Just a few blocks from a freeway and five miles from the U.S. Capitol sits Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens. This small, often-ignored park is one of the most unique in the DC area, and is a great choice for an afternoon of easily accessible outdoor exploring.
History of Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens
Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens is located in northeast Washington, DC, near the Kenilworth, Eastland Gardens, and Mayfair neighborhoods. It occupies most of the land between DC-295 and the Anacostia River, with 295 serving as the primary way in and out of the area.
Humans have lived in and around the area of Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens for thousands of years. The Anacostan village of Nacotchtank was located a few miles downriver at the meeting of the Potomac and Anacostia. Europeans made contact with Native Americans here as early as 1608.
The park’s current form dates back to the late 19th century. Walter B. Shaw was a Union Civil War veteran who lost an arm at the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse in May 1864, after less than a year in the army. About fifteen years later, Shaw purchased the area from his wife’s parents and began to grow water lilies from his native Maine in a former ice pond. Within a few years, the business was thriving and visited by Washington’s upper crust, including presidents.
Shaw died in 1921, and his widowed daughter Helen Shaw Fowler took over. She saved the Gardens from being destroyed and filled in as part of an Anacostia River dredging project and eventually sold the land to congress in 1938. It became part of Anacostia Park, and later became known under its current name as part of the National Capital Parks-East.
There’s also a darker side to this beautiful place. In 2014, the park was at the center of the disappearance of Relisha Rudd, a homeless 8-year-old DC girl who went missing after her mother let her go off with a family friend who worked as a janitor at the shelter where they lived. He killed his wife, then killed himself in the park. Despite an extensive search, no evidence of Relisha’s whereabouts was discovered at Kenilworth Park, or anywhere else. Her disappearance remains unsolved.
Hiking and Walking at Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens
The Aquatic Gardens area of the park centers on a rectangular area roughly a half-mile around. Multiple paths cut through to various ponds, allowing you to plot your own course through this teeming natural space. Keep an eye out for one of the more than 240 species of birds that have been spotted there, in addition to frogs, fish, turtles, or even deer or otters.
You can also stroll on the boardwalks through the nearby marshes for an additional quarter- to half-mile round trip through these scenic areas. Both the gardens and boardwalk area have plenty of spots to sit, take a rest, and enjoy the views. Depending on your pace, you can explore most of these areas in an hour or two.
The boardwalk and main paths around the gardens are flat, mostly dirt or gravel, and all wheelchair-accessible and stroller friendly.
Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens also connect to the extensive Anacostia Riverwalk Trail system that runs along both sides of the river in various stretches for about 16 miles. It’s flat and paved for most of the stretch and is also a popular bike route.
By the way, Kenilworth-Parkside recreation area is also adjacent to the park. If you’re looking for a very low-impact walking opportunity, there’s a track available here as well as some paved paths.
Address: 1550 Anacostia Ave NE, Washington, DC 20019
Heading southbound on 295 from Maryland, take the exit toward Burroughs Ave and Minnesota Ave. Follow signs for Nannie Helen Burroughs Ave, and then turn right out of the circle onto Lee Street NE. Follow this street as it becomes 40th St NE and then Anacostia Ave NE.
Coming northbound from DC or Virginia, you’ll take the Burroughs Ave and Minnesota Ave exit. Then, take a left onto Deane Ave NE. Take the first exit from the circle onto Lee Street NE. Follow this road as it becomes 40th St NE and then Anacostia Ave NE.
If using public transportation, Deanwood is the closest Metro Station, on the Orange Line. Use the pedestrian bridge over DC-295 to shorten your walk to about a half-mile. The U7 bus also runs from the Deanwood station past the Kenilworth neighborhood. Use the stop at Kenilworth Avenue NE and Quarles St NE, and then walk just over a quarter-mile through the neighborhood to the park entrance.
Free, and relatively plentiful. But make sure you keep an eye on the time – the gates are locked at 4pm. If you need to be let out after, you’ll need to call Park Police. And no one needs that kind of hassle in their life. Bike racks are also available inside the gardens to secure your ride while you take a stroll or a rest.
While east of the river neighborhoods in DC can have a bad reputation when it comes to crime, observing basic common sense and safety principles while in transit and being aware of your surroundings should help you avoid any trouble. But, as always – remember this is a city, and even the quietest neighborhoods can have sporadic incidents of crime or violence. Incidents like these are rare around Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens and essentially non-existent inside the park.
Trail Video for Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens
This video (8:45) includes a 10x walk through the gardens and boardwalk area of Kenilworth, and a regular speed walk on the trail connecting the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail to the park.
I filmed this on Saturday, April 17th, 2021 in the early and mid-afternoon, with the standard settings on the GoPro Hero8 Black. I’m fairly confident in how to work it at this point, so it’s past time to actually learn about some of these finer settings and video principles.
As for the video itself…it leaves something to be desired. Avoiding crooked video with a chest-mounted GoPro is a bit more of an issue than I anticipated. I’ve picked up some of these small bubble levels that should help get this straightened out going forward. It seems like investing in some additional mounts or tripod items may be worth it as well. From a filmmaking and editing perspective, I still need to figure out solutions for what to do during times in long-form videos where I’m reading signs, waiting for Morgan, tying my shoe, etc., etc.
As always, thanks for watching and reading.