I have been meaning to visit these gardens for YEARS, and finally got my butt in gear this morning. I saw a blog post yesterday about a volunteer day at the gardens today. The volunteer day didn’t really work for us (it’s hard to volunteer WITH a 16 month old), but it reminded me that I had been meaning to check it out, so when Frankie woke up the morning, I checked the weather – it looked like the rain was going to hold off until about 11 – and the park opens at 7 am (perfect for toddlers/babies who wake early!), so after she had some breakfast we headed off for our exploring adventure.
It was much quicker to get to from our house than I expected – only about 20 minutes, definitely an easy early morning activity.
The first thing we saw when we walked into the park, were Canadian Geese – who had recently had babies. So adorable! We tried to get close enough to get a peak, while staying far enough away to keep the moms from getting nervous. Frances loved seeing the “ducks” (as she calls all birds).
The gardens were started after the Civil War as a commercial operation growing and selling water lilies, and became a part of the National Park Service in 1938.
When we first walked in I could see all the ponds with the lily pads, but no blooming lilies, which disappointed me. The park’s website says that mornings are the best time to see the flowers, but I thought that maybe it wasn’t the right time of year or something. Turns out I was just a little too early. Over the course of the next hour, I got to watch as buds appeared and slowly opened. Pretty magical. I’m really glad that I got to see that!
The Park consists of three areas. The aquatic gardens, which are the ponds created after the Civil War to grow the water lilies, a Marsh Boardwalk, that goes through marshland (some of which was restored by the Park Service in the 1990s), and a River Trail (which is mostly wooded, but ends at the Anacostia River.
We could see that it was low tide as we walked along the boardwalk, which means there was a slightly marshy smell that always reminds me of home. This is the only part of the park that is “paved” in any sense. The paths through the aquatic gardens are packed dirt and the River Trail is pretty grassy. All were easy enough to do with our stroller, but if yours isn’t a good “off roader” or if you have a smaller baby who is easier to carry, you are better off using a carrier of some kind. The paths/trails themselves are easy walking. No hard hiking here.
The River Trail at 0.7 miles (one way) is the longest of the three, which didn’t seem to bad when I read it, but because it was the roughest with the stroller, by the time we got down to the end and saw the Anacostia, I was starting to feel a little grumbly.
Then on our way back, we saw a big turtle (Frances was not impressed, but I was pretty thrilled) and two young white-tailed deer (too quick for my camera), and I decided that the trail was definitely worthwhile after all!
In the entire time we spent at the park, I only saw 6 other people – 2 birders when we first arrived, 2 runners heading down the trails, and 2 park rangers on our way out. Definitely a hidden gem! I’m so glad I finally checked it out, and now I’m curious about the other National Parks in the area. We’ll have to have some more weekend morning adventures!