask any other questions about the refuge.

    Assateague Light, a l42-foot-tall lighthouse located on the southern end of the island and is open for public tours. For more information contact the Chincoteague Natural History Association at (757) 336-3696 or visit their website

    Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge offers a variety of guided programs, predominately during the summer months. At the refuge visitor center, presentations are given on a variety of topics, including the wildlife and the cultural history of the area, as well as other subjects relating to the refuge. During the summer, refuge staff lead craft and game sessions that are perfect for children of all ages.

    The refuge also offers several programs that allow visitors to explore the outdoors under the guidance of a refuge employee or volunteer. These programs include the popular bird walks, crabbing and surf fishing demonstrations, marsh walks, photography hikes and beach campfires.

  • Horseback Riding

    Horseback riding is allowed along the beach in the Over Sand Vehicle zone. The OSV zone may be closed due to hazardous conditions or wildlife management practices, and horses will not be permitted in this area during such closures. Horses are not permitted elsewhere on the refuge, including the trails or on Beach Road.

  • Hunting

    Hunting is permitted with appropriate license. All federal and state waterfowl hunting regulations apply. Contact the refuge for more information.

  • Off Highway Vehicles

    Oversand vehicle zones are posted and maps are available at the Chincoteague Refuge Visitor Center. A fee is charged for all permits. Vehicle specifications and equipment requirements are strictly enforced. Limits are places on the number of vehicles allowed on the beach at any one time. Temporary closures may occur due to public safety, as well as wildlife concerns and use of the beachfront by shorebirds.

  • Picnicking

    A cookout, complete with s'mores, hot dogs, and hamburgers, or a bonfire on the beach, are nice ways to end a day in the sun. Campfires are allowed only in designated sites located along the beach. Visitors may obtain a fire permit, free of charge, and a site assignment from the Toms Cove Visitor Center. For more information please contact them at (757) 336-6577. Fires are not allowed elsewhere on the refuge.

  • Water Sports

    A small area of the refuge waters is open personal watercraft. Ask at a visitor center for a map of this area.

  • Wildlife Watching

    Chincoteague is well known for its ponies. The herds are divided into two herds on Assateague Island. Other animals in the forest include possums, squirrels, bats, eastern cottontail, muskrat, red fox, raccoon, river otter, sika elk and white-tailed deer.

    Some of the popular sites to observe birds are at Swan Cove Pool along Beach Road. Herons and egrets can be seen in the borrow ditches around the refuge, and the hunting blind in Tom's Cove, near Beach Road, is a favored perch for some birds, including double-crested cormorants. The Woodland Trail is an excellent place to observe songbirds, and Snow Goose Pool, in the Wildlife Loop, is a popular spot for many bird species.


The refuge is open seven days a week : 5 a.m. - 10 p.m. from May through September. 6 a.m. - 6 p.m. from November through March. 6 a.m. - 8 p.m. the months of March, April and October.

The Visitor Center is open 7 days a week: 9 a.m - 4 p.m. Spring, Fall and *Winter 9 a.m - 5 p.m. Summer *Closed Christmas and New Year's Day

Administrative Office hours: 8 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. Monday - Friday Closed on all Federal Holidays

Park Partners

Chincoteague Natural History Association

The Chincoteague Natural History Association (CNHA) is a non-profit, cooperating association established in partnership with the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The purpose of the CNHA is to promote a better understanding and appreciation of the Chincoteague refuge, the Eastern Shore of Virginia refuge, and the natural history and environment of Virginia's Eastern Shore in general. The CNHA produces and provides interpretive and educational material for refuge visitors. Proceeds from memberships and items sold in the gift shops are used to support and enhance interpretive programs, projects, and activities at both of the refuges.

(757) 336-3696



From the Chesapeake Bay Bridge & Tunnel near Norfolk, Virginia, take US 13 North to State Route 175 East to Chincoteague Island. After crossing the bridge to Chincoteague, turn left at the traffic light onto Main Street. At Maddox Blvd. turn right and follow for about 2.5 miles, which will take you directly onto the refuge.


The closest airport to Chincoteague is Norfolk International Airport.

Public Transportation

No public transportation available to refuge.

Phone Numbers


(757) 336-6122