Wild ponies, windswept beaches, and playful dolphins
This is a new copy bought on the island last summer, because I practically wore my old one out.
When I was a kid, there were two kinds of girls: horse lovers, and the rest of you.
Even though this was the mid-70s, Misty of Chincoteague, the Newbery-winning book that Marguerite Henry penned in 1947, was our bible.
(For those of you who didn’t grow up with pony fantasies, let me catch you up: in Virginia, there is a barrier island populated by wild ponies. Every summer, the volunteer fire department rounds up the herd and swims them over to a neighboring island where they auction off some of the foals as a fundraiser.)
Misty of Chincoteague is the semi-true story of two children who save their money to buy a pony and her foal at auction.
I liked the book enough to organize a family vacation there for my kids, just as my parents had done for me.
Things to do in Chincoteague with kids
If you’re not feeling ambitious, here’s the short version of things to do in Chincoteague with kids: go to the beach, eat seafood, and look at ponies. If you’re looking for a few more diversions, here were some of our favorite things to do in Chincoteague:
Go to any hardware store on the island (I think there are only two!) and pick up a crabbing kit, which consists of string, a bait clip, and frozen chicken necks — it’s probably best to buy a bucket and a long-handled net too. We didn’t cook and eat our crabs, but we had a huge amount of fun coaxing them out of the water and screaming like lunatics as the waved their pincers at us.
The one that got away. Actually, they all got away — we were really just crabbing for fun.
2. Captain Barry’s Back Bay Cruises
This nature-loving, hands-on, feet-in-the-mud tour of the waterways around Chincoteague is a must do! It’s hugely popular, so be sure to book well in advance. Imagine the best marine science-y field trip of all time, and now imagine something twice as good. You’ll pull in crab traps, dig for clams, catch minnows, throw out nets, wander sand bars, and generally learn a lot about the ecology of this area. My favorite part? When Captain Barry pulled in fresh oysters and shucked them for me — heaven.
Things to do on Chincoteague: Catching critters the old fashioned way! (Captain Barry is the one in the blue hat.) His boat is comfortable, shade-able, and easy to land on sandbars so you can go exploring.
4. The Carnival Grounds
There are plenty of places to gawp at ponies on the islands, but in the week after the annual Pony Swim, none is better than the Chincoteague Carnival Grounds. Ponies that are not quite old enough to leave their mothers as well as ponies who are awaiting transportation to their new homes, graze quietly in a paddock in the back. I could have stood watching baby ponies all day. Oh wait, I did.
My husband was very, very worried that we were going to come home with a pony or three. Somehow, I resisted them.
5. Daisey’s Dockside Nature Cruises
This is a great way to see the two islands (Chincoteague and Assateague) from the water. The likeable guides at Daisey’s are lifelong islanders who will get you up close and personal with seabirds, hundreds of wild dolphins, and the two herds of wild ponies. The pontoon boats are very comfortable. Since you don’t get off the boat on this tour, it’s a nice complement to Captain Barry’s trip. Early morning trips are best for wildlife viewing, so bring a sweater!
There are dolphins absolutely everywhere in the waters around Chincoteague, and they come really close to the boat on Daisey’s tour.
6. Chincoteague Pony Centre
You would have thought that after five days on Chincoteague, I would have had my fill of ponies. Well, you would have thought wrong. On our last day, we visited the Chincoteague Pony Centre — unofficial keepers of the history of Misty. We saw the newest generation of ponies in Misty’s line, watched a fascinating 30-minute documentary of the history of the Pony Swim, shopped for pony tchotchkes, and (most crucially) hugged ponies. There were also pony rides and pony shows, but we didn’t partake of these.
Misty’s great-great-great-great-grandponies are happy to be cuddled. The feeling is mutual
If you go
I did a fair amount of research when deciding where to stay. If it had been available, I would have chosen the Refuge Inn. Alas, it was sold out. We wound up at the Hampton Inn and Suites and we liked it just fine. We had a very large room with space for a rollaway and a balcony overlooking the water.
If we had been staying a week, I would have definitely booked a house. While there are lots of places to eat on the island, we would have been better off cooking our own meals. There’s only so much fried seafood we can face. Speaking of food, there were two standouts: the gourmet groceries and takeout we regularly picked up from Poseidon’s Pantry and the homemade ice cream from Island Creamery (don’t worry about the long line – it moves quickly).
If you feel like you’d like to visit, but you live too far away. Consider adding Chincoteague on to the tail end of a family trip to Washington, DC. In closing, here are a few more pictures of our visit. Any questions? Leave them in the comments.
This is how close you get to the wild ponies on Daisey’s Dockside cruises. It’s so peaceful!
Love at first sight!
The kids liked crabbing, but my husband *loved* it. We couldn’t tear him away…
…the crabs weren’t quite as enthusiastic, however.
I never actually, officially outgrew the whole “I want a pony” thing.
I’m also a very big fan of horse nose photos.
While most of Captain Barry’s cruise is pleasantly educational, there’s also time to act like idiots in stinky mud, which is high on my kids’ list.
Seeing this eagle was an unexpected pleasure on Captain Barry’s trip.
For $5, my mud-speckled son agreed to try an oyster for the camera…
It was quite possibly the funniest thing I’ve ever seen — well worth the investment.
Captain Barry is a dad himself and a good sport, so he doesn’t bat an eye at teenage girls. The unofficial caption of THIS photo is: “Oh. Are you still talking?”
She actually wasn’t a brat at all. Here she demonstrates the correct usage of crab grabbers.
So ends a fun family vacation in Chincoteague, Virginia.
My original copy of Misty of Chincoteague. Yes, I still have it!
My childhood copy of Misty of Chincoteague, inscribed by my grandmother. The book that inspired this trip.