Tag Archives: Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens with Kids

Bike the Anacostia River Trail to Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens (to see the big bloom!)

On the way to see the bloom at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens


I always make a point of going to Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens this time of year to see the lotus flowers and water lilies in bloom. It’s absolutely stunning, and definitely my favorite of all the big blooms in the area (yep, I even love it more than the cherry blossoms). As I’ve noted before, that partly has to do with its location in Northeast DC, next to a residential neighborhood and not far from 295. You just don’t expect a fairyland of a park full of ponds covered in lily pads and with gorgeous white and pink flowers sprouting from them to be there.

This year, I decided to bike to KAG for the bloom. It’s not too far from where we live, about a five-mile ride from our house on Capitol Hill, and the Anacostia River Trail leads right to it. I’d never ridden on that stretch of the bike path, and it turned out to be a nice little jaunt. Owen and Sasha are away at camp for a couple of weeks, so this was a solo adventure, but I know they would enjoy it, too. I’d also recommend the ride for younger kids who are comfortable biking several miles at a time (accompanied by adults, of course).

The ride mapped out

The first stretch of the ride

I caught the trail at Benning Road, just past RFK Stadium, then rode along the Anacostia River for a scenic mile or so. That section ends at Lee Street, then you ride on the street for a bit until signs lead you back onto the trail that runs through the Mayfair and Eastland Gardens neighborhoods.

Following the path through a residential area

The turn into the Aquatic Gardens area

Another mile or so on that, and you come to the area of the trail that leads to the Aquatic Gardens. The paved path lined by black-eyed Susans (Maryland’s state flower, for a bit of trivia) and other wildflowers traverses a meadow before winding into the woods, the KAG marshland visible through breaks in the trees.

The trail flanked by wildflowers

There are a few small areas with benches where you can stop and take in the sights. I saw several great blue herons wading, turtles swimming, and what looked like many cardinals flying by. It’s lovely and peaceful, though the trail is somewhat isolated so be sure to stay aware of your surroundings.

Into the woods

Stop and sit for a bit

A heron sighting

Of course, this ride can be done anytime you want to visit Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. The locale makes for a nice outing all year round, it’s just especially pretty now during the bloom. However, it does get hot and buggy during the summer, so a water bottle, hat, sunscreen, and insect repellant are recommended!

After crossing a couple of small bridges, there is a dirt path to the right that leads to the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens entrance. Sign posts are at the trailhead so you can’t miss it. From there, it’s less than a quarter mile to the bike racks. Lock up, make your way to the ponds, and be ready to be dazzled.

A first look at the bloom

For more about Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, see this post. For more about the lotus flower and water lily bloom, see this one. And note that the annual festival celebrating them will take place July 13-14 this year, and it’s a fantastic event for families. In the meantime, here are more scenes from the ride and bloom — I can’t let photos that capture the beauty of it all go to waste!

From here to there and there to here…


Lotus flower close-up


Stop and take in the marsh views along the way


The plants from another perspective




A lily pad laden pond


Another view from below


A lotus beginning to open


Taking it all in from a footbridge


A pretty and peaceful part of the Anacostia River Trail


Filed under 2019, All ages, Annual, DC, Free, Nature, Park, Seasonal, Summer, Weekdays, Weekend

Scenes from the Lotus and Water Lily Bloom at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens

The lotus flower rising and blooming above the murk symbolizes enlightenment and spiritual awakening in Buddhism


[Note: This post is from the 2017 bloom, so ignore the festival dates.  This gives you an idea of what to expect when you go see the bloom!]

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

One last shot of the gorgeous scene

Oh, just one more… last one, I promise!

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Filed under 2017, All ages, Annual, DC, Festival, Nature, Outdoor, Park, Seasonal, Summer, Weekdays, Weekend

A Unique Dose of Nature in the City at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens

Summertime at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, when the lotus flowers bloom

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

One of Sasha’s early visits

And one a couple of years ago

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

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 summer bloom

The fall remnants

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...

Pick a path…

View the marsh from the boardwalk

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

A lookout vista

Taking in the views on the other side

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

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

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

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.


Filed under All ages, Animals, DC, Educational, Free, Nature, Outdoor, Volunteer, Weekdays, Weekend