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Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens

1550 Anacostia Ave NE, Washington, DC 20019

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

$

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A serene and relatively unknown outdoor space tucked behind a residential area of the city.

Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens is a truly unexpected surprise right off the highway in northeast DC. To start, there is a path that leads straight to a small Visitor's Center, picnic area, historic ponds, and trails packed with lush vegetation, beautiful flora and fauna, and wildlife. Managed by the National Park Service, Rangers are on hand to answer questions and hand out materials for young and old, that include a seasonal Scavenger Hunt and Junior Ranger Activity Book (as on all NPS properties).

A safe place for kids to roam and explore, families can enjoy the fresh air while taking in the water lilies and lily pads that are the staple of the property. The initial property, known in the late-19th Century as Shaw Gardens, had a small pond that owner, Walter Shaw, and his young daughter Helen, cleaned out and used to cultivated water lilies brought from Shaw's former home in Maine for nostalgic reasons. They became the start of a successful water gardening business, and what would ultimately become Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, with the impassioned support of Helen herself, who insured the safety of the gardens when Congress purchased part of the property and added it to Anacostia Park.

There are park tours and community events throughout the year, and visitors love it as much as the resident wildlife. We saw countless birds, colorful lizards, turtles, geese, and other animals, and were fascinated by the diversity of plant life. The Scavenger Hunt encourages families to also keep an eye out for Mallard Ducks, White-Tailed Deer, and the Great Blue Heron and check them off as you wander the marshland.

There is a small bridge among the numerous ponds and after meandering through that area, you can access the River Walk for a pleasant .25 hike along the Anacostia. The whole park is manageable for little legs and, perhaps grandparents that don't prefer longer hikes. If you prefer to go the distance, the River Walk connects to a system of trails in Anacostia Park and beyond. There are benches in several places to stop for a rest and a picnic table nestled in beyond the pond system, so be sure to bring lunch or a snack.

Visitors are encouraged to take the paths in a counter-clockwise direction when possible to enable successful social distancing, and while currently closed there is a lovely boardwalk to follow - for serious Scavenger Hunters, we encourage you to bring binoculars (or during normal times borrow from the limited supply at the Visitor's Center.

The photo ops abound during every season, and while summer is the peak, it is a beautiful oasis at any time of year, and we never find it overcrowded.

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For further outdoor exploration, The National Arboretum, as well as Kingman and Heritage Islands and The Fields at RFK Playground are less than ten minutes away.

If you need a little boost after your hike, Tropical Smoothie Cafe - Dakota Crossing is also just ten minutes away. For something more substantial, head over to Due South at The Yards Park and enjoy lunch or dinner before grabbing a cone at Ice Cream Jubilee and taking a stroll along the Anacostia River from another vantage point!

 
 

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Thoughtfully captured by:
Randi Banks
Randi (Betts) Banks grew up in New York and graduated from Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. She moved to Washington, D.C. more than thirteen years ago with her husband, Eaghmon, and they love to explore the area and seek out adventure, now with their two young children along for the ride. Growing up right near the beach, they are happiest when on or near the water, so exploring the rivers, lakes, and streams in the greater DC area is a favorite pastime for their family. In addition to serving as one of the Washington, DC area ambassadors, Randi is also the Editor in Chief and Co-founder of happyly.
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