© Chesapeake Bay Program (Chesapeake)

Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail

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 traveled thousands of miles mapping and documenting 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. 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.

The National Park Service, which manages the trail, is working with many partners – state and local governments, private organizations, communities – to develop the trail and conserve landscapes along the route which are still evocative of the early 1600s. There are many places where visitors can go today to experience what the landscape might have looked like Smith’s time.

Learn more about the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail

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