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Another cherry blossom season is on its way here in Washington, DC, and with it: enormous crowds.
If you’ve visited the Tidal Basin at peak bloom, you know it can reach Disney-level attendance. I find that navigating between thousands of camera-toting tourists can be something of a distraction from my personal flower-peeping experience. Unless you arrive at dawn, you are out of luck if you want a peaceful visit.
Fortunately, if you dread the human tidal wave accompanying the Tidal Basin’s peak bloom, there are a handful of lesser-known spots where you can enjoy the blossoms in relative solitude. As a DC native, one of my favorite secret spots is far from the typical tourist trail: the US National Arboretum.
To this day, the National Arboretum is still largely unknown, even to most locals. Located on the eastern edge of DC, the arboretum is not metro-friendly and, sadly, not near anything else. You’ll have to make an effort to get there, but the drive — about 20 to 30 minutes from downtown — is rewarded with stunning blooms and little competition to see them.
The arboretum is open 8am to 5pm every day save for Christmas, and admission is free. Last year, I visited the National Arboretum at 10am on the Tidal Basin’s peak bloom Sunday and still had entire portions of the park to myself. At times, the leaves rustling beneath my feet was the only sound I heard. Here, you’ll find 9.5 miles of paths snaking over more than 400 acres and the 1,000-plus trees are much more spread out than those at the Tidal Basin. People with mobility limitations can drive between various groves, but I found the 3-mile walk on paved roads pretty easy, and definitely stroller-friendly.
There are more than 30 varieties of cherry trees in the National Arboretum, and they bloom over a much longer period of time than the limited types at the Tidal Basin. The trees at the arboretum begin blooming at least two weeks earlier, and you can still see flowers well into May. The extended blooming season means you can visit in two separate months and experience peak bloom. It also means the National Arboretum could be a great Plan B if you’ve booked a trip to Washington, DC to see the cherry blossoms but the blooms on the Tidal Basin refused to cooperate.
There’s a little piece of history parked right in the center of the arboretum: The original Corinthian columns that were installed at the Capitol in 1828 now stand high on a hill, keeping watch over the flora below. The National Capitol Columns were moved from the US Capitol dome to the arboretum in the 1980s. The columns are less than 200 years old, but reminded me more of Greek ruins than anything in Washington, DC. They looked straight out of a movie set and absolutely Insta-perfect.
Beyond Cherry Trees
The National Arboretum is home to way more than just the scene-stealing cherry trees. My favorite is the bonsai “museum,” as it features Japanese and Chinese pavilions along with the sculpted mini-trees. I like to pack a picnic lunch as there are tables and benches scattered across the grounds. There’s a small gift shop for cold drinks and Lunchables if you decide on impulse to extend your visit.
Here, you can also see magnolias, azaleas and many other spring blooms.
More tips on seeing the cherry blossoms in Washington, DC:
- 5 Tips for Planning the Perfect Trip to Washington, DC
- Planning a Trip to the DC Cherry Blossoms Based on Averages and Guessing
- Capturing the Peak Bloom of the Washington, DC Cherry Blossoms
Feature photo by Yoshiyuki Kaneko/EyeEm/Getty Images.
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