Assateague Island National Seashore
At one time, Assateague Island, the long thin barrier island on which Ocean City sits, stretched in an unbroken line all the way into Virginia. In 1933, a major storm crashed through the sands and created the broad inlet that now divides Ocean City from the near-wilderness of Assateague Island National Seashore. Like its neighbor Chincoteague, the island is known for the wild ponies that live there. It’s also one of the few areas of the Atlantic Coast protected from commercial development, with some 37 mi (60 km) and 48,000 ac (19,423 ha) of hiking, swimming, camping, canoeing, bicycling, clamming, and bird-watching. Swarms of voracious mosquitoes and a lack of freshwater keep the crowds to a minimum.
To reach the island from Ocean City, follow US-50 west for two miles and turn south on Hwy-611, which loops around Sinepuxent Bay before arriving at the visitor center (410/641-1441, daily). The center has a small aquarium as well as maps, guides, and up-to-date information about the national seashore.
Berlin and Snow Hill
From Ocean City, the route turns inland around Assateague Island and Chincoteague Bay, following US-50 west for 8 mi (12.8 km), then turning south on US-113 through the dark cypress swamps along the Pocomoke River. Just southwest of the US-50/113 junction, the remarkably well-preserved town of Berlin offers a look back at a slower-paced era. Redbrick buildings house antiques shops around the 1890s landmark Atlantic Hotel (2 N. Main St., 410/641-3589, $95 and up), where the rocking chairs along the open-air front porch all but demand that you sit and stay awhile. Inside, the stylish Drummer’s Café (daily from 11am) may tempt you to alter your travel plans so you can enjoy the delicious local seafood.
Another 23 mi (37 km) southwest of Ocean City, detour west from the highway to take a look at the 250-year-old town of Snow Hill (pop. 2,052). The Julia A. Purnell Museum (208 W. Market St., Tues.-Sun., $3 adults), housed in an old church, features a range of exhibits tracing Eastern Shore history, and around 10,000 artifacts and ephemera are on rotation. Pick up a walking-tour map of Snow Hill’s many significant structures, or if the weather is fine, paddle a canoe or a kayak through the surrounding wild cypress swamps with the Pocomoke River Canoe and Kayak (2 River St., 410/632-3971), next to the drawbridge.