Boating Adventures

A kayak paddler at Riverbend State Park
A kayaker navigates around river rocks at Riverbend State Park.


The best way to experience the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail is by water.

Long before Captain Smith's explorations of the Chesapeake and its tributaries, Indians used these waterways for fishing and hunting, to trade goods, and to explore new lands. Smith traveled nearly 3,000 miles on the Bay and its rivers, recording and mapping what he saw. Due largely to Smith's descriptions, European settlement followed along these waterways. Traveling these waters today, you can see how the landscape has changed — and where it has changed very little. You can see where history was made and where wildlife and native plants still thrive.


A Boater's Guide

To the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail

Cover Page of Boaters Guide depicting a replica shallow sailing
A Boater's Guide cover page.


A Boater's Guide to the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail is for boaters in all types of vessels and at all skill levels. In this guide to America's first national water trail, Chesapeake-expert John Page Williams suggests itineraries for each area explored by Captain John Smith and tells you what you need to know for exploring those areas today.

What's inside?

  • Paddling routes by region and type of vessel
  • Boating safety and trip planning tips
  • Information about Captain John Smith's voyages and the natural history of the Chesapeake Bay

Visit the Chesapeake Bay Foundation website to Download the Boater's Guide.
Email us to receive a hard copy in the mail:
An screen shot of an interactive map showing public access sites in the Chesapeake Bay
Click the image to access the interactive map (image is not interactive)

Chesapeake Bay Program

Public Access Sites - Interactive Map

The Chesapeake Bay Program maintains an interactive map of public access sites in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The map is searchable by location, so you can find sites near where you live or close to where you are traveling!

Use the map to find:

  • Boat launches

  • Swimming areas

  • Parking lots

  • Fishing spots

Use the Public Access Sites Tool >


Water Trails by River

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    Guided Paddles

    Guided paddles are perfect for inexperienced kayakers and canoers looking to dip their toes into the water! Join in on a guided paddling tour to learn the ropes. Practice captaining your ship while also learning about the Bay's history, culture, and ecology.

    There are endless opportunities for guided paddles throughout the region. Check out events at a partner location near you.

    • Sultana Education Foundation in Chestertown, Maryland offers themed public paddles that highlight animals, historic landmarks, and cultural connections.

    No boat? No Problem!

    Even if you don't own a boat yourself, there are still lots of ways to get out on the water. Many of the locations mentioned on this website rent canoes, kayaks, and boats to visitors. Call ahead before you go to confirm availability.

    Want to go boating, but don't want to paddle? Here are a few other options:

    Historic & Scenic Ferry Tours

    Tall Ships & Historic Boats

    A stuffed animal bison named Buddy Bison demonstrates boating safety by wearing a life jacket on a fishing pier.
    Buddy Bison demonstrates paddling safety by sporting his life jacket.



    Especially when it comes to water, it's always better to be safe than sorry. Know and follow these safety tips when kayaking or canoeing:

    • Wear a lifejacket at all times
    • Plan a trip within your skill level
    • Research local conditions
    • Tell someone where you are going and for how long
    • Never paddle while under the influence
    • Wear clothes for the weather and for the possibility of falling in the water, as well as sunscreen
    • Know your boat — practice staying balanced and how to deal with an overturned vessel
    • Bring safety gear appropriate for your trip — a basic tool is a scoop or pump to help you bail water out of the boat

    Boating Safety Regulations by State

    Last updated: December 20, 2023

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    Contact Info

    Mailing Address:

    P.O. Box 210
    Yorktown, VA 23690


    (757) 856-1220

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