In Washington, D.C., everyone knows about the city’s two largest and most popular escapes. In Southwest lies the National Mall, the block-wide swath of land that runs from the Lincoln Memorial all the way to the Capitol. In Northwest is Rock Creek Park, one of the largest urban parks in the country.
But what if you are looking for something off the beaten path, a relaxing outdoor area devoid of tourists and even locals, a spot where you can wander in solitude and peace.
In Northeast, D.C., sandwiched between the Maryland border and the Anacostia Freeway, sits one of this area’s most unknown and underutilized sanctuaries.
Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens is a place untouched by time, one of the few spots in Washington that is reminiscent of the city before settlers arrived. It’s D.C. circa the 1600s, a marsh and swampland full of flora and fauna that can’t be seen elsewhere.
The gardens began as a small parcel of land, bought by Walter Shaw in the 1880s. Because he felt homesick for the natural flora around his home in Maine, Shaw shipped down water lilies to fill the small ponds that dotted the area.
In the humid D.C. climate, the flowers thrived, and Shaw turned his land into a local attraction.
Today, the Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens span over 700 acres. It consists of two different locales, both of which are easy to explore in a single visit.
The first spot to walk around are the water gardens. This time of year is perfect to see the water lilies that originally started spawning over a hundred years ago. Small dirt paths and wood bridges allow visitors to wander throughout the numerous small ponds. Almost every bit of water is covered in small green lily pads, while cattails and lavender plants grow along the edges. Though mere miles from a busy highway, the water gardens feel utterly removed from any urban bustle.
Past the ponds are the marshlands, accessed by the River Trail. Washington, D.C. was originally swampland, before it was dredged to create the city. These marshlands are pay homage to the past, looking like the entire city limits did 400 years ago.
Both the marshlands and water gardens are an ecological preserve, hosting an unprecedented number of species, both plant and animal.
A recent count by the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center found that in the park were nearly 700 types of insects and 150 different plants. The area is a haven for birders, who throughout the year claim to see almost 300 different species of birds.
The garden is easily accessible by car or Metro, just under a mile away from the Deanwood Metro station on the Orange Line.
However, if you are looking for one of the most original ways to visit the Aquatic Gardens, some adventurous travelers arrive by canoe. Launching from the Bladensburg Marina, approximately three miles to the north, visitors can paddle down the Anacostia River and tie up at a boardwalk that goes from the river to the marshland. From there, it’s a scenic mile walk along the River Trail to the gardens.
The Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens are open from 7:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. for the next two weeks. After Labor Day, the park’s hours shorten, open until just 4:00 p.m.
With Summer’s daylight still going until late in the evening, be sure to check out Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens soon, and see a quiet part of the city that few have discovered.
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