That's how my friend and I felt after what seemed like a few draining months. We decided to get away for a weekend and both agreed on one thing: it had to be affordable.
I'm not much of a traveler but I sure know how to pinch pennies, and in my opinion a great way to keep costs down is to take a trip somewhere close to home. So, we planned a weekend camping trip at Assateague Island National Seashore. Yup, we decided to go camping in March. Perhaps we had a moment of crazy when we booked this trip but it was a blast - frozen fingers, high winds, and all!
Here's what you need to know about planning a trip to Assateague - especially in the colder months.
You can make reservations via recreation.gov. The site is super easy to navigate: you can filter your search by date, and campsite location, and amenities - even down to having pets. Another great feature is the ability to see photos of each campsite. This helped me a lot when picking a site because we wanted a bit of cover instead of being directly on the beach like our neighbors.
In peak season (April-October) you'll definitely want to make sure you secure reservations as far in advance as possible as sites tend to fill up fast. In off-peak season (November - March) there are many more sites to choose from of course. I booked our trip about three weeks in advance.
Check-in is at noon but since we both worked half a day on Friday, we arrived around 5:30pm to find no one there. I mean, the gates were closed and this was about the point that I started freaking out. (Okay, maybe it was when I saw the "campground closed" sign.)
After wondering how we'd manage to sleep in the car with everything we packed, a good Samaritan driving by figured out really fast we were lost and told us there is another entrance during off-peak months. Phew. So we followed him down a different road for about a mile to a separate campground entrance. The ranger station was already closed for the day by the time we got there, but we just set up camp and had to check-in Saturday morning instead. So no need to worry as much as I did, ha!
*I didn't receive any information about this other entrance in my reservation email, so email me if you have questions! I can help now that we learned the hard way. ;)
What To Do
Of course, there isn't a whole lot to do in the colder months, but we still had a blast!
The biggest thing we were excited about was seeing wild horses - which is probably the most popular attraction at Assateague. Saturday afternoon we spent a few hours hanging out with a group of horses that just ate the whole time. (Later on in the day a group of about eight horses decided to hang out right by our campsite!)
Just in case you're wondering: visitors are not allowed to feed or touch the wild horses. It's at least a $100 fine. (Plus, they can kick and bite.) But take all the photos you want like we did!
We also took a few walks on the beach, and made a campfire to cook dinner Saturday night. (For dessert we made roasted apples on the fire and they came out perfectly! It was seriously just like eating apple pie!)
There are three trails visitors can check out: Life of the Dunes, Life of the Forest, and Life of the Marsh. When we went to the ranger station Saturday morning, we grabbed a map and that day we decided to check out every trail. The dune and forest trails were fun - marsh was a bit boring this time of year - but each had little signs along the way with interesting information which I always like.
During spring/summer there's plenty of beach area, bike/canoe rentals, fishing, and much more. We'll definitely be going back then!
Exploring Beyond Assateague
Ocean City is about nine miles from the park and can be seen from the island. Also, the historic town of Berlin is about eight miles away and is full of quaint shops, and small restaurants. Fun fact: Berlin was the filming location for Runaway Bride and Tuck Everlasting!
Due to the fact that we basically slept on the ground (aka sand) Friday night because my air mattress was missing its plug, we ended up venturing out beyond Assateague to find something more comfortable. So, we know for a fact there is a Wal-Mart about 20 miles away, and a Food Lion about 15 minutes away just in case you forget anything like I did.
We also found the most adorable shop called the Assateague Island Surf Shop. The people there were so nice and they had the cutest souvenirs. Sunday morning before we left for home we stopped by there again for our first ever acai bowls and they were even better than they looked. It would be dangerous if I lived closer.
Also, we discovered the Fractured Prune donut shoppe right down Route 611 so naturally we each got 3 donuts. They were SO good. (Pro tip: the mint chocolate chip doughnut tastes just like Thin Mints - which is why I picked it.)
And Don't Forget
I highly recommend going in March when we did - it's a whole different experience and we really enjoyed it. Especially the fact that only four other people were camping. It was so peaceful yet still just as pretty as ever. Of course, make sure you pack warm clothes and several pairs of hand warmers. We even used them as we were preparing dinner Saturday night, ha! Also, watch out for those pesky orioles... they'll break into your bag of bagels when you're too busy taking photos of sand dunes and dogs. But seriously.
If you have any questions about visiting Assateague that I may not have covered, please let me know in the comments or reach out via Twitter. (And no, this is not sponsored in any way. I just love camping - and sharing my experiences/funny stories!)
What's your favorite (affordable) weekend getaway?