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For a short and exotic urban hike that's wonderfully non-urban, visit Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens and Park, on the Anacostia River near the Prince George's County line. There you'll find gorgeous water-lily ponds, a plant-and-wildlife-rich tidal marsh, wildflower-infested woodlands, and a lovely air of serenity.
As the only National Park Service (NPS) unit devoted to aquatic plants, the park is an intriguing blend of garden and mini-wilderness. Water lilies from several continents fill a 12-acre area of diked ponds (the garden part). Cattails, sedges, American lotus, wild rice and other mostly native plants flourish in the 50-acre marsh and adjoining woods (the wilderness area).
This 2.5-mile hike covers both the gardens and woods. The first leg is a brisk out-and-back excursion of 1.5 miles on a woodland trail. The second leg is a stroll through about half of the lily-pond area. The third is an out-and-back trip on a boardwalk that goes deep into the marsh (take binoculars). The fourth covers the rest of the pond area.
In planning a trip to Kenilworth, remember that the water-lily blooming season lasts from May until September, with color lingering into November. The hardy lilies, which stay outside year-round, have blooms that open during the day and are at their peak in June and July. The lotuses and other tropical lilies, which winter in greenhouses, are at their flowering best in July and August. They include both day bloomers and night bloomers. On a morning visit, you'll see-and smell-the day bloomers as they open and the night bloomers before they close. Remember, too, that the park can be glorious at just about any time of year. I especially recommend usingan early morning in winter to watch the sun rise over the marsh and its waterfowl.