The city oasis of Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens in Washington, DC can be explored on foot along numerous walking trails. For a different perspective, try a kayak trip into the marshland between the Gardens and the Anacostia River.
Bladensburgh Waterfront Park
The trip begins outside of Washington, DC in Prince George’s County, Maryland at Bladensburg Waterfront Park. The park commemorates the Battle of Bladensburg during the War of 1812. It was here that the Americans were badly defeated allowing the British to proceed to Washington, DC where they burned many of the government buildings including the White House.
Today the park is a popular recreation destination with fishing areas, a playground, and a caboose from the B & O Railroad. It also features a paved walking and biking trail as part of the Anacostia River Trail. This trail passes through Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens if you’d prefer to access the park another way. Bladensburg Waterfront Park offers boat tours of the river and a boat launch. They also rent kayaks and canoes to explore the river on your own.
Pro Tip: The kayaks and canoes are $20/day for residents of Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and $26/day for non-residents, but 1 person can rent for your entire group. Take at least 1 resident in your party, have them rent the gear, and save everyone $6.
The rental fee includes a boat, paddle, and lifejacket. It does not include instruction so basic knowledge of kayaking is required. Bladensburg Waterfront Park offers kayaking classes if you’re interested in learning more before your trip. More info on their website.
My friend Rob and I rented kayaks in Bladensburg and set off down the river.
The paddling was easy as we were going with the current. We spotted people fishing along the shore and only a few other boats. Sadly the Anacostia is VERY polluted. Every paddle stroke brought us to another floating piece of trash from bottles and bags to shoes and teddy bears. Be careful not to fall out of your boat as the river is not safe to swim in; in fact, swimming is not permitted in any of the rivers in DC. While we dream of the day that is no longer the case, there is still a lot to see by boat today.
Our trip to us down river and under the Route 50/New York Ave. bridge. A few strokes later we were under a railroad bridge with an Amtrak train zipping by overhead. The entrance to Kennilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens is not marked from the river, but I had been told to look for a little red bride to our left. It is after both bridges mentioned above and on the start of a big bend in the river. It was the second “little red bridge on the left” we saw. The bridge is part of the Anacostia River Trail that passes through Bladensburg Waterfront Park and Kenilworth Park. We paddled under the bridge and into the park.
Kayak in Kenilworth
The key to kayaking in Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens is to arrive at high tide. The tides vary widely along this section of the river and arriving at low tide will severely limit the areas accessible to exploration. Check the local tide charts and plan to leave Bladensburg about an hour before high tide. By the time you reach Kenilworth there will be plenty of water to fill the basin.
There is no pier in Kenilworth so we didn’t leave out boats. We did see a boat that someone had paddled onto the shore so they could explore the rest of the gardens. It’s important to note that we couldn’t see much of the water lilies or lotuses from the marsh. Consider driving to the gardens and exploring by foot if that is what you are most interested in. I have another post about that aspect of the park: Lotus & Water Lily.
The area we explored is what I refer to as the Marsh in the post above. We saw turtles and birds. From our boats we became celebrities to the people on the boardwalk with people waving to us and kids saying hi. We shot a quick little video while we were in there:
Leave ample time to paddle the boats upriver back to Bladensburg. We were racing the clock to arrive before they closed and fighting the current added time to our trip.
- Boats are available for rent from Bladensburg Waterfront Park
- Entrance to Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens via water is marked only by a red footbridge to paddle under
- Only attempt an exploration at high tide
Have you been to Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens before? Ready to visit by kayak? Let me know about your trip in the comments below and pin this image to let your friends know that you want to Kayak in Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens.