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An aquatic garden may not seem like the most kid friendly adventure, but Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens in Washington, DC offers hours of family fun. There are over 45 ponds filled with lotus and water lily varieties from around the world as well as an elevated boardwalk to the largest remaining tidal marsh in DC. The Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens are also adjacent the greater recreational area known as Anacostia Park.
Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens is the only garden in Washington DC (and the whole of the National Park Service actually) dedicated to aquatic plants. These ponds create a colorful oasis as they bloom and attract tourists from all over the world.
The annual Lotus & Water Lily Festival is an unbelievable experience, but there is something to explore year round at the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens with kids. Families can enjoy birding, wildlife viewing, photography, water gardens, walks, painting, art, picnics, yoga and dates.
plan your visit
There are events going on all the time at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. Check out the event calendar to plan your next visit. Also don’t miss the seasonal scavenger hunts and wildlife guides available to print or download from the Friends of Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens.
Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens are great for babies, toddlers, elementary school children, teens and adults. There is enough fun to stay all day enjoying the tidal marsh and adjacent Anacostia Park. If you are looking for a shorter visit you can easily walk through the gardens and along the boardwalk (approximately 3 miles depending on your route) in about an hour.
There is a Visitor Center at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens for you to use the restrooms and grab some orientation brochures. There is also a small collection of exhibits with a brief overview of the history of the gardens and its key plants.
The visitors center is also where children can ask about the Junior Ranger program. There is a gift shop with a variety of items for the nature enthusiast including: plant and animal identification books, water containers and hats.
The visitors center is currently closed due to covid restrictions so please check for updates before visiting. There was a visitors tent set up during our visit where Rangers were available to share materials and answer questions. Junior Ranger Activity Books were available in the visitors tent. During our visit the Porta Potties and the restrooms were both open.
Strollers can be used on some of the paths and elevated boardwalk, but in between ponds can get muddy and more difficult to pass with a regular stroller. We have used baby carriers and jogging strollers, although there are usually areas of mud or puddles we backtracked to avoid.
The 500 year old lotus and vibrant tropical lilies are the stars of the annual Lotus & Water Lily Festival. If you want to enjoy these beautiful blossoms and avoid the crowds, plan to enjoy the ponds on a weekday morning during, or near, peak lotus bloom (July).
When you arrive, ask a Ranger which ponds have the most blooms and start there. There is little shade, especially in between the ponds, so start at the ponds with the most blooms and work your way to the elevated boardwalk with views of the Kenilworth Marsh.
Lotus & Water Lily Festival
The Lotus & Water Lily Festival is an amazing experience for families attracting tourists and locals to enjoy the otherworldly appearance of the lotus in July. The heat and humidity common in DC during July requires a bit extra planning for little visitors, but it is worth it.
Get there early! I know this seems to be the mantra for DC family fun in the summer, but it’s true. The parking fills up and the ponds get crowded quickly.
Bring snacks! Another mantra our family is familiar with, but there are not a lot of easy options for snacks around, so plan ahead and pack some cool drinks if your kids enjoy them.
Beat the heat! We wear hats and sunglasses to optimize our bloom appreciation. A cool water bottle or a portable fan are other great ways to stay cool to enjoy the festival.
The Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens allow access to the Anacostia River Trail with 20 miles of path along the Anacostia River. This trail follows both sides of the Anacostia River and connects residents of DC and Maryland throughout the 16 waterfront neighborhoods along the route. Download a more detailed map of the Anacostia River Trail here.
There is access to schools, shopping, recreational amenities and the outdoors along the path that is made primarily asphalt with some sections of concrete, boardwalk and crushed stone.
What you’ll see
- Winter: This is a great time to observe birds including the Hooded Mergansers, Great Blue Heron, Downy Woodpecker and Cardinals so don’t forget your binoculars. The frozen lily ponds are a beautiful way to observe ice crystals. If you are lucky you may spot some deer or a red fox. This is also a great time to learn about the history of the area.
- Spring: The early spring blooms start to show up and you can catch a warm day at the gardens. Cherry trees and dogwoods bloom at the garden just in time to celebrate Earth Day. Be ready for mud as you enjoy migratory birds as well as the resident geese and ducks. The hard lilies begin to bloom to the chorus of the emerging frogs. The ponds are alive and the weather is lovely.
- Summer: The lotus blooms begin, transforming the ponds. The Victoria lilies start to grow their expansive pads. This is a great time to observe the flowers without the crowds. The lotus and hard lilies are in full bloom just in time for the annual Lotus & Water Lily Festival. The Victoria and tropical lilies are in full bloom and the ponds are full of life with turtles, frogs, dragonflies, birds and fish.
- Fall: The lotus seed pods are left behind and fun to explore. The Victoria lilies impress with their expansive pads. The changing foliage is on full display. The elevated boardwalk or the River Trail are great places to view the foliage along the river.
Educational materials to continue learning about the Anacostia River watershed can be found via the National Park Service and the Friends of Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. There has been intense effort to improve the Anacostia River watershed. You can find out how to volunteer, subscribe or donate on the Friends of Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens website.
how to get to Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens
The Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens are located in North East D.C. along the Anacostia River. There is a small parking lot, but if you are visiting during peak bloom or the Lotus and Water Lily Festival plan to arrive early or find parking in the nearby neighborhood.
The park is located on the traditional territory of the Nacotchtank people who were forcibly removed from their lands by the 1670s. The area was also important to African American communities offering opportunities including the nearby Langston golf course. Also, don’t miss this opportunity to visit Frederick Douglass’s house nearby.
The park grounds open at 7:45 a.m. year round for birdwatching, photography, and morning strolls. Visitor services including the visitor center, restrooms, and park rangers are available:
*Due to COVID-19 restrictions, park hours are from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. until further notice.
From 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. during the winter (November 1 – March 31)
From 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. during the summer (April 1 – October 31)
The park is closed on New Year’s Day (January 1), Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day (December 25).
For all current information on park hours, including openings/closings, please visit nps.gov/keaq.
Note: Be sure to check closing times as the gates in the parking lot will be locked promptly at that time. If you find yourself locked in, please call the U.S. Park Police at (202) 617-7500.