Spotlight: The Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail
Bike, hike, walk, boat or drive to the places that inspired our national anthem 200 years ago
Most Americans know that Francis Scott Key wrote the lyrics to our national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Key wrote the words during the War of 1812, when the underdog Americans struggled against the invading British. Most Americans will feel at least a little patriotic when they hear our national anthem and celebrate its 200th Anniversary this year. Join one of many local celebrations around the country or visit any of the sites along the Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail.
What You’ll Find
By land or water, by bike or on foot, in a car or on a boat, visitors can follow the Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail through the District of Columbia, Virginia and Maryland along routes the British used during the 1813 and 1814 invasions of the Chesapeake Bay. The British burned James Madison’s White House and the U.S. Capitol, captured Alexandria, Virginia and sought to capture Baltimore, Maryland. It was during The Battle for Baltimore on the night of September 13-14, 1814, that Francis Scott Key scribbled the first verse of a poem he called “Defence of Fort M’Henry.” The poem, later set to music, became “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Visitors can access the Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail from dozens of places around the Chesapeake Bay and Washington, D.C. Use this interactive map to find historic places, water and land trails and information centers.
Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine, three miles southeast of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and just off Interstate 95, is a great place to begin exploring. It was here that Key saw the “broad stripes and bright stars gallantly streaming o’er (Fort McHenry’s) ramparts.” Visit the park website for directions. As a bonus, Fort McHenry will waive entrance fees on September 13 and 14.
For lodging and travel options, visit Capital Region USA.
Campers want to stay near the trail? Consider Greenbelt Campground, an urban oasis just 12 miles east of Washington, D. C., or about 30 miles from Baltimore via the Baltimore-Washington Parkway (Maryland Route 295), which also passes near the Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
Make Sure You
Find historic sites, recreation and nature along the trail! The trail connects five National Historic Landmarks, four national park sites (including Anacostia Park in Washington), 37 properties from the National Register of Historic Places (like Carlyle House in Alexandria, Virginia), two National Natural Landmarks (like the Lynnhaven River in Virginia) and 39 Chesapeake Bay Gateways. Here are just a few examples of things you can do:
- Cycling—Download a map of bicycling routes from the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail.
- Paddling—In Maryland, paddlers will enjoy the Sassafras River Water Trail, or find free pontoon boat tours and canoe, kayak and rowboat rentals in Maryland at Patuxent River Park or at the Waterfront Park in Bladensburg. In Virginia, access the water at Jones Point Park near Alexandria.
- Picnicking—Enjoy Fort Hunt Park, just two miles from George Washington’s home at Mount Vernon, for picnicking (group picnic shelters are reservable) or just explore the remains of the 19th century fort.
- Geocaching—A multi-state “geotrail” allows geocachers to find 40 geocache sites along the trail using handheld GPS devices.
Sing it! Gather a few friends or family around you—preferably, those who won’t notice when you miss that high note in “…land of the free.”
Listen to a 19th century-style recording of the song (played on authentic period instruments). See the original lyrics (in Francis Scott Key’s handwriting) or download all four verses (PDF). Visit the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., to see the Star-Spangled Banner on display or check out the interactive, virtual flag. Take the quiz, collect all the stars to complete the flag and earn a certificate!
Parents and Teachers: Fort McHenry offers lesson plans and teacher guides, as well as ranger-led education programs that help you and your kids understand the events that inspired The Star-Spangled Banner. Watch this video about the park’s popular Flag Program, invite kids to earn a Junior Ranger Badge, or try the interactive games on the trail website.
Did You Know?
Francis Scott Key penned the song in 1814, but it wasn’t until over 100 years later, in 1931, that Congress sent legislation to President Herbert Hoover, who signed the law that made The Star-Spangled Banner our national anthem.