Exploring Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge

Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge is truly a coastal paradise. It is consistently ranked as one of the most diverse bird migration destinations in the country, with over 300+ bird species visiting annually. Between the scenic views, the historic Assateague Lighthouse, and the world-famous Chincoteague Ponies, this Refuge is a must-visit destination for nature lovers worldwide. 

Enjoy an Eastern Shore-style farm-to-table breakfast at the Inn and be on your way! We can’t wait to hear about it. 

Know Before You Go

  • Less than 1.5 hrs from Bay Haven Inn of Cape Charles.
  • Entrance Fees: Daily passes start at $10. See their website for more options.
  • Visitor Center: Open Thurs-Sun 10am-4pm.
  • Roads, Beaches & Trails: Open May-Sept 5am-10pm. Off-season hours vary, but they are generally 6am-8pm.
  • Check out Facility Activities.
  • Pets are not allowed in the Refuge.

Why Visit Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge?

1. Natural Wonders  

Chincoteague offers a rare look into the stunning barrier islands of Virginia’s East Coast. This paradise protects beach, dune, marsh, and maritime forest habitats, making it an incredibly scenic and diverse destination.

2. Birdwatcher’s Paradise  

The refuge’s natural wonders provide a true birdwatcher’s paradise. It maintains a diverse bird habitat where more than 320 bird species are known to use it, especially during migration. Don’t worry; you will likely see up to 100 bird species during your visit at any given time! 

If you have a Virginia Birdwatcher’s Checklist, this would be a great place to see even the most coveted birds. Keep an eye out for piping plovers, bald eagles, salt marsh sparrows, American black ducks, and more. Visit their Bird Observations site to see which birds have been spotted during the season you plan to visit!

Psst! In addition to birds, many different species frequent the Refuge and are cared for by its special team. Keep your eyes peeled for the threatened and endangered wildlife on site, such as the Delmarva fox squirrel and the Atlantic loggerhead sea turtle!

3. Assateague Lighthouse  

Preserved by the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, the Assateague Lighthouse is one of the most impressive landmarks in Virginia. This magnificent lighthouse has been standing since the 1860s and is still used by the Coast Guard as an active navigational aid today! The view from the top of the lighthouse is unmatched. It is open each weekend from April through November from 9 am to 3 pm, and you can trek up the spiraling staircase to see the view yourself! Admission is free, but donations are deeply appreciated. 

4. Home to the World Famous Chincoteague Ponies  

Have you heard of the beloved Chincoteague Ponies? These precious ponies are absolutely breathtaking with their short and sturdy stature and stunning tan-to-brown coats. The wild horses of this island refuge are a local treasure, attracting visitors from far and wide to see these coastal ponies in their natural habitat. 

Make sure to visit during Chincoteague’s 99th Annual Pony Swim this July 24, 2024! What is a pony swim? Well, it’s exactly what it sounds like! The ponies of Chincoteague are rounded up during the last week of July and released in spectacle to swim a narrow channel between islands. 

It is one of Virginia’s most popular and attended events, so book accommodations beforehand and show up early to get a spot along the crowded seashore. Want to see the ponies but avoid the crowd? You can see these ponies grazing naturally almost every month of the year! 

Your Homebase Retreat

End your day exploring the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge with a restorative and peaceful night in at our historic Bay Haven Inn of Cape Charles, just steps from the sandy shoals of the Chesapeake Bay.

Additional exciting adventures await! Check out some of these fantastic itineraries:

  • Cape Charles is a natural paradise. Breathe deeply of our fresh air on a nature lover’s 3-day getaway.
  • If you love to watch birds soar or check off a list of various species, we’ve curated a birdwatcher’s itinerary.
  • From check-in to check-out — with this itinerary, all you have to do is pack your bags and come for a relaxing getaway.

Check availability now.

Photo credit:
© JMP Traveler via canva.com
© Douglas Rissing via canva.com
© Josh Blount via canva.com


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