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Welcome to Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens

So, you like cultivated water-loving plants? Well, there’s a national park site for that! In fact, the only one dedicated to such a topic through the National Park Service is located in Washington D.C. Welcome to Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens (KEAQ).

Greenhouse/Photo by Chris Rief

Located on the east side of the Anacostia River, Kenilworth is a unit of Anacostia Park and National Capital Parks-East. This area has a rich history dating back thousands of years to the Nacotchtank people. The gardens were started in the late 1800s, when Walter Shaw purchased several acres of land to grow water lilies. This transformed from a hobby into a business, and eventually to a public park. His daughter, Helen Shaw Fowler, took over the business and owned the land until 1938. The following year, the gardens became part of the National Park Service.

Today, a series of intersecting paths surround the 45 ponds. The park includes a trail along the Anacostia River, a boardwalk leading to Kenilworth Marsh, several greenhouses, and a visitor center. The ponds are filled with lotus flowers, water lilies, and Victoria water lilies. And don’t overlook the wildlife! You can spy birds, amphibians, insects, and tons of dragonflies at the park. 

Dragonfly/Photo by Chris Rief

Now that we’ve covered the history and landscape of this incredible place, let’s get into the beauty. I have been coming to this park for the last few years, and have found that regardless of the season, it is a such a special place for a full day of exploring, a short walk, or even just a peaceful sit. As summer approaches, the ponds start to fill with lotus flowers and water lilies. It is quite a sight to see the flowers come up one-by-one, slowly overwhelming the ponds with vibrant color—it is magical to see so many blooms at one time. In late summer, the Victoria water lily emerges. Then in the fall, the beauty of the surrounding trees shine, and as winter looms, the frozen ponds with remnants of lotus seed pods make for an interesting sight. 

Frozen pond/Photo by Chris Rief

For me, exploring this park across all four seasons has been a treat. My adventures there started a couple of years ago, when I took my daughter for a hike on a fall day. Seeing her face light up and her engagement in the park’s activities was a catalyst for more park adventures. When you visit Kenilworth, don’t forget to pack water, apply sunscreen and bug spray, and wear your mask. Check updates on their website and social media accounts for both Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens and the Friends of Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens.

Quinn with Ranger Chelsey/Photo by Chris Rief

Things to see here:

  • Lotus and Water Lily Festival (generally mid-July)
  • Birding
  • Photography / Art
  • Hiking & Biking
  • Ranger Led Programs (garden tours)
  • Picnics (no cooking, though)
  • Junior Ranger Program (it has a lotus on it!)
  • Pets (on a leash)
  • No Ice Skating 

Water lily/Photo by Chris Rief

If you live in the area, please consider donating or volunteering with the Friends of Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. They have been working hard to help the park grow; they have hosted a photography contest in the fall; and they’re active on social media and good about providing park updates.

Header photo: Pond overheard/Photo by Chris Rief

Chris Rief is a non-profit professional with a deep passion for photography and public lands. He lives in the D.C. area, where you can find him exploring national park units near and far with his daughter, Quinn.

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