Rip & Go: Pine Tree Loop
Paddle to shoreline solitude, then perch on dunes above the Atlantic Ocean in Maryland's Assateague Island National Seashore.
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Hear the wind rustling through eelgrass as the sun sets over the mainland, then feast on fresh-caught clams on this easy, 12-mile, two-day canoe trip along the jigsaw-jagged coast of Assateague Island’s bay. Rent a canoe and clam rake (see Trip Planner), tank up on water at the ranger station (there are no springs), and put in at the sandy, grass-fringed launch (1) on Bayside Drive. Assess the wind: A gentle breeze here can mean frothy whitecaps on Sinepuxent Bay’s deep-blue, brackish waters. Heard around the sandy tip and paddle southwest for a mile to the lee of Great Egging Island (2). Continue heading southeast toward Tingles Island, a sequence of shrub-covered islets just off Assateague’s western shore. Cross into Chincoteague Bay, and hug the wax myrtle- and bayberry-covered Lumber Marsh (3) for protection from wind and waves. Steer right around a narrow, grass-covered finger (4) extending into the bay, and continue toward the low-lying center of Tingles Island one mile south. Weave through a shallow inlet (5), barely wide enough for your canoe, paddling quietly to avoid scaring herons that nest here alongside 300 other species of birds. Turn left when you see a square sign (6) pointing toward the Pine Tree campsite at mile 5.8, and head for the thick grove of loblolly pines. Hike .3 mile through the coastal lowlands, and set up camp (7) in a pine-ringed clearing. Strap on your water shoes: It’s time to harvest dinner (See Key Skill). Day two, rise before dawn, pack a thermos of coffee or bring your kitchen gear, and walk a mile along the use path (see Topo Tip) through reedy marshes to a wide swath of sandy beach. Park yourself on a dune (8) overlooking the water, and watch the sun peek over the Atlantic as waves crash onshore. Head back to your canoe and pack up for the return trip. Get a different view of Tingles Island by steering around the western side (9) en route to the launch.
Get there From Washington, D.C., take US 50 east toward Ocean City. Turn south on MD 611 and go eight miles to Sinepuxent District Ranger Station.
Gear up Rent canoes ($60/day) and clam rakes ($15/day) from Maryland Coastal Bays on Bayside Drive. (410) 726-3217.
Permit Required; $5, pick up at ranger station. (410) 641-3030; nps.gov/asis
Map Print nautical chart #12211; charts.noaa.gov
KEY SKILL: Clamming
Chincoteague Bay’s average depth of about four feet and the Pine Tree campsite’s remote location make for easy pickings of the region’s most famous mollusk, the northern quahog. Time of day, water depth, and tide make no difference. Strap on water shoes and wade in about thigh-deep with a clam rake. Insert the rake prongs into the mud about two inches deep and slowly drag it behind you as you walk parallel to the shoreline. When you feel a hard object, scoop under the clam to harvest it. Smaller specimens tend to be more tender, but make sure they’re at least one inch wide to comply with state clamming regulations. No rake? Catch clams by “treading,” or shuffling along until you feel a clamshell underfoot—but beware of sharp shell fragments. Rinse off the sand before cooking (see Old Bay Paella in The Menu).
SEE THIS: Assateague Ponies
Hundreds of miniature wild horses roam the marshes and beaches of Assateague Island. According to local lore, they were marooned here after a shipwreck off the coast three centuries ago. The horses, which stand four to five feet tall–similar in stature to a donkey–owe their size to successive generations of grazing on nutrient-poor saltmarsh cordgrass, saltmeadow hay, and beach grass. Look for a small, permanent herd on Tingles Island.
Strong winds and currents have drastically reshaped Assateague, especially since an unnamed hurricane opened the inlet separating it from Ocean City in 1933. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built two jetties to maintain the inlet for navigation, but the construction had an unintended side effect: It disrupted the long-shore currents, which carry sand north-to-south, effectively starving Assateague of new sand and moving the north side of the island more than half a mile toward the mainland over the past 70 years. The jetties exacerbated a natural process called island rollover, in which fierce winter storms erode the seaward side and flood waters deposit sand from the eastern dunes into western marshes. To see evidence of the island’s slow landward drift, walk to the ocean on the east side of the island and look around the beach for water-worn pine stumps that can be 700 to 800 years old—evidence that the east side of the island is now where the west side used to be.
The marsh between camp (7) and the dunes (8) swarms with mosquitoes during summer. Deet up.
ON THE MENU
Breakfast 1 At Bayside Skillet
Lunches 1 & 2 Tomato, pepper, and mozzarella sandwiches
Dinner 1 Old Bay Paella
Breakfast 2 Honeycrisp Oatmeal
Snacks Apples with peanut butter, dates, almonds
Old Bay Paella
Catch of the day
1 package Uncle Ben’s Ready Rice (whole grain brown)
3 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning
Juice of half a lemon
1 red bell pepper, diced
Olive oil, salt, pepper to taste
10 clams (or one can)
Heat rice. Stir in spices and red pepper. Place clams in a skillet with ¼ cup of water. Cover and cook over medium-high heat until shells open (five minutes). Top with lemon juice and oil. Serves 2.
Local apples dress up this breakfast mainstay
1 cup instant oatmeal
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 teaspooon cinnamon
2 Honeycrisp apples, diced
Stir oatmeal, apple, cinnamon, and brown sugar into two cups boiling water. Let stand until water is absorbed, and stir again. Serves 2.
The Grocery List
[ ] red peppers (produce)
[ ] tomatoes (produce)
[ ] Honeycrisp apples (produce)
[ ] lemon (produce)
[ ] mozzarella (deli)
[ ] dates (2)
[ ] canned clams (3)
[ ] Uncle Ben’s Ready Rice (4)
[ ] almonds (6)
[ ] cinnamon (7)
[ ] brown sugar (7)
[ ] Old Bay (7)
[ ] instant oatmeal (9)
[ ] wheat bread (15)
[ ] peanut butter (15)
Pack Salt, pepper, olive oil
9936 Stephen Decatur Hwy.,
Ocean City, MD; (410) 213-0166
PIT STOP Locals and tourists alike hit the Bayside Skillet for omelets stuffed with jumbo lump crab meat and Wisconsin white cheddar cheese, and dusted with Old Bay, Maryland’s signature seasoning. 77th Street and the Bay in Ocean City, MD; (410) 524-7950; baysideskillet.com