The lotus flower rising and blooming above the murk symbolizes enlightenment and spiritual awakening in Buddhism
Of all the big annual blooms that occur in the DC area, the lotus flowers and water lilies at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens may just be my favorite one. Not only is the sight of the bursting pink, white, and peachy hued flora absolutely breathtaking, its secluded location — the park is located in an unexpected part of Northeast DC just blocks from the buzz of 295 — makes it a glorious oasis of beautiful nature in the city.
The bloom begins early to mid summer and peaks around the middle of July. It’s just about hitting that point right now, and we visited yesterday to take in the spectacular scene.
The annual Lotus and Water Lily Festival t0 celebrate it all is happening this Saturday, July 15. (Note: This post is from 2017!) It’s a fantastic event that we try to attend every year with activities for kids; cultural dance performances; gardening workshops; and park tours.
No matter when you go, this bloom is one you have to see. And while this time of year is the most colorful at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, a visit there is great any time (but a hat, sunscreen, and bug repellent recommended if you go now). You can read more about the park and get logistics for visiting in this KFDC post. In the meantime, here are images from our outing there yesterday for a peek at the peak… okay, more than a peek, but it’s so beautiful, I couldn’t decide which pics to post!
A close look at a seed pod
Dragon flies don’t feed on lotus, but lay eggs in water plants and perch on them
A sea of lotus flowers
Have your camera ready – photos ops abound!
Pouring water to watch it roll right of the lotus’ superhydrophic leaves
As Sasha noted, the great blue heron is like a celebrity and park visitors the paprazzi
Cattail sprouts up along the ponds
A view from above
Pickerwelweed adds a pretty pop of purple (and some p alliteration)
Turtles are a common sight in the waters
The giant leaves are just as amazing to see as the flowers
All smiles after a Peirce Mill tour and bird feeder project
There are so many things to love about Rock Creek Park. That it’s a beautiful natural oasis smack in the middle of a bustling city is an overarching appeal. But the features within — miles of trails, opportunities galore for active recreation, educational activities, and historic sites among them — are what make it such a huge draw for both locals and visitors.
What looks simple on the outside is complex and interesting within
On the last day of Winter Break, we took advantage of, well, all of the above and headed to DC’s urban forest to explore Peirce Mill — with a creekside picnic and some hiking, to boot. It’s a great place to begin a Rock Creek outing. Besides being an interesting structure to explore, there’s a parking lot just across the street, picnic tables nearby, and it’s situated right by a couple of trails that run along the creek and the park’s Western Ridge.
Touring the top floor of the mill
After enjoying lunch al fresco, we headed inside Peirce Mill. Built in the 1820’s it operated commercially for over 70 years. Since then, it has undergone a few restorations and still actually runs now, though just for demonstration purposes and only from April – October.
The millstones where grain was turned into meal and flour
The inner workings
The mill is pretty neat to tour even when it isn’t running as you can get a close look at the inner workings of a structure built before modern technology. Stone walls, thick wood beams, and wooden machinery, while restored and updated over time, maintain the original aesthetic. And it’s interesting to see how water from Rock Creek powered the mill — right outside is the trench where water was channeled to the water wheel alongside the building.
A view of Peirce barn next door
Making birdfeeders with the park ranger
While we toured the three levels of the mill ourselves, the park rangers on duty were happy to answer questions and also showed us how the mill works via a small model. And along with giving us a lot of background on Peirce Mill and Rock Creek Park, one of the rangers engaged the kids in cute bird feeder projects. (Also, a bit of random trivia I learned from him: Rock Creek is the only park in the National Park System with a planetarium — it’s at the Nature Center and it’s free!)
Still reading about the mill as we embark on a hike
On the Wester Ridge trail
The trail eventually leads to the Nature Center
After leaving the mill, we hit the trail for some hiking along the western ridge. It’s a pretty, hilly route through the woods that eventually takes you to the Nature Center a couple of miles along, but with daylight running out early, we turned around partway to head back to the car. But a visit to Peirce and the Nature Center with some good hiking in between would make for an excellent day-long outing!
A sunlit scene in our beautiful park
Peirce Mill is located at the corner of Tilden Road and Beach Drive in Rock Creek Park. Hours are 12-4pm on weekends only November 1 – March 31, and 10am – 4pm Wednesday – Sunday from April 1 – October 31. Occasionally there ranger led activities and special events are hosted at the mill — see the calendar for details. Admission is free.
Summertime at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, when the lotus flowers bloom
For a big urban city, DC boasts a surprising number of places that showcase some really great nature. There are the obvious sites like Rock Creek Park and the National Arboretum. And then there are some lesser known, but no less wonderful, spots. Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens is one of them.
One of Sasha’s early visits
And one a couple of years ago
We visit the park from time to time — it’s been a KFDC recommendation for years — but not as often as we should, considering how close we live. Tucked away behind a residential area in northeast DC, you could easily drive within a few blocks of it yet never know it’s there. (And you probably have driven that close; the park is located almost right off 295 just south of Route 50.) The hidden element aspect is part of the park’s allure. Just a small part, though.
A recent stroll by the ponds post-bloom
The best part of Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens is what it contains, which is unlike anything you’ll find anywhere else in the District, or the country, for that matter — Kenilworth is the only national park devoted to cultivated water-loving plants. Numerous ponds make up much of the park, and depending on the time of year you go, they could be filled with small or giant lily pads, gorgeous lotus flowers and water lilies, and a variety of interesting aquatic plants.
The summer bloom
The fall remnants
Paths winding among the ponds make for excellent nature walks, letting visitors get a close look at the flora and fauna that thrives there. Along with the vegetation, it’s quite possible to see any number of marshland residents — frogs, turtles, geese, great blue herons, and more.
Pick a path…
View the marsh from the boardwalk
Beyond the ponds are wetlands that are a tidal flood plain of the Anacostia River. A boardwalk traverses part of these with lookout areas to take in scenic views of the marsh. On one side tall grass and plants extend for acres, the color variations lovely to see in changing light. On the other side, marsh plants sprout up from the water surrounded by lofty trees. Egrets, herons, ducks, and geese are practically guaranteed bird sightings, while eagles are a lucky glimpse.
A lookout vista
Taking in the views on the other side
The story of Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens is an interesting one. The land was originally owned by Walter B. Shaw, a Civil War veteran from Maine. In one of the ponds that was previously used to make ice, he planted water lilies from his home state and eventually built a business selling them around the world. The flowers also attracted thousands of visitors during summers. In the 1930’s, however, the gardens were nearly condemned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with orders to dredge the Anacostia River, but Shaw’s daughter Helen lobbied Congress to preserve the land, and eight acres of the garden were purchased for the National Park Service (much of the surrounding marsh land was left accidentally).
Enjoying the flowers during the festival
Now, they are part of a beautiful and peaceful place to explore. And while the best time to go is during the summer when the lotus flowers and water lilies are in spectacular full bloom, Kenilworth is pretty amazing during any season.
Something to see during every season
Rangers lead park tours everyday at 10am, and the park occasionally hosts Volunteer and Family Days, when the public is invited to help maintain the grounds. And every year in July they hold the Lotus & Water Lily Festival to celebrate the new bloom with activities for kids, dancing and drumming, gardening workshops, and park tours.
Whether you go soon or wait for the bloom, you’re in for something special.
Being handsome by the lily pads
Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens are located at 1550 Anacostia Avenue NE. There is a small Visitor Center, where you can learn more about the park, and kids can do some small activities. Restrooms are right next door, and picnic tables are located nearby. The park is open daily 9am – 5pm April 1 – October 31, and 8am – 4pm November 1 – March 31, except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day when it’s closed. Admission is free.