What is a National Historic Trail?

A map showing all the National Trails with their logos around the edges
National trails cover a diversity of landscapes and vast distances across the continental United States, Alaska, and Hawaii. Where will you #FindYourTrail?

"A national trail is a gateway into nature’s secret beauties, a portal to the past, a way into solitude and community. It is also an inroad to our national character. Our trails are both irresistible and indispensable."

—STEWART UDALL, US Secretary of the Interior (1961–69); 1920–2010

A National Historic Trail is a long-distance route that follows and commemorates a path of travel that changed the history and character of the United States. These trails paint a colorful picture of our nation’s diverse history. They follow routes of exploration, migration, struggle, trade, and military action. National Historic Trails offer the opportunity to re-trace these past events through historic sites, points of interests, trail segments, and waterways.

National Historic Trails belong to the broader National Trails System, which also includes Scenic Trails, Recreation Trails, and Water Trails. Learn more about the National Trails System >


Learn More About National Trails


How do I visit the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail?

The Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail follows the route undertaken by members of the Jamestown colony throughout the Chesapeake Bay in 1608. In a small boat outfitted with oars and a sail, they sailed along most of the Chesapeake's major tributaries, interacting extensively with Indigenous peoples along the way. The trail's route also follows important Indigenous trade routes, such as those along the James and Susquehanna Rivers.

The route of the trail is over water, and can traveled by kayak, canoe, paddleboard, or boat. However, the trail can also be explored from the shore by visiting a visitor center, museum, park, and beyond. Online resources also connect you to the history and natural world of the Chesapeake through articles, photographs, and videos. Follow the links below to choose your journey on the Chesapeake!
A map of the Chesapeake National Historic Trail with selected locations marked.
Trail Map

View a map of the trail's route and key sites along the way.

A rack of canoes with a marsh landscape behind.
Things To Do

The trail offers countless ways to enjoy the rivers, marshes, and coastlines of the Chesapeake Bay.

An egret flying over a marsh
Virtual Visits

Can't come to the trail in person? Explore photos, videos, and wildlife webcams that will transport you to the rivers and shores of the Bay.

Aerial view of a marshy island with houses and small boats alongside.
Places to Go

Discover the trail's visitor centers and contact sites located throughout the Chesapeake region.

An eastern box turtle.

Thousands of plant and animal species are native to the Chesapeake Bay, many of which are important to the region's culture and history.

John Smith's map of the Chesapeake Bay
History & Culture

Discover the people, cultures, places, and events that made history in the Chesapeake Bay hundreds, and even thousands of years ago.

Last updated: January 10, 2024

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