• The working watermen community of Tangier Island VA at sunset. Photo by Starke Jett.

    Chesapeake Bay

Plan Your Visit

Patuxent River Park, Jug Bay Natural Area

Clouds in a blue sky are reflected in the waters of Jug Bay Natural Area at Patuxent River Park

Sarah Rogers

The Chesapeake Bay is big – 200 miles long – and easily approached from major airports and by car traffic through major interstates and backroads of the mid-Atlantic. This page will help you find things to do and themes to guide you as you pick an approach. Do you have a smartphone or tablet? For an easy take on it, go straight to the official NPS mobile app for the Chesapeake Bay -- Chesapeake Explorer.

National Gateways and Trails to the Chesapeake

Throughout the Chesapeake, there are places with stories so significant to the United States that Congress links them together and officially recognizes them:

Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail: how the national anthem came to be written. That story was born out of the War of 1812 -- a time when the world's most powerful Navy, belonging to the British, dominated the Chesapeake, trapped citizens in their homes, and offered an interesting alternative to enslaved people who could escape.

Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail: how the Chesapeake Bay was before Europeans permanently settled here. There are still places today that look like they did 400 years ago. And the Indians who were here then, are still here now. Use these trail sites to experience the old Bay.

Gateways and Watertrails Network: all the different ways to experience the Chesapeake. Each of the 172 places in the Network have a unique take on a Chesapeake Bay story -- colonial downtowns, watermen stories, lighthouses, boats, wildlife preserves, and parks to play in.

Play on the Water

Chesapeake Bay is all about the water. And there are ways to get out there and experience the thrill and the relaxation of seeing the world from on a boat.

Be a Waterman for a Day

As the Chesapeake Conservancy puts it, "Watermen are intertwined with the unique identity of the Chesapeake Bay, influencing its history, culture, and economy. Watermen Heritage Tours offer a rare glimpse into their way of life. More than entertaining, these authentic experiences are helping to preserve a culture and continue a Chesapeake Bay tradition." Hook up with Watermen Heritage Tours to tong for oysters, or go crabbing and take home the catch.

Grab an Oar, Hoist a Sail

Sultana Projects in colonial Chestertown on Maryland's Eastern Shore presents several ways to put visitors and their families on the water. Rent a kayak, sail on the Schooner Sultana, or take a guided scenic tour along the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail. Our "Outdoor Activities" page will give you more ideas!

Fun for Land-lubbers

State parks, county parks, forests, trails, and beaches . . . there are fun things to do with no fear of seasickness.

Hide and seek for grown-ups

Try your hand at geocaching using the Star-Spangled Banner Geotrail and the Captain John Smith Geotrail. Geocaching is a high tech treasure hunt (with prizes!) that will take you to fascinating Chesapeake places off the beaten path.

Museums your kids will love

See fish up close at the National Aquarium, handle everything at the Virginia Living Museum, explore a submarine in downtown Baltimore, and climb into a lighthouse at Calvert Marine Museum.

Key Tips for Enjoying Your Visit

A Map You Don't Have to Re-fold

The easiest way to find trails, parks, hiking, biking, and other fun things to do while you are on the go? Use the lists and maps on the official National Park Service mobile app, Chesapeake Explorer. It's free. And it works on Android and on iDevices.

 

Did You Know?

Satellite image of the Bay

Did you know that the Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in North American and the second largest in the world?