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The Country’s Largest Free Public Water Garden Is a Hub for History, Festivals and Events—And It’s a Short Drive from Philly

A standout option for a road trip this summer is Frederick, MD, with its catalog of attractions and experiences that coalesce all those summer bucket-list items in one spot. Just two hours in the car from Philly takes you to all the music, food, nature, beautiful views and vibrant downtown area that make up Frederick’s rich tapestry of experiences, and they’re all set against the beautiful and lush backdrop of Carroll Creek Park

Carroll Creek Park is home to the country’s largest free public water garden, thanks to a project called Color on the Creek, which revitalized the health of the creek’s water, turned the park into a hotspot for citywide events and festivals, and planted a picturesque, colorful and dynamic collection of plants in the water. Prior to Color on the Creek’s development 13 years ago, the region’s flood control project, bare concrete, ran through the park and made its ambiance feel unappealing.  Now, through the work of dedicated volunteers who nursed the park to its full potential as a hub for views, culture and more, Carroll Creek Park’s beauty runs a mile and a half long and stretches into downtown Frederick, so park-goers can enjoy the local eateries and businesses. 

For your summer road trip to Frederick, Carroll Creek Park is a can’t-miss—for the bounty of unique flowers that populate the water garden, the exciting events that use the space as a backdrop, and the proximity to a bustling downtown area for food, drinks and shopping. Here’s your guide for making the most of your time in Frederick with stand-out attractions like Color on the Creek and Alive @ Five, the weekly concert series hosted in the amphitheater adjacent to the garden.  

Color on the Creek 

Through the support of local businesses and devoted volunteers, the vision for a lush (and free!) water garden was step one into the park’s renovation.  

“I didn’t have any formal education in botany or aquaculture, and we had a lot more questions than we did answers,” says Pete Kremers, a co-founder of Color on the Creek. But through an authentic and enduring commitment to creating a beautiful creek for the Frederick locals and visitors, Kremers helped lead the charge into a now exuberant horticulture on the water. 

Now, when you come to the park, something exciting is always blooming. According to Kremers, the different blooming cycles among the diversity of plants means that 24 hours a day, there’s always something coming to life to view in the water garden. But he especially recommends catching a glimpse of a plant called Victoria amazonica, an exotic flower from the Amazon River Basin. 

“It’s a plant that has a unique, distinctive and wild look, so people are always excited by it and taking photos of it,” says Kremers. “We devised a plan to heat the soil in the pot where we grow these plants, because it can be really difficult to grow them.” 

The views of such an elevated array of flowers and plants alone can be a draw. But there’s more that the park has to offer. Because Color on the Creek has expanded the park’s appeal, the city has used the space to put on many seasonal events and projects which are also supported by volunteers. 

“The water garden has created an atmosphere that’s enjoyable, scenic and beautiful,” explains Jason Daiger, a leader of Color on the Creek who’s seen the project transform what’s possible for Carroll Creek Park. “It’s been really significant the way the creek has opened up the number of events that the city is able to hold.” 

And among those events are annual celebrations and performances like Frederick Pride, and other festivals like a recent craft brewery pop-up, which enabled park-goers to enjoy the offerings from local breweries, wineries and bars, and the Black Frederick Festival, which celebrates Black culture and all the ways it’s enriched Frederick. 

These events are just a few from Frederick’s extensive list of summer attractions, but they’re not the only reason why a visit to the park can be so memorable. Spending some time in the park jogging, taking photos or just relaxing with friends can be a great way to add some R and R into your weekend trip—and it can also be the best way to catch some of the most exciting plants blooming. Here’s a pro tip from Kremers: Make time for the park in your mornings before you head downtown for breakfast or lunch. 

“The peak time to view the garden is probably between noon and one, and the reason for that is all of the lilies, which are the most colorful plants,” says Kremers. “That’s the best time if you want to see everything bloom at once.”
Alive @ Five 

Carroll Creek Park’s events are designed not only for the locals who make the park a regular part of their weekly routines, but for the tourists, too (like us Philly folks). So, when you head down to Frederick for your long weekends, you can begin with a happy-hour-style Thursday evening that celebrates all the things we love about summer. Good music, drinks, the sunshine, some much-needed time off from work, we could go on… 

Delivering those summer wishes and bringing people together was the vision behind Alive @ Five. The series runs 21 weeks of the year, featuring a different musical act each Thursday at (you guessed it) 5 p.m. outside at the creek. Each concert brings hundreds if not thousands of attendees, and is supported by local craft beverages, cocktails, food trucks and other businesses in the community. And, because the events are run largely by a basis of hundreds of volunteers from the Frederick area, its success reflects its significance to the community—and creates a memorable, joyful environment for your trip. 

“We’ve really been able to activate the creek space and the downtown area,” explains Jade Dunhour, Alive @ Five’s events and promotions manager. “It’s been great to see people come to visit Frederick, hang out at the concert on a Thursday, continue their night downtown and then go on to have a great weekend.” 

Dunhour has been proud to see the attendance numbers of Alive @ Five grow on a steady incline over the years, as the series continues to evolve and become even more popular as an attraction for weekend trippers and locals. Raising a glass to some excellent music can be the perfect way to kick off the weekend you deserve—and all it takes is a quick road trip to get there. 

To learn more about Carroll Creek Park and get started planning your trip to Frederick, click here.