About the Trail

About the Trail > FAQs

Here are some FAQs about the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail. If you have a question that is not answered below, send it to the National Park Service trail headquarters at Contact Us.

General Questions

What is the trail?
Why did Congress establish the trail?
Who is Captain John Smith?
When did Captain Smith explore the Chesapeake Bay?
How did Captain John Smith and his men explore the Chesapeake Bay?
Why are Smith’s explorations significant?
What does it take to establish a national historic trail?
What is the Captain John Smith Chesapeake NHT Feasibility Study?
Who manages the trail?
Why are Indians of the Chesapeake region interested in the trail?
Does the national historic trail designation restrict current land/water use?
Did John Smith come by my house/town?
What are the Chesapeake Bay Interpretive Buoys and how do they relate to the trail?
Do I have a voice in developing the new trail?

Trail Use and Access

How do I get on the trail?
Where does the trail start?
How will the trail be marked?
What if I don’t have a boat?
Can I visit the trail in a car?
Where can I get a map and guide to the trail?
Can I camp overnight along the trail?
Does it cost anything to use the trail?
Will you need volunteers for the trail?
How else can I get involved in the trail?
Is there a cancellation stamp for the trail?
Is there a Junior Ranger badge for the trail?
Is there a scout merit badge for the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail?

Trail Advisory Council

What is the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail Advisory Council?
Who serves on the advisory council?
How long will the advisory council serve?
How long are the members’ terms? If a member leaves, what process will be used to fill the vacancy?
How will the public participate in the deliberations of the advisory council?
How will notice of the advisory council meetings be advertised?
Will the minutes of the advisory council meetings be available?
Does the advisory council have a charter?


Frequently Asked Questions about the Trail in General

Q: What is the trail?

A: The Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, designated by Congress in December 2006, is America’s first water-based national historic trail and consists of the combined routes of Smith’s historic voyages on the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries in 1607–1609, as reflected in Smith’s own journals and map. The trail stretches approximately 3,000 miles up and down the Bay, traversing the states of Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and the District of Columbia.

Printed maps and brochures are available for some segments to provide access, historical, cultural, and environmental information. This National Park Service map shows the overall trail route. Over time, markers and interpretive signage will be displayed at key trail locations.

Currently, interpretive buoys developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration mark the trail in the water at several locations. You can also find information at many of the sites in the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network when you Visit the Trail.

Q: Why did Congress establish the trail?

A: The Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail was authorized by Congress so that visitors to the Chesapeake Bay can understand the significance of John Smith’s explorations and his interaction with and impact upon the rich American Indian cultures that were here. Also, through experiencing the trail, people may come to appreciate and care for the life and landscape of the Chesapeake Bay, America’s largest estuary and a national treasure.

Q: Who is Captain John Smith?

A: Captain John Smith (1580–1631) was one of the original colonists who arrived and helped establish Jamestown as the first permanent English colony in America. Smith led a series of explorative voyages of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. His defining contribution to the colony was his map of the Chesapeake Bay, first published in 1612. His map served as the blueprint for settlement of the Chesapeake Bay area until the end of the seventeenth century.

Q: When did Captain Smith explore the Chesapeake Bay?

A: Smith’s first exploration of the Chesapeake Bay began in April 1607 as he and the English colonists began their search for a place to settle. The expedition scouted the James River and, on May 13, 1607, chose the site that would become Jamestown.

During 1607 and early 1608, Smith and his colleagues explored more of the James River, and also the Chickahominy, York, and Nansemond. Then in the summer of 1608, Smith explored the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries during two monumental voyages, both starting from Jamestown.

On Smith’s first Chesapeake Bay voyage (June 2–July 21, 1608), Smith traveled north along the eastern shore of the Bay, exploring the mouth of the Pocomoke River and traveling some distance up the Nanticoke River into what is now Delaware. From there, he crossed the Bay toward Calvert Cliffs and then continued north up the western side of the Bay as far as present-day Baltimore. He returned south along the western shore and explored the Potomac River and some of its tributaries to a point northwest of present-day Washington, DC, before returning to Jamestown.  

On his second Chesapeake Bay voyage (July 24–September 7, 1608), Smith went straight up the Bay to the Susquehanna River and present-day Havre de Grace, Maryland, and explored the upper Bay tributaries. On his return trip south, he explored the Patuxent and Rappahannock rivers and briefly the Piankatank, Elizabeth, and Nansemond rivers.

In early 1609, Smith also explored the York River, Mattaponi River, and Pamunkey River. He returned home to England in October 1609 following an injury.

Q. How did Captain John Smith and his men explore the Chesapeake Bay?

A. Smith and his crew traveled in a 30-foot work boat called a shallop. This vessel was constructed in England and transported in two parts on one of the three ships that brought the colonists to Jamestown. Reassembled in Virginia, the shallow-draft boat was used for exploration of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.

Q: Why are Smith’s explorations significant?

A: May 2007 marked the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in North America and the beginning of Captain Smith’s epic voyages of exploration and mapping of the Chesapeake Bay region. These events marked a pivotal point in history, setting the Chesapeake Bay region on a course that would forever transform its culture, commerce, and environment. Smith’s arrival also set the stage for revolutionary political, social, and economic developments destined to stimulate further European settlement in North America.

Q: What does it take to establish a national historic trail?

A: To establish a national historic trail (NHT), the trail must meet three criteria required by the National Trails System Act. The trail or route must:

  • Be established by historic use and be historically significant as a result of that use;
  • Have national significance with respect to any of several broad facets of American history; and
  • Have significant potential for public recreational use or historical interest based on historic interpretation and appreciation.

The National Park Service (NPS) completed a feasibility study in 2006 to determine if the proposed trail met the above criteria. The feasibility study concluded that all the criteria were met, and the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail was established by the U.S. Congress through an amendment to the National Trails System Act. The legislation was signed into law December 19, 2006.

Q: What is the Captain John Smith Chesapeake NHT Feasibility Study?

A: On August 2, 2005, President George W. Bush signed bipartisan legislation to authorize the National Park Service to study the feasibility and desirability of establishing the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail. In March 2006, the National Landmarks Committee and the National Park System Advisory Board found that Smith’s voyages are nationally significant. The Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail Feasibility Study and Environmental Assessment, which incorporates the statement of national significance, was released for public comment on July 17, 2006. The National Park Service found that the trail fully meets the required criteria and recommended federal designation as a national historic trail.

Q: Who manages the trail?

A: The Captain John Smith Chesapeake NHT is administered by the National Park Service in coordination with the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network, the Chesapeake Bay Program, and in consultation with other federal agencies, state, tribal, regional, local agencies, and the private sector. There are many partners in the development and management of the trail.  

Q: Why are Indians of the Chesapeake region interested in the trail?

A: American Indians populated the Chesapeake region for more than 10,000 years before the arrival of Captain John Smith and his crew, yet their lengthy history is overshadowed by the relatively recent writings of Captain John Smith and other colonists. The trail will draw attention to the extensive societies and cultures of 17th-century native population and provide opportunities to learn how various tribes interacted with Smith and influenced English settlement of the Bay. The survival of the English in the early days of Jamestown colony is largely due to the knowledge, trade goods, and food provided by the Indians.

Today’s Indian tribes welcome the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail as an opportunity to tell the history of this region not just from a European perspective, but also from an American Indian perspective. On May 8, 2006, the Virginia Council on Indians —representing the Chickahominy, Eastern Chickahominy, Mattaponi, Monacan Indian Nation, Nansemond, Pamunkey, Rappahannock, and Upper Mattaponi tribes—signed a resolution in support of the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail. Many descendents of tribes in Maryland, Delaware, and the District of Columbia are also supportive of the trail.

Q: Does the national historic trail designation restrict current land/water use?

A: The National Park Service conducted an extensive analysis of the potential impacts the trail designation would have on land and water, including docks and piers, along the proposed route and the lands bordering the study route. The NPS concluded that state laws and regulations already in place can address any issues that may arise, and that the trail will not place any additional requirements, beyond those required by the states, on property owners.

Q: Did John Smith come by my house/town?

A: The National Park Service map of the trail shows the approximate route of John Smith’s historic 1607–1609 voyages of exploration of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, based on Smith’s map and journals. The trail map shows the routes of Smith’s combined voyages, which reflects the route of the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail as designated by Congress.

Q: What are the Chesapeake Bay Interpretive Buoys and how do they relate to the trail?

A: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Chesapeake Bay Office has developed an innovative marking system for the trail called the Chesapeake Bay Interpretive Buoy System (CBIBS). Scientific data and educational and interactive components are transmitted from the buoys via cellular telephones or the Internet. Each buoy provides a brief narration of what Captain John Smith’s crew might have seen when passing that location 400 years ago. There are currently 10 buoys along the trail located on the James, Elizabeth, Rappahannock, Potomac, Severn, Little Choptank, Patapsco, and Susquehanna rivers. Other buoys may be added as funds become available. To access the buoy system, visit (http://buoybay.noaa.gov) or call 1-877-BUOYBAY.

Q: Do I have a voice in developing the new trail?

A: Yes. Public involvement is important to a successful future for the trail. The National Park Service invites public input throughout trail planning. Check the News & Press section of this website or Contact Us for information on opportunities for involvement. Your voice matters.


Frequently Asked Questions about Using the Trail

Q. How do I get on the trail?

A. The trail is approximately 3,000 miles long and can be accessed at various points along the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. The trail, in coordination with the Chesapeake Gateways and Watertrails Network, provides visitors with opportunities to experience and learn about the Bay through a wide range of parks, refuges, museums, and other sites. For information on these various points of interest and access see Visit the Trail and Trail Explorations. Additional sites of interest and public access will be identified as the trail develops.

Q. Where does the trail start?

A. Historically, the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail begins at Historic Jamestowne on Jamestown Island located near Williamsburg, Virginia. This is where Captain John Smith began all of his explorations and voyages. Today visitors can access the trail at hundreds of locations. A Boater’s Guide to the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail describes many of the trailheads where visitors can access the trail by water.

Q. How will the trail be marked?

A. The trail will be marked through a series of markers and interpretive signage at designated trail locations. Currently, interpretive buoys developed in coordination with NOAA, mark the water trail at several places in the Chesapeake Bay.

Q. What if I don’t have a boat?

A. Although the National Park Service does not currently offer watercraft rentals and/or guided tours of the trail, they are available at many locations through concessions at state parks or private enterprises. You can also contact state and local tourism offices and sponsors of water trails that are part of the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network.

Q. Can I visit the trail in a car?

A. Auto tours of portions of the trail have been developed for land sites associated with Smith’s journeys. The Commonwealth of Virginia has created several auto tours for portions of the trail, available at http://www.johnsmithtrail.org/. As trail segments develop, additional information and interpretive signage will become available for land-based explorations. Look for other tour suggestions at Things to Do.

Q. Where can I get a map and guide to the trail?

A. There are currently a variety of maps for portions of the trail available, produced through state agencies and Gateways and water trails in the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network. A Boater’s Guide to the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail is available for free download at this website. Other information, materials, and tours will develop as the trail develops. Visit the Things to Do section of this trail website often for postings of new tour and other program opportunities.

Q. Can I camp overnight along the trail?

A. Although the National Park Service does not currently provide camping facilities along the trail, camping sites are available through state, local, and private partners at various locations along many trail segments. Numerous sites in the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network offer camping facilities. For a map and guide to Gateway locations showing places where camping is available, Contact Us.

Q. Does it cost anything to use the trail?

 

A. The Captain John Smith Chesapeake NHT is free of charge; however various partner sites and concessions along the trail may charge fees.

Q. Will you need volunteers for the trail?

A. Yes! Volunteer opportunities are available at many places along the trail. If you are interested in volunteering, please contact the Virginia office of the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail at 757-258-8914. There are also volunteer opportunities for practicing good stewardship of the Chesapeake Bay. For information, contact  the Chesapeake Bay Program.

Q. How else can I get involved in the trail?

A. Contact the Chesapeake Conservancy for information on ways to become involved with partners in the development of the Captain John Smith Chesapeake NHT.

Q. Is there a Passport cancellation stamp for the trail?

A. Yes, there is a cancellation stamp for the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail as part of the Passport to Your National Parks Program. Currently, the stamp is available at three National Park Service locations:

More locations may be added as the trail develops.

Q. Is there a Junior Ranger badge for the trail?

A.Yes. The Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail has a Junior Park Ranger program. Activities to earn a badge are geared to ages 6 through 12. Learn more and download the activity book here.

Q. Is there a scout merit badge for the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail?

A. At this time there is no scout merit badge specific to the trail. However, the NPS does offer the Resource Stewardship Scout Ranger Program (“Scout Ranger”). This program, developed in partnership with the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) in 2008, is a component of the umbrella BSA initiative “Good Turn for America.” The Scout Ranger program is designed to increase scout visitation to national park units, promote a better understanding of the NPS mission among scouts and their families, educate young people about their responsibility to conserve our natural and cultural resources, encourage volunteer service, and promote good citizenship.


Frequently Asked Questions About the Trail’s Advisory Council

Q. What is the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail Advisory Council?

A. The advisory council consults with the Secretary of the Interior in the development of the trail’s comprehensive management plan and other trail matters. The council plays an active role in the creation of the management plan, as well as assisting the NPS in identifying significant resources and other sites of interest along the 3,000 miles of the trail. The advisory council for the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail is required by statute, meaning the U.S. Congress enacted a law that directed the Department of the Interior to establish an advisory council. The trail’s advisory council was established on May 21, 2008.

Q. Who serves on the advisory council?

A. The council consists of federal and state agency personnel and representatives of private Chesapeake Bay-related organizations. The council is appointed by the Secretary of the Interior, and includes:

  • The head (or designee) of each federal department or independent agency administering lands through which the trail route passes;
  • A member representing each state through which the trail passes;
  • Members representing private organizations, including corporate and individual landowners and land users, and other state, local, and tribal agencies that have an established and recognized interest in the trail;
  • Representatives of the Environmental Protection Agency Chesapeake Bay Program, and the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network.

Q. How long will the advisory council serve?

A. The advisory council will exist for ten years from its creation on May 21, 2008.

Q. How long are the members’ terms? If a member leaves, what process will be used to fill the vacancy?

A. Members will be appointed for two-year terms. Vacancies on the council will be filled in the same manner used to establish original appointments. If no successor is appointed on or prior to the expiration of a member’s term, the incumbent member will continue to serve until a new appointment is made.

Q. How will the public participate in the deliberations of the advisory council?

A. Members of the public may attend any meeting or portion of a meeting that is not closed to the public. At the determination of the council chairperson, the public may offer oral comment at meetings open to the public. In cases where oral public comments are not heard, the meeting announcement published in the Federal Register will note that oral comment from the public is excluded and will invite written comment as an alternative.

Q. How will notice of the advisory council meetings be advertised?

A. Advisory council meetings will be advertised in the Federal Register 15 calendar days prior to the meeting date. Other media (newspapers, radio, etc.) may be used to supplement the Federal Register notice if it is deemed appropriate by the council.

Q. Will the minutes of the advisory council meetings be available?

A. Minutes will be prepared of each meeting and will not be published. Copies will be distributed to council members. Minutes of open meetings will be available to the public upon request. Minutes of closed meetings will also be available to the public upon request, subject to the withholding of matters about which public disclosure would be harmful to the interests of the government, industry, or others, and which are exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA.) The public may request copies of meeting minutes by contacting the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail office in Annapolis, Maryland.

Q. Does the advisory council have a charter?

A. Yes. The purpose of the advisory council charter is to specify the council’s mission, goals, and objectives, as well as its general operational characteristics. The charter enables the council to meet and take actions. Charters are renewed every two years, unless otherwise specified in legislation.

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