Experience America's Best Idea
National Park Getaways
A New National Park Getaway Every Wednesday
Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens
Two hundred years ago, it was a swamp. One hundred years ago, it was a commercial nursery. Today, it’s the only national park devoted to cultivated aquatic plants. Welcome to Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens—seven acres of ponds full of blooming water plants and dozens more acres of wild marsh right in the heart of Washington, D.C.
While the spring blossoming of the Tidal Basin’s cherry trees is better known, thousands of visitors and photo enthusiasts descend on this park in Northeast Washington during the summer. The Kenilworth water lilies and water lotuses have their own festival each July, when the heat- and water-loving plants are at their peak. The ponds promise to be resplendent with gigantic pink and white blossoms with stunning blue and purple highlights from the tropical water lilies.
“The lotus and water lily festival celebrates the cultural significance of the aquatic plant life we have here in the park,” Ranger Alexis Gelb said. “Water lotuses, especially, are very important to a number of Asian cultures and the festival highlights these connections. We also celebrate the importance of the natural wetlands that surround the park, and the simple beauty of the aquatic gardens.”
Garden tours are offered throughout the festival, and you are also welcome to explore on your own. There is children’s entertainment with wildlife and nature themes, performing artists from several Asian nations, and a photography contest.
Piqued your interest, but these dates don’t work for you? Winter- hardy water lilies start blooming in May and keep going throughout the summer. Park rangers offer garden tours on weekends from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and special group tours can also be arranged.
The park, with its easy access to the Anacostia River, is popular with paddlers who canoe in to see the marshes from a water bird’s perspective. Kids in the Junior Ranger program learn about not only the flowers in the gardens, but also the importance of protecting complex wetland ecosystems – preserved in the park but increasingly rare outside it. And rangers lead bird walks, turtle walks, and programs on gardening with native species.
Can’t stand the heat? Take a walk down the river trail in the fall, with the Anacostia River on one side and the wild marsh on the other, and you’ll spot all kinds of migratory birds that stop off on their way south. Wildlife abounds throughout the year, but in the peacefulness of wintertime, you can follow the tracks of fox, deer, and other wildlife as they work their way through the snow. In the spring, keep your eyes open when you go out on the boardwalk over the marsh—redwing blackbirds are harbingers of spring, as are several species of turtles that love to bask in the newly-warm sun. And if you can’t visit until next spring, come and see this park’s cherry blossoms!
By Kathy Jones, National Park Ranger, Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens
Travel Tip: Avoid the traffic and take Metro to the park.