Where to Find Wild Ponies in the Eastern US

The wild Mustangs of the western states might the best known wild horses in the United States, but there are quite a few opportunities to see these beloved animals on the East Coast, where wild horses and ponies can be found in some truly amazing locations. We’ve been lucky enough to go most of these places. Here’s some information to help you visit them, too:

Chincoteague Island, Virginia

Chincoteague island is home to a herd of wild ponies owned and managed by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company. These small but sturdy horses have adapted to their environment over the years by eating dune and marsh grasses and drinking fresh water from ponds. The book Misty of Chincoteague, about a pony born on the island and adopted through the annual auction, was one of my childhood favorites and I’ve wanted to see the wild ponies and their home ever since I first read it. We found the ponies about 2 miles into the park in the 500 acre fenced marshy area they live in now. My only complaint here is that since the ponies are in such a huge area, unless you get really lucky and they happen to be grazing near the fence, they’re going to be far away and hard to see. The only other way to see them up close is to attend the extremely popular annual Pony Penning event: Every year in late July the ponies are rounded up and herded across to Chincoteague Island, where they’re auctioned off to raise funds for the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department. The Pony Auction provides a source of revenue for the fire company and trims the herd’s numbers: to retain the permit to graze on the refuge, the herd must not exceed 150 horses.

Cost: $10

Assateague Island National Seashore, Maryland & Virginia

Assateague Island National Seashore is barrier island is home to a population of wild horses that are believed to have been there since the 17th century. These horses are managed by the National Park Service and can be seen in various areas on the island, including the beach, the roads, the hiking trails and even in the camping areas. We found ponies in the Assateague State Park on the main road driving in and later found another group walking through the parking lot right past our car. One pony was quite lame and a park Ranger explained that she had been in a hit and run accident in the park – so PLEASE be careful driving in. This is the ponies home and they do not understand that they need get out of your way. Assateague Island has miles of beautiful beaches where ponies may be seen grazing, playing, or just relaxing. There are several also tour companies that offer guided canoe and kayak trips through the marshes and waterways where the ponies could be. In my opinion this is one of the best parks to see wild horses.

Cost: $25/car/day fee, valid for 7 days and Assateague State Park, MD $5/day fee

Shackleford Banks, North Carolina

Shackleford Banks, the southern-most barrier island in Cape Lookout National Seashore, is home to more than 100 wild horses believed to be descendants of Spanish mustangs brought over in the 16th century. Visitors can take a ferry ($20/adult for a 25 minute each way trip) to the uninhabited island and hike or take you can opt for a guided tour to see the horses. We’ve been told that best time to see the ponies is in the early morning or late afternoon, when they are more active and the temperatures are cooler. The ponies tend to stay in the shaded areas during the hotter parts of the day. You may want to bring binoculars, since you never know how far away they’ll be. We have not visited this island yet but we love Beaufort, SC, the town where you catch the ferry to the island (check out our travel guide https://littletravelchannel.com/beaufort-sc-travel-guide/) and plan to go soon.

Corolla, North Carolina

Corolla is a vacation town in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The wild horses live in the sand dunes of the Wild Horse Sanctuary 4WD beach. They are believed to be descendants of Spanish mustangs. The beach is accessible with a permit and a true 4WD vehicle that can handle the deep beach sand and get you to a set of sand roads cut into the dunes where you might be able to spot the ponies. If you don’t have a 4WD vehicle you can rent one or you can take a guided tour. Technically you can also walk along the beach itself (although not up on the dunes where their food would be) but with 7500 acres and only about 100 horses the odds aren’t great that you’ll find them (we didn’t). I’ve been told that you’re more likely to see the horses outside of the busy season when it’s a little quieter and more peaceful.

Grayson Highlands, Mouth of Wilson, Virgina

Grayson Highlands is a fantastic park to visit and see wild ponies. The ponies were released by the U.S. Forest Service into the area surrounding Mount Rogers National Recreation Area and Grayson Highlands State Park in 1975 to control the growth of brush along the balds. The herd has thrived in the scrubby mountainous terrain, and the population now stands at around 150 individuals. To maintain a balance between the ponies and the environment, the Wilburn Ridge Pony Association monitors the herd and facilitates an annual auction of any excess colts. Proceeds from the auctions go toward supporting the remaining herd and to 2 local fire departments. There are several trails and fields where the ponies, most active and visible during the spring, summer or fall, often roam. One of the best hiking loops to see the ponies on starts at Massie Gap and offers stunning views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. Take the Rhododendron Trail (0.3 miles, moderate) to the Wilburn Ridge (0.6, difficult) to the Horse Trail North (0.93 mile, moderate). We also found several ponies (and cows) in the fenced field across from the Elk Garden Trailhead, Grayson Highlands State Park, State Rte 600, Troutdale, VA. If you decide that you want help finding the ponies there are local guides and tour companies that offer guided hikes and mule rides in the area.

Cost: $7 per vehicle weekdays, $10 per vehicle weekends | Travel Guide | Trail Map

Whichever park you choose to visit, If you’re lucky enough to find wild horses or ponies, please respect them as the wild animals they are and stay at least 50’ away from them – they may seem quiet and friendly but they are feral and may kick or bite. The Park Staff also ask that you do not feed them anything as their digestive systems are very delicate and adapted to function only on their native diet – you might end up accidentally killing them.

Leave a comment below and let us know your favorite place to see wild horses

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