Another cherry blossom season has come and gone, and with it the enormous crowds. If you missed the Tidal Basin’s peak bloom, you are not out of luck. The best place to see cherry blossoms in DC is not where you think.
The best place to see cherry blossoms in DC is…the National Arboretum.
The National Arboretum is unknown even to most locals. Located on the eastern edge of DC, the arboretum is not metro friendly and not near anything else. You have to make an effort to get there, but it is worth the trek.
Crowd-free cherry blossoms
If you’ve visited the Tidal Basin at peak bloom you know it can reach Disney-level attendance. I find the navigation between thousands of camera-toting tourists to be a distraction from my nature experience. If you don’t get there at dawn you are out of luck if you want a peaceful visit.
Not so at the arboretum. I visited at 10AM on the Tidal Basin’s peak bloom Sunday and had portions of the park to myself. At times my shoes rustling fallen leaves was the only sound I heard.
The experience is not identical to the Tidal Basin: with 9.5 miles of paths over 400+ acres the the trees are much more spread out. People with mobility limitations can drive between various groves, but I found the 3 mile walk on paved roads pretty easy.
You’re not too late (or too early)
The arboretum houses over thirty varieties of cherry blossom trees. These thirty different types of trees bloom over a much longer period of time than the limited species at the Tidal Basin. The trees at the arboretum begin to bloom at least two weeks before those at the Tidal Basin and the latest flowering ones can bloom into May.
The extended blooming season also means you can visit in two separate months and still see peak bloom. The experience will be different, but equally beautiful.
You can still see a DC monument…ish
The National Capitol Columns were moved from the Capitol dome to the arboretum in the 1980s. The columns are under two hundred years old,but reminded me more of the Greek ruins at Metaponto than anything in Washington DC. They looked straight out of a movie set.
More than Cherry Blossoms
The National Arboretum houses so many more beautiful specimens than the scene-stealing cherry blossoms. My favorite is the Bonsai “museum” as it features Japanese and Chinese pavilions along with the sculpted mini-trees.
Pack a picnic lunch as there are tables scattered through the grounds. There’s a small gift shop for cold drinks and lunchables if you decide on impulse to extend your visit.
Have you visited the National Arboretum? Do you have an off-the-beaten-path site to spot cherry blossoms? Please share in the comments.
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