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Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network

Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, New York,

Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia



A satellite image of the Chesapeake Bay (lower) and Delaware Bay (upper) in the Middle Atlantic Bight

A satellite image of the Chesapeake Bay (lower) and Delaware Bay (upper) in the Middle Atlantic Bight Courtesy of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, from Flickr's Creative Commons


The Chesapeake Gateways and Watertrails Network is a system of over 170 sites located within the Chesapeake Bay region. The Network tells the story of the connections between people and nature in the Chesapeake region through its historic sites and communities, trails, parks, wildlife refuges, maritime museums, and more. The Network’s goal, which also includes the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail and the Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail, is making it easier to visit and enjoy sites of interest on land and by water and to create an understanding and appreciation of the beautiful and historic Chesapeake Bay area.

Pre-Contact: Native American History

The Chesapeake Bay was home to many generations of Native Americans before Europeans charted the area in the 1500s. Today, eight recognized tribes of Virginia keep their cultures alive and thriving. Visit the Pamunkey Indian Reservation and find out more about that tribe’s history and museum. Riverbend Park is the site of the Virginia Indian Festival where people celebrate Native American culture; it is also a popular place to go kayaking, canoeing, fishing, or hiking. Along the Patuxent River in Maryland, archeologists have found evidence of over 9,000 years of human habitation at what is now Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum. Its interactive visitor center, historical and garden tours, Indian Village, and educational archeological programs give visitors a chance to learn more about the Chesapeake Bay area and the people who once lived there.

European Contact and Exploration: Captain John Smith National Historic Trail

Reenactment of the first landing at First Landing State Park

Reenactment of the first landing at First Landing State Park
Courtesy of by Joshua Adam Nuzzo, United States Navy (Navy Newstand), from Flickr's Creative Commons
In 1604, Captain John Smith and the London Company traveled to North America in a 30-foot work boat known as a shallop. Coming from England where forests had been cut for domestic and industrial use, Smith and his men marveled at the thousands of acres of sea grasses and deep forests. As Captain Smith wrote in 1604, "Heaven and earth never agreed better to frame a place for man’s habitation." Today, visitors can tour, hike, and camp near the area where John Smith landed in 1607 at First Landing State Park in Virginia.

John Smith soon encountered the natives of the Chesapeake Bay. An important contact was with Powhatan, the chief of several tribes in the Tsenacomoco area (part of present-day Virginia), and his daughter Pocahontas. Smith described the Indians in glowing terms and referred to their chiefs as kings and emperors. Although Smith negotiated an alliance with the tribes that allowed the colonists to survive their first difficult year in North America, it later collapsed. Read more about the American Indian—English relationship here.

Captain John Smith and the London Company founded Jamestown in 1607, the first permanent English settlement of the United States. Visitors to Jamestown can see many exhibits, including a replica of the Powhatan Indian Village and recreations of the ships that brought the English colonists to America. To learn more about colonial settlement in the Jamestown area, visit Jamestown National Historic Site and Colonial National Historical Park, which both are featured in this itinerary.

John Smith statue at Jamestown

John Smith statue at Jamestown
Courtesy of Chuckwaters83, from Flickr's Creative Commons

The Chesapeake Bay Program and Friends of the Chesapeake Bay are working to restore and preserve the Bay area, which is home to 3,600 species of plant and animal life, including more than 2,700 types of plants and 300 types of fish. The sea grasses that Captain Smith saw are less plentiful than before, but still provide a habitat for plants and animals. To learn more about these restoration efforts, click here.

The Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, the nation’s first national water trail, encourages visitors to learn about the people and land that Englishman Captain John Smith encountered when he and the London Company (later known as the Virginia Company) reached North America. The trail stretches 3,000 miles through Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and the District of Columbia. For information on access points, land and water trails, and information centers, as well as a map that charts John Smith’s voyages around the Chesapeake Bay, marks Indian settlements, and describes several historic points of interest, visit this website.

The water trail is currently being developed and interpreted, and will soon be enriched with interpretive kiosks, maps, and guides. Today, visitors can retrace Captain John Smith’s journey by water and land, while enjoying the natural splendor that he and his men encountered. For a full list of outdoor activities along the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, click here.

The Chesapeake Bay Office of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration developed a system of “smart” buoys to provide voiced narration that describes various points along the water trail. Follow these buoys to discover what Captain John Smith and his crew saw as they passed through the area 400 years ago. Buoy tours are available via the internet, on web-enabled mobile phones, or by toll-free phone (877-BUOY BAY). The buoys are also vital to conservation efforts, as they monitor and transmit water-quality levels and other information to researchers. With real-time data on wind, weather, wave height, and currents, the buoys help boaters make safe choices about exploring the Bay’s open waters.

Chesapeake Bay Region and the War of 1812: The Star Spangled Banner National Historic Trail

Also part of the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network, the Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail highlights the Chesapeake

Fort McHenry

Fort McHenry
Courtesy of the Richard Johnstone, from Flickr's Creative Commons
Campaign from the War of 1812. Progressing northward on the trail, visitors can experience firsthand the places, people, and events that led to the creation of the National Anthem.

During the War of 1812, the Chesapeake Bay region was a prime target for Great Britain with its ports and proximity to the capital of the United States. In 1813, the British used Tangier Island as a naval base during the Chesapeake Campaign. Visit the island to learn about its interesting history. Outdoor activities include historic and educational water tours, kayaking, bird watching, fishing, and much more.

Maryland’s largest naval battle took place during the War of 1812 at the point where the Patuxent River meets the mouth of St. Leonard Creek, right off the shore of present-day Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum. After this battle, the British went on to Washington and burned the city on August 24, 1814. Leaving the White House, the Capitol, and other government buildings engulfed in flames, British troops continued north to Baltimore.

In what is known today as the Battle of Baltimore, American soldiers at Fort McHenry defeated the British invasion of Baltimore Harbor after a standoff that lasted 25 hours into the morning of September 14, 1814. Upon viewing the American flag still standing at the fort after the battle, Francis Scott Key was inspired to write the words to what is now the National Anthem of the United States, “The Star Spangled Banner.”

The Star Spangled Banner Flag House

The Star Spangled Banner Flag House
Courtesy of by fstopsue, from Flickr's Creative Commons

At Fort McHenry Memorial and National Historic Shrine, visitors can tour the fort and participate in outdoor activities and scheduled events year round including presentations, music performances, and nature walks. The museum and visitor center offer exhibits of historical and military memorabilia. Visitors can also see the daily flag change at 9:30am and 4:20pm, weather permitting.

The Star Spangled Banner Flag House, a National Historic Landmark, at 344 East Pratt Street in Baltimore is where Mary Pickersgill created the flag Francis Scott Key saw waving over Fort McHenry at the end of the Battle of Baltimore. The house is open for tours. Visitors can participate in interactive activities and view historic artifacts such as the $405.90 invoice for Mary’s work on the flag. The flag itself is on display at the National Museum of American History in Washington, DC.

The Battle Monument in downtown Baltimore commemorates the lives lost during the Battle of Baltimore. Architect Maximilian Godefroy designed the monument, which resembles a tomb. Finished in 1825, the monument has a base with 18 layers, each one representing a State during the War of 1812. The column contains the names of soldiers and officers who died during the war.

The new Star Spangled Banner Geotrail offers visitors the chance to geocache, or hunt for treasures hidden outdoors, along a trail of over 30 forts, battlefields, ships, and parks. Each site along the trail describes the people, places, and events that led to the establishment of our National Anthem during the War of 1812.

Visitors can also take a ride along the scenic Star Spangled Banner Byway, and retrace the path that the British troops took during the Chesapeake Campaign. The Byway will take you along the Bay and lead to the scene of the crucial battle that inspired Francis Scott Key.

Plan your visit

The Chesapeake Gateways and Watertrails Network is located in Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Washington, DC. For more information, visit the National Park Service Chesapeake Bay Office, the Network’s official website, or call 410-260-2470. Also, visit the Friends of Chesapeake Gateways website.

The Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, a unit of the National Park System, winds 3,000 miles through Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and the District of Columbia. For more information, visit the National Park Service Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail website or call 410-260-2470. See also the Smithtrail and Bay Gateways websites.

The Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail, a unit of the National Park System, stretches across Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia. For more information, visit the National Park Service Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail website or call 410-260-2470. Multiple historic sites are located along the trail and can be accessed via the Star-Spangled Banner Byway. Click here for the National Register of Historic Places file for Fort McHenry: text and photos and Flag House: text and photos. For information on Fort McHenry visit the National Park Service Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine website or call 410-962-4290. The Historic American Buildings Survey has documented Flag House, Battle Monument, and several buildings at Fort McHenry.

Many of the above sites are also featured in the National Park Service’s Baltimore Travel Itinerary. The creation of the National Anthem is the subject of the online lesson plan “The Rockets’ Red Glare”: Francis Scott Key and the Bombardment of Fort McHenry. The lesson plan was produced by the National Park Service’s Teaching with Historic Places program, which offers classroom-ready lesson plans on registered historic places.


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