by Bill and Mary Burnham (Falcon Guides)
© 2013 Bill and Mary Burnham/Falcon Guides. All Rights Reserved.
I did the paved part of the short loop, with a side trip to the beach along the Swan Cove Trail, and had a good time. The Wildlife Loop is open to vehicles from 3 PM to dusk, and it's pretty busy on the weekends, so you won't be lonely(!). The Swan Cove Trail has been realigned, so that it goes directly to/from the beach (0.5 miles) instead of parallelling it to Parking Lot 1 (1.3 miles); this will cut off about a mile from the total distance. If you overshoot on the beach leg and end up at Parking Lot 1, you can walk up Beach Road all the way back to the Visitor Center, or take it to the Black Duck Trail where you can cut across back to the Wildlife Loop. Bring your DEET, as the mosquitoes are vicious, particularly at dawn and dusk. For the driving directions to the trailhead: the highway bridge into Chincoteague City has been realigned, so you don't have to go left on Main, but just go straight on Maddox. There is a great takeout sandwich shop (Sea Star Cafe) in town, so you may want to turn right on Main and drive about 1/4 mile to grab a bite before hitting the trail.
Our through hike of the entire island began at the Chincoteague Wildlife Refuge in VA. We obtained our backcountry permits to stay at the Pope Bay campsite on our first night and the Little Levels campsite the next. The VA side of the island does not allow camping so we walked 12 miles to the Pope Bay campsite on the MD side. The VA side has the best scenery and the feel of being on your own desert island. Plenty of shells, rolling surf and ocean breezes. A couple of notes: first of all, bring plenty of DEET to repel the clouds of mosquitoes that will swarm around you when you get out of the wind. The whining in your ears will cause you to understand why deer go crazy in Alaska. The bay side campsites are very hard to endure once warm weather arrives because of the mosquito and tick population. The seaside campsites are much better…if breezes are coming off of the ocean. Wear supportable hiking shoes and try to walk on the wet sand as it is better on your feet. I supported a colony of blisters on each foot for the 2 and a 1/2 day trip wearing sneakers. You must also carry all of your water with you. The VA side is definitely the best place to explore.
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