Spring is my favorite time to be in Washington DC. Birds are chirping, flowers are blooming and everyone seems to have a smile on their face. What’s not to love? It’s a special time to be in the city where tourists and locals alike flock to the famous cherry blossoms to admire their beauty.
To fully prepared, I reference this website a lot. It’s National Park Services’ Bloom watch. I think they have the most accurate up-to-date information about the peak bloom. They also break down the stages so that you know what you’re looking at in case you are overly eager and want to check out the trees asap.
2021 Update: National Park Service is predicting a peak bloom on April 2-5,2021. Meaning about 70% of the blossoms around the Tidal Basin will be in bloom <3 However, this year may be different. With COVID-19 still a concern in the Capital Region, the National Mall and Memorial Parks are encouraging people to watch them from the webcam and decided they would offer very limited in-person viewing.
But just in case we are allowed to visit this year, let me try to break it down for you…
How Long Do They Last?
One of the most frequent questions I get asked year after year about the cherry blossoms is how long do they last? It’s unfortunate that these flowers are so fragile. But now that I think of it, it’s probably one of the main reasons why they are so popular. They are not those type of flowers that stick around the whole season. It can be tricky to plan a trip to Washington DC just to see the blossoms because they could literally go away overnight. So in general, I will say they last about a week. If during that week we don’t get rain or wind, they can last up to 10 days. However, with those weather conditions, petals could start falling to the ground a lot faster. But don’t get discouraged because even when the petals have fallen down, I still think you get some beautiful images.
What does Peak actually mean?
Although you see dates like March 27-31 or April 1-5th that doesn’t necessarily mean those are the only dates to go photograph the cherry blossoms. That just means that 70% of the Yoshino Cherry blossoms are open. You can definitely go before those dates and see them budding or even capture them afterward when they have fallen a bit. No matter what, beauty can be found anywhere. Peak bloom is most likely when they’re at their best, fluffiest and pink-est (LOL).
In general, the cherry blossoms are scattered all over the city but my favorite ones to photograph are the ones around the Tidal Basin. The trees are much bigger and abundant. You can get some killer shots with the Washington memorials as your backdrop and can experiment with interesting water reflections. What’s not to love?
My Favorite Trees to Photograph at the Tidal Basin:
The tidal basin is 2.1 miles of pure beauty so it’s difficult to know where to start, especially if this is your first cherry blossom experience. So let me try to explain this as best as I can. My favorite cherry blossom trees are the ones located right next to the small footbridge seen on this map. If you’re standing on it, turn towards the left and walk towards the Franklin Delano Roosevelt memorial on the sidewalk. There are some great trees that hang over the sidewalk and into the water that are some of my favorites to shoot no matter the season. The branches and limbs make for great framing elements to the Jefferson Memorial or even if you want to use them as an archway for another foreground element… like a fellow photographer 🙂
My second favorite cluster of trees are the ones located near the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial. If you’re standing in front of the MLK Jr memorial, facing the Jefferson Memorial, go towards your left. There is a great set of trees there that look perfect in the morning light if you are standing underneath them. If you catch them at the right time, the glow from the sunlight is unbelievable.
For a more complete guide to the variety of cherry blossoms and where they’re located, check out this map from National Park Service.
If you haven’t noticed, I’m a sucker for reflections and the puddles on the sidewalk are perfect for them. Unfortunately, some of the puddles are so big that they will eventually be too much for the cherry blossom trees to handle. The floodwalls around the basin are starting to deteriorate and too much water is starting to creep up into the ground. If you’d like to help preserve and maintain them, please consider donating to the National Mall. I’m grateful to be a part of a local Instagram community that’s trying to endow 1 or more of the 3,800 trees.
People Will be EVERYWHERE
No matter how early you go or how late you stay out, there will always be other people enjoying the trees with you. There is just no way of getting around that. At times it can be a bit frustrating if you’re trying to go for that people-less image but know that this is the kind of thing to expect while at the Basin. The sidewalks aren’t the biggest so there are people almost everywhere. Just be patient and eventually, you will get your shot. Just have your camera ready for when it happens because that window of time will probably be a short one.
If it gets too crowded, why not use a macro lens and focus in on the little details? I can almost guarantee no one will get in your way for those close up shots. Some of my favorite images are the simplest ones.
You can even try shooting up. My favorite landscape images are from a unique point of view. The weirder you look to people on the outside, probably means the cooler shot you’re getting in your camera. LOL, am I right? I don’t know, I just made that up but try to get creative and don’t let other people in your shots sway you.
On a typical day, parking isn’t too bad. But with everyone checking out the cherry blossoms, the car situation can be a little more challenging. Plus they close the paddle boat parking lot located on the northeast side of the Tidal Basin for Cherry Blossom Festival tents so it makes it even more difficult. With the very limited parking available I suggest either metro it into the area or going really early in the morning.
There are several places where you can potentially find parking. Ohio Drive along the southeast portion of the Tidal Basin is a good place. Be careful though, in the past, I have seen DC police block off the street and making it a 1-way street, as opposed to it, is usual 2-way drive.
If you’re coming from E Basin Drive, turn left onto Ohio Drive and you’ll see some parking lots on your left. There’s three of them but the last one is a pretty far walk. Try to find parking in the first two if you can!
Another warning, there is no more free parking in Washington DC. Make sure you pay attention to the parking meters and signs. To be on the safe side, download the park mobile app on your phone. It will save you a whole bunch of time plus help you with the parking requirements. The best part is that if you find yourself spending more time than expected at the blossoms, you can just add money from your phone instead of walking all the way back to your car.
The closest metro stop to the Tidal Basin is “Smithsonian”. It’s a pretty good walk from the metro to the Tidal Basin but it’s cool because you can also see the cherry blossoms trees by the Washington Monument on your way there. They aren’t as big but you can get some pretty unique compositions from the smaller trees as well.
Other Places to see the Cherry Blossoms:
Other viewing spots include the US Capitol. If you’re facing east, you’ll see some great ones on the left side of the government building. Consider how you can use the cherry blossoms to frame the beautiful dome. If you walk a little further up Madison Dr, there are more nice ones on the National Gallery of Art grounds.
As a reference, here’s a guide the US Capitol just posted. Hopefully, this will make it easier to maximize your cherry blossom viewing experience around the Capitol.
The Enid A Haupt Garden is one of my favorite places in general. It doesn’t have to be spring (although that’s the best time) for me to enjoy a walk behind the Smithsonian Castle. There are quite a few cherry blossom trees located inside the Moongate Garden and my favorite is the weeping cherry blossom tree. You won’t see any like it near the Tidal Basin plus its far less crowded.
To be honest, my favorite part about the garden is the magnolia trees. They line the walkway and are so big and bountiful, I unintentionally spend most of my time photographing the pink magnolias instead of the cherry blossoms. If you’re a flower lover, I’m sure you’ll enjoy the gardens no matter what.
National Gallery of Art
Across the mall from the Enid A. Haupt Garden is the National Gallery of Art (NGA). Not only is it one of my favorite museums at the National Mall, but it also has some of my favorite cherry blossom trees in the spring just outside of it. Again they are not as big as the ones at the Tidal Basin, but I love the backdrop the NGA provides. It’s the simplicity of the exterior that really makes the cherry blossoms pop. And if you’re like me and need a little break from the crowds once in a while, I highly recommend going to the NGA. Just don’t tell anyone else. I like keeping this little part of the Cherry Blossom trees to myself 🙂
Try experimenting with the lighting that’s on the outside of the building. It can make for some interesting images.
Meadowlark Botanical Garden
And if you ever find yourself outside of the city, be sure to check out the Meadowlark Botanical Garden in Vienna, Virginia. They have a wide variety of cherry blossom trees including my favorite weeping cherry blossoms. With the 95 acres, it’s a great place for an afternoon stroll without so many people. Fantastic for a sunny day 🙂 Plus they have this nice lake right in the middle which makes for a cool place to see koi fish and your occasional blue heron.
Besides the trees, it is worth checking out some of the other events that are going on in Washington DC. The Cherry Blossom Festival always has huge celebrations and it’s a great excuse to be outside and do something different. For example, I plan on checking out the kite festival but the parade itself has always been a fun time. Click here for a complete listing of all the festivities.
I hope you found these tips useful and you enjoy your time with the cherry blossoms. Visiting the cherry blossoms is truly a magical experience. I hope this made it a little easier for you to get around and capture the images that you want to create.
If you have any other questions, put them in the comments below and I’ll try my best to answer them.
For more tips on the Cherry Blossoms and taking pictures in the Washington DC area in general, check out my book, Snap DC. I’ve laid out all my tips and tricks for photographing the city and now that the weather is getting a little warmer, I hope it inspires you to get out there with your camera a little bit more:
- Pan, Angela B (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 210 Pages - 04/26/2018 (Publication Date) - CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (Publisher)
If liked this guide and want to see a few more, check these out: