Paddle Trip{short description of image}{short description of image}(A Level 3 Trip)

Trip Overview: Assateague is a magnificent barrier island, stretching over two states, 21 miles in Maryland and 14 miles in Virginia. The beach is protected by Assateague Island National Seashore and Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. At Assateague Island National Seashore, Chincoteague Bay on the inside of the barrier beach is accessible to paddlers by four "canoe/kayaking" camping sites situated under the pines at the edge of the bay: Tingles Island, Pine Tree, Green Tree (replacing Jim's Gut), and Pope Bay.

Day One - Sunday (Trenton NJ to Assateague MD): Sunday morning, April 18th started out as a glorious day to start our kayaking and camping adventure. The sky was clear, winds were calm and the air temperature 50 degrees. Our group of six, Bob Bousenberry paddling a Wilderness System Manteo, Vic Mottola paddling a Perception Carolina, Fred Schrenk paddling a Perception Acadia, Tom Thatcher paddling a Perception Spectrum, Paul Schneider paddling a Wilderness System Pungo and myself paddling a Perception Acadia, employees with the NJ Department of Transportation had been planning this trip for about seven months. For weeks, everyone was talking about what to bring. Would it be cold or warm? What types of food to bring? Could we carry enough water since none is available at the back country campsites? Would everything fit into our kayaks? Finally, the day was here. The plan was for everyone to meet at 9:30 am and depart no later than 10 am, for our 4 hour drive to Assateague. Thanks to the Internet, the driving directions were accurate and we arrived at The Assateague National Seashore Campgrounds in approximately 3 3/4 hours (including a 45 minute lunch break at McDonalds). We stopped at the Assateague Visitors Center and purchased two US Geological Topographical maps ($4 each) of the area we hoped to paddle. Also available for free are copies of the Assateague Island/Chincoteague official visitors map and guide which provides an excellent overview of the area campsites. We then drove over the Verrazano Bridge, through the park gates ($5 entrance fee per vehicle, good for seven days), and we finally reached the Campground Registration Office at the National Seashore Entrance Station by about 1:15 p.m. The group chose to camp at the bayside campsites so we could have easy access to the bay, for a late Sunday afternoon warm-up paddle. At the recommendation of the Park Rangers, we chose to stay at Loop-A campsites 17-18-20, but after exploring the area, Loop-B campsites 35-37 would have been a better choice as they had better access to the water. We set up camp and by about 3 pm the group was ready for our first paddle. We drove to the very end of the bayside campgrounds and launched from a sandy beach. The wind was just starting to pick up and we headed out towards an island about 1 mile away into one foot waves. The air temperature was 60 degrees and the water temperature was 50 degrees. We decided to circle the island, and as we got to the leeward side of the island, we were protected from the wind and waves. As we headed back, this time with the wind at our back the kayaks glided easily, surfing on the waves. As we neared our starting point, we got to see our first, up close and personal view of about eight ponies grazing near our parked vehicles. While we loaded our kayaks back onto the vehicles, the ponies slowly walked away and disappeared into the scrub pines. As we drove back to the campsite, we also spotted numerous small Asian Sitka deer. The remainder of Sunday evening was spent cooking, eating dinner, toasting each other with Three Stooges beer (check it out at, sitting around the campfire keeping warm as the air temperature had dropped to 48 degrees and talking about the next three days paddling adventures. By 10 pm, the group was eager to get to sleep and let the adventure begin.

Day Two- Monday (Old Ferry Landing to Pine Tree): As the sky began to lighten, both Paul and I awoke and climbed out of our tents at about 6:15 am to an air temperature of 34 degrees. It was cold! With camp stoves ignited, instant coffee and breakfast was started. While the water heated up, I took pictures of the sun rising over the bay. Next up, were Vic and then Bob. Vic, who probably brought the most gear of the group in an attempt to see how much his brand new Carolina could hold, started his stove and made real coffee in a percolator pot. Instant coffee is O.K., but Vic's real coffee definitely was the way to wake up. As the sun rose in the sky, the air temperature also rose to 50 degrees. Next up was Tom, our resident army surplus MRE (meals ready to eat) connoisseur. Unfortunately, in the week prior to our trip, he had decided to start his first of a series of three lyme tick shots and woke up on Monday morning feeling ill. Next up, was Fred. The group was now at full strength and breakfast, consisting of bagels, eggs, hot cereal, instant or real coffee and fruit was consumed in the cool morning air. Tom, the MRE gourmet and never one to eat "real" food or to heat his MRE's, downed a container of some unknown food group. In a few minutes, our group and the surrounding other campers were treated to the sounds MRE's being dispensed into the cool morning air. After about 30 minutes of breaking the campground's "quiet hour" policy, Tom professed that he was too ill to paddle and was going to drive home alone. Poor Fred was now faced with a problem. He had driven with Tom and now had to decide whether to abandon the group and drive back with Tom or make the paddle trip and hope all his gear, his kayak and he would fit in the remaining two vehicles. He made the correct choice and stayed with the group. At about 8 am, I drove back to the Park Ranger Station to hopefully secure our back country campsite permit. The ranger checked with the National Weather Service to verify that no small craft warnings were being posted and with a favorable weather report, we were issued a permit. I drove back to the group and reported "kayakers grab your paddles." We immediately broke camp and drove to the Old Ferry Landing parking-launch site. Now, the moment of truth: could everyone actually load all the camping gear, food and water into their kayaks and remain afloat. Some of us looked like the Beverly Hillbillies, with gear stowed inside the kayak and lashed onto the fore and aft decks, but we managed every piece of equipment brought along. As we said good-bye to Tom and some unknown photographer that seemed bewildered that so much gear could be loaded into five kayaks all the while taking our pictures, we finally hit the water at 10:30 am. We put into the broad Chincoteague Bay and started paddling five fully loaded kayaks. Everything we read about paddling in Assateague mentioned the shallowness of the bay. Well, there were no barnacles on our hulls after about 5 minutes. We paddled the beginning of the trip in less than one foot of water. The group joked about how low we were sitting in the water with our loaded kayaks and if the water got any shallower, it was going to be a long portage to Pine Tree. But eventually, the water deepened to 1-2 feet and we paddled by many of the small, unnamed, low-lying green marsh islands. As we headed south, to our left, we could see the dunes of Assateague and an occasional pony browsing near water's edge. To our right we could barely see the low relief of the mainland. As always happens, the wind began to pick up and was blowing directly into our faces. Yup, you guessed it, in the now 1-2 foot water, with a steady wind blowing in our face, the chop was creating 2 foot white-capped waves. The paddling slowed, but the loaded kayaks were very sea-kindly in the chop. The waves were sending salt spray flying, but our spirits were not to be damped. The sky was clear, with white puffy clouds, the air temperature was 60 degrees and the water temperature was 50 degrees. After all, we've been waiting months for this trip. As we paddled though Tingles Narrows, we spotted two kayakers paddling towards our group. After exchanging a few pleasantries, they disappeared behind a small island. They would be the only paddlers were would see on the first day of our journey. After about 2 hours paddling, we pulled into a sandy cove to eat lunch and take a break. Out came the charts and after some joking comments and picture taking, we were certain that we were no more than 1 hour from the Pine Tree Campsite. The campsites are identifiable from the water by canoe trail signs. The signs are located on unpainted 4x4 posts about 6 feet tall and difficult to pick up unless you are quite close. Having seen the trail sign for Tingles Island, we continued paddling south looking for Pine Tree. We pretty much stayed about 1/4 mile from the shore so we could see the sign for Pine Tree. We felt like Columbus when we saw the sign and then followed a string of small red crab-trap buoys into a channel that was protected from the wind and lead us to our base camp for the next three days - Pine Tree. We turned right, into what looked like old abandoned bulkheads on both sides and a sandy strip at the end. After paddling 5 miles in just under 3 hours we arrived, eager to set up camp and relax. The campsite was in a loblolly pine forest on high ground in a mixture of sand, pine needles and evidence that "wild" ponies were near. The camping area had about four or five individual sites, lantern hooks, one chemical toilet, picnic tables, fire grills (with lots of dead wood around). Fires are restricted to the grills because of fire hazard. According to the Park Rangers, back at the Headquarters, Jim's Gut campsite isn't available now, having been recently destroyed by fire. After a short rest and checking out of the entire campsite, we selected an open area about 100 feet from the water and fairly protected from the wind. In about 45 minutes, we unloaded our kayaks and our base camp was established; ready for three more days of exploration, paddling and enjoying the solitude of the area. Eager to start exploring, the group decided to follow a well established trail and hike to the ocean. As we walked along, there were "pony patties" as evidence that the ponies also used this trail. We learned quickly to watch where we stepped. After about a 3/4 mile walk (heading easterly) through marshland and scrub pines we could see very large sand dunes. As we continued to a T-intersection in the trail, the group headed south and the trailed lead us right through the dunes and the Atlantic was now in sight. It was quite a view to observe miles and miles of ocean and not a single person, not a single building, nothing, for as far as we could see. If you're looking for remoteness, this is the place (at least in April). The return trip left everyone ready for a dinner. With a campfire started and camp stoves ignited, the group began to cook meals that ranged from clam chowder to canned stew to red beans and rice. Once again, we knew that no one was going to bed hungry. As the bright red sun slowly lowered in the west, we recalled the old saying "Red sky by night, sailor's delight". With the sky now dark, we sat around the campfire and watched the stars in a crystal clear night sky and as all campers do, traded stories. At about 10 p.m., everyone was tired and ready for a good night's sleep.

Assateague Island, Maryland

Assateague State Park & Vicinity

Pinetree Camping Area

Wild Pony

Mapping by MapQuest
  • For customized maps, visit MapQuest. Please note: the above maps are not intended for navigational purposes.

Day Three - Tuesday (Pine Tree to Exploring Points South and back to Pine Tree): Everyone was awakened at about 5:30 am, to the sounds of rain drops hitting our tents. By 7 am, everyone remained in their tents, but as we began to hear each other rustling around in our tents, the exchange of yawns, comments, and moans passed around the campsite. What was that saying about "Red sky by night?" Fortunately, at about 8 am the rain had stopped and the sounds of tents being unzipped alerted us that it was time to rise and shine. In the cool 40 degree morning air, the group was up and with stoves ignited, coffee and breakfast was the first order of the day. After finishing breakfast, the group decided to lash three 8x10 tarps together and create a wind break and cover over the picnic table, just in case the rains returned. Since we are all engineers, we spent plenty of time in the design stage before actually getting to the construction stage. In about one hour, we were able to stand back and admire our handy work. With that complete, the agenda for the day was to paddle further south and explore the burned out Jim's Gut campsite and the surrounding areas. At about 10:30 am, as we paddled out into a slight breeze blowing from the south, we immediately came upon a group of three ponies grazing on a small island about 50 feet from the main barrier island. Paul and I went on the left side while Fred, Vic and Bob circled on the right side. It became apparent that the ponies don't like to be surrounded and immediately started running, jumped into the 2 feet of water and waded to safety from marauding kayakers. With shutters clicking, we hopefully captured a Kodak moment. Continuing south, the group paddled quite effortlessly in our now nearly empty kayaks. Gradually, the wind began to pick up as we continued to explore the many coves. By the time we decided to turn around and head back to Pine Tree, at about 1 pm, the wind was getting stronger and was now blowing not at our backs, but out of the west (to our left). Every time that we paddled easterly into a cove to explore with the wind at our backs, we raced along surfing the waves. But when we headed out of the coves westerly, making headway was getting harder. By 2 pm, we decided that we'd better just head back to Pine Tree, to stop exploring before the wind got any stronger. In hindsight, that was a wise move because the wind continued to swing around, now blowing directly from the north/northwest and into our faces. For the next hour, we paddled into quartering 2 ft white-capped waves from our left and 30 mph gusts (verified by Internet Marine Weather reports for that date and time). The group paddled like this for about an hour and we could not stop paddling as the waves and wind would push us backwards. Later, we agreed that this was the hardest paddling any of us had ever encountered. The final 100 yards, going around the island that earlier in the day we surrounded three ponies, seemed like we would never make the turn. But, as soon as we turned and went with the wind and waves, our efforts were paid off with an exhilarating ride of surfing 2 ft waves and effortless paddling. As we got out of our kayaks after paddling a total of 8 miles, we were tired but thrilled to be back to Pine Tree. It took everyone a few minutes to stand up and immediately start augmenting our great "the fish that got away" adventure. Was the wind actually blowing at 60 mph? How did we ever paddle into those 6 ft waves? Yes, it didn't get any better than this! Mother nature threw a gale at us, but we paddled a straight course. Our tarp-shelter construction that buffeted us from the morning winds also held up, despite the continual winds. As engineers, should we have expected anything less? Only now, it looked like a sailboat spinnaker in the reverse direction afternoon gusts. A group of very tired paddlers, sat at the picnic table and washed away the salt spray that covered us with a few cans of adult beverages. Life was good and everyone would sleep well tonight. With the winds continuing to blow quite hard, a few of us decided to relocate our tents out of the open area of the campsite and try our luck back under the tree. Since the wind continued to blow we decided against having an open campfire, so our camp stoves became the sole source of heating dinner. We sat at the picnic table, cooking and eating under the light of a trusty Coleman lantern. Gradually, by about 9 pm the winds began to diminish. We continued to consume everything that was not needed for tomorrow's breakfast or the return trip. By 11 pm, the group was ready for a good night's sleep.

Day Four - Wednesday (Pine Tree back to Old Ferry Landing): The group gradually began to awaken at around 8 am. The morning air was about 45 degrees and the sky was clear and no wind. The final day of our adventure was beginning. With the smell of Vic's real coffee brewing, the group began the ritual of cooking various breakfast menu items - bagels, hot cereals, eggs, both instant and real coffee, juice and fruit. As we ate our final back country breakfast, water was being heated to clean up our eating utensils, pots, and even ourselves. As the sun continued to rise, so did the air temperature. Regretfully, everyone started to pack up all their gear for the return trip and by 10 am our kayaks were again loaded and readied for the last 6 miles of our trip. We made a quick pass around the campsite to make certain that no one had left any gear. Each campsite also contained trash cans, so our last duty was to police-up any lose trash, put it in plastic bags and the campsite was left the way we found it - clean. At 10:30 am, everyone climbed into their kayaks with a little more room than when we arrived and we began a slow and easy trip back to Old Ferry Landing. Instead of turning left out of Pine Tree and immediately heading into the bay, we decided to turn right and explore the backwater channels that would eventually lead us back to the bay (according to the charts). As everyone slowly paddled their kayaks, trying to loosen-up their sore muscles after yesterday's tough going trip, the glass like water, warm air and no wind was a welcome start to our last day at Assateague. After about 45 minutes of quiet paddling, the group came upon three ponies that were playfully chasing each other in a marsh field. We marveled at how fast these ponies could run in the muck. As we took a final left turn out of the backwater marsh and headed towards the open bay, our goal was now to locate and explore Tingles Campsite. Staying about 1/4 mile from shore we paddled the bay with a gentle breeze at our backs and very small following waves. Hoping again to paddle through Tingles Narrows; but unfortunately because all these low lying marsh islands and channels look alike, we missed the narrows and ended up paddling around Tingles Island and further away from our destination. No one seemed to care, since the temperature, wind and waves were so favorable. As we made our way around the point of land, we continued to stay close to the shoreline which would ultimately lead us to the sign pointing us to the Tingles campsite. At about 12 noon, we saw the sign and headed down a small channel towards the campsite for lunch and a chance to get out of the kayaks, stretch our legs and explore. Bob and Paul were up front and the first to make landfall. As Fred, Vic and I entered the channel we noted that only Paul was on land and Bob remained in his kayak laughing. As we paddled closer, Bob described to us, how as Paul climbed out of his beached Pungo, that he immediately stepped into about knee deep muck and had to use his paddle to steady himself. As he pulled his foot from the goo his sandal remained at the bottom. After reaching into the goo to retrieve his sandal, Paul was the only member of the group to actually visit Tingles Campsite. The rest of us choose to stay clean and dry within our boats and watched Paul explore Tingles. At low tide, Tingles isn't an easy campsite to enter or exit. As Paul sat in his Pungo on high ground, he made a sliding entrance into the water. Biding farewell to Tingles, we were again off to the bay and looking for a sandy beach and a more dignified landing site. After about another 15 minutes, the group was safely standing on land and having lunch. The remainder of our return trip was uneventful as we paddled, joked and talked about this trip. Our next to last major hurdle was to locate Old Ferry Landing marked by a faded sign with a number two shown. At least that's how we remembered it from three days ago. Gradually we saw the island that we circumnavigated on Sunday afternoon. Our dead-reckoning was right on! Slowly, we made our way into the channel that would lead us back to our vehicles and civilization. Safely on shore, our final task was to find room in our two vehicles for five kayaks, five kayakers and all our gear. Everything did fit. Fred could have survived any crash test as he was surrounded by more padding than your average crash dummy. After taking a final group picture, we drove home, out of the Assateague Island National Seashore Refuge, over the Verrazano Bridge and back to the mainland, I'm sure that individually, each of us knew that, "yes, five engineers could conquer the back country and live to tell about it!"

Trip Contributed by John Jones. Comments about this trip can be e-mailed to me at For information on Assateague Island National Seashore, call the Barrier Island Visitor Center at 410-641-1441

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