John Smith Chesapeake Trail

“Heaven and earth never framed a more perfect place for man’s habitation.” – Captain John Smith, 1612

The Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail commemorates Captain Smith’s exploration of the Bay in 1607 through 1609, and is the nation’s first all-water National Historic trail. It provides a significant conservation, recreation and education resource that stretches over 3,000 miles and traverses most of the Chesapeake’s great rivers. In addition to providing needed recreational access to the Chesapeake and its rivers, the trail provides a framework for our work of large landscape conservation, vital to celebrate, protect and restore the Bay. Just as the Appalachian National Scenic Trail provided a framework for large landscape conservation since 1920, so can the John Smith Chesapeake Trail.


Official Map of the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, produced by NPS

Click map to enlarge

The John Smith Chesapeake Trail is based on the explorer’s map and written accounts. The trail, administered by the National Park Service, connects with 16 National Wildlife Refuges, 12 National-Parks, and three other National Trails. It offers opportunities for tourism, environmental and cultural education, conservation, and recreation. The multi-dimensional nature of the John Smith Chesapeake Trail makes it a model for a new system of National Blueways .

The Chesapeake Conservancy and the National Park Service have developed a John Smith Chesapeake Trail Conservation Strategy that defines a process for prioritizing conservation areas along the trail that are important to the visitor experience. Working alongside the NPS, the Conservancy is implementing this strategy along each segment of the Capt. John Smith Trail. For more information on the John Smith Chesapeake Trail segment planning process, click here.

Explore how you can experience the John Smith Chesapeake Trail by clicking one of the options below: 


John Smith Chesapeake Trail Virtual Tours


Take a virtual tour of the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail from your computer or mobile device. Enjoy the beautiful shipwrecks steeped in our nation’s history that now serve as ecological habitats at Mallows Bay. Take in the beautiful James River as it flows through Virginia or the mighty Susquehanna, the lifeblood of the Chesapeake, pouring about 20 billion gallons of freshwater into the Bay each day. We hope that the virtual tour will inspire and help plan a real trip to these beautiful rivers of the Chesapeake.


Boater’s Guide

Explore the Chesapeake's Rivers using the Boater's Guide!

Now you can explore the Chesapeake Bay as Captain John Smith did – by boat! But, luckily for you, this adventure is accessible to all vessels and skill levels, and you will have the expertise of John Page Williams by your side.

Boater’s Guide to the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail is a free online publication that introduces paddlers, skiffers and cruisers to exploration of the John Smith Chesapeake Trail. Gain practical information about trailheads, trip itineraries, and water conditions interwoven with the historical context of the Chesapeake’s waters explored by Captain John Smith four centuries ago.

Smart Buoys


Smart Buoys mark the trail and provide instant information to trail travelers. See where the buoys are located and find out how to access both historic information and current weather conditions, or download our Smartbuoy App to view the buoy’s real-time information from your smartphone.

Access Sites


Chesapeake Conservancy is working with the National Park Service and local partners to establish and improve public access facilities for the John Smith Chesapeake Trail that will allow visitors to get out on the water and view the same landscapes Captain John Smith experienced over 400 years ago.

Explore the access sites on the John Smith Chesapeake Trail using an interactive map available by visiting this page.

Chesapeake Photo Tour




Find out more about Captain John Smith’s voyage and the Bay’s special landscape through this informative map produced by the National Geographic Society.


Join the Adventure and explore the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail. Visit the National Park Service’s website for the latest information.