Four hundred years ago Englishman John Smith and a small crew of adventurers set out in an open boat to explore the Chesapeake Bay. Between 1607 and 1609 Smith mapped and documented nearly 3,000 miles of the Bay and its rivers. Along the way they visited many thriving Native American communities and gathered information about this “fruitful and delightsome land.” In December 2006 the U.S. Congress designated the routes of Smith’s explorations of the Chesapeake as a national historic trail—the first national water trail.
Smith’s map and writings influenced exploration and settlement of eastern North America for many generations, and they are a remarkable record of the native cultures and the natural environment of the 17th-century Chesapeake. The Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail lets you experience and learn about the Chesapeake Bay through the routes and places associated with Smith’s explorations.
Experiencing the Chesapeake in the context of Smith’s 17th-century explorations can lead to greater awareness of the importance of the Bay and what is needed to restore and sustain this national treasure.
The trail was officially launched on May 12, 2007, as part of the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, Virginia. Visit this trail website often for the latest information about the national historic trail.
As the first national water trail, the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail follows the historic routes of Smith’s travels based on his map and journals. It encompasses Smith’s two main voyages on the Chesapeake Bay in 1608 and also his excursions on the York, James, and other rivers between 1607 and 1609. The trail includes approximately 3,000 miles in parts of present-day Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and the District of Columbia.
Although the trail is still developing, there are already existing water trails where you can follow portions of Smith’s historic route. And there are already many places where you can learn about the 17th-century Chesapeake and about the native peoples who inhabited these lands for thousands of years before the English arrived.
These existing places are part of the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network, a system of more than 170 water trails, parks, museums, wildlife refuges, and other sites that are partners in the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail. Download a brochure showing the trail and associated Gateways.
As the trail develops, places that are officially designated by the National Park Service as part of the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail will display the trail logo.
The trail is also marked at several places on the water by special buoys as part of the Chesapeake Bay Interpretive Buoy System (CBIBS). Accessible by cell phone or via the Internet, these buoys transmit real-time data as well as historical information for recreational and educational uses.
There are many ways and places to experience the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail now, and more are being added every year. The comprehensive management plan that was completed in 2011 provides the guidance for development, management, preservation, and enjoyment of the trail for its initial 15–20 years.
Extensive public involvement has been an essential part of the planning process. Public participation will continue to be important as the plan is implemented and each trail segment develops. There are many opportunities for you to Get Involved in the trail, through the National Park Service and through the Chesapeake Conservancy and other trail partners.
The National Park Service is the federal agency responsible for administering the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail.