Things to do in Chincoteague with kids

Things to do in Chincoteague with kids
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:

1.  Crabbing

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.

Things to do in Chincoteague
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.

Things to do in Chincoteague: see ponies
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!

Things to do in Chincoteague: wildlife tours.
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.

Chincoteague Pony Centre
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.

Things to do in Chincoteague with kids
This is how close you get to the wild ponies on Daisey’s Dockside cruises. It’s so peaceful!
Things to do with kids in Chincogeague, Virginia
Love at first sight!
Crabbing in Chincoteague, Virginia
The kids liked crabbing, but my husband *loved* it. We couldn’t tear him away…
Crabbing in Chincoteague.
…the crabs weren’t quite as enthusiastic, however.
Things to do in Chincoteague: hug ponies.
I never actually, officially outgrew the whole “I want a pony” thing.
I'm also a very big fan of horse nose photos.
I’m also a very big fan of horse nose photos.
Captain Barry's Backbay Cruises.
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.
An eagle in Chincoteague, Virginia
Seeing this eagle was an unexpected pleasure on Captain Barry’s trip.
Fun things to do in Chincoteague
For $5, my mud-speckled son agreed to try an oyster for the camera…
Fun things to do with kids in Chincoteague
It was quite possibly the funniest thing I’ve ever seen — well worth the investment.
The best things to do in Chincoteague with kids
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?”
Crabbing in Chincoteague with kids
She actually wasn’t a brat at all. Here she demonstrates the correct usage of crab grabbers.
Sunset in Chincoteague
So ends a fun family vacation in Chincoteague, Virginia.
Misty of Chincoteague
My original copy of Misty of Chincoteague. Yes, I still have it!
Misty of Chincoteague
My childhood copy of Misty of Chincoteague, inscribed by my grandmother. The book that inspired this trip.






  1. Margaret Row says

    It’s wonderful to see the teenager still having fun with the family. Great vacation.

  2. says

    Oh my! We have this book on our bookshelf- my mom sent it for my daughter. I’ll show her these pics and then encourage her to read it. I missed the whole horse thing when I was a girl but maybe it skips a generation. I’d be up for hunting crabs in the mud!

  3. Jane says

    What a lovely article. And beautiful pictures. How do you pronounce Chincoteague though?

  4. Kathy F. says

    Thanks for the info, we are headed there this week and staying at the Refuge Inn! We went up there about 7 years ago during a trip to VA Beach so I could fulfill my lifelong dream of seeing the ponies (I was a HUGE Misty fan too). This year we are spending 3 days there before we go down to VA Beach :)

  5. Angelo says


    it seems that the best time to go here is during the summer.
    do you know if the island is open in the winter, particularly in january.
    will the ponies be around then?
    have you heard of any trips to here in the winter?
    planning a day trip from DC in january.

    thank you

  6. Laura says

    Wondering which of Daisey’s cruises you took? There are several – wondering the best one to see the most wildlife!

  7. says

    Hi Laura,

    I’m pretty sure it was the Chincoteague to Assateague Scenic Tour. It went very early in the morning when the animals are at their most active. One thing: the ponies were viewed from a distance. They didn’t eat out of our hands or anything!


  8. Katelynn says

    That looks like so much fun! What time of year did you go? We are planning a trip for May but I’m scared it will still be too cold. Thanks!


  9. mary petzinger says

    We are treating our 10 y/old granddaughter to two nights at the refuge/hoping to see the ponies/ bike in the w/life refuge, see the beach. What tips to you have for good but inexpensive places to eat near there? We are going this coming Fri thru Sun. Thanks!

    Mary Petzinger, Williamsburg VA.

  10. Chelsee says

    Great article and pictures! I,too,was a pony crazy little girl. I can’t even begin to guess how many copies of Misty of Chincoteague I went through! 3 years ago, I picked up a dvd of horse movies at Walmart, imagine my delight when Misty of Chincoteague was one of the movies! My girls, 5 & 7, have watched it at least once a week since getting that dvd! I’m super excited to be a week away from a week long stay on the island!

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