The answer lies about four miles northeast of the Jefferson Memorial.
More than 70 varieties of cherry trees grow across the U.S. National Arboretum’s 446 acres, including three hybrids that were developed at the Arboretum itself. And while seeking out the cherry blossoms among all the other flowering plants and carefully tended gardens might sound daunting, it’s made much easier with the free Cherry Tree Self-Guided Tour, found on the Arboretum’s smartphone app for iOS and Android.
Unlike the flowers at the Tidal Basin, which tend to explode into a forest of pink at the same time, peak bloom for the varieties of trees at the Arboretum ebb and flow. Earlier this week, the deep pink flowers of the First Lady — one of the hybrids created here — were putting on a show in multiple fields, while the blossoms of the Autumnalis Rosea, whose white petals have a soft pink wash around the edges, were just beginning to emerge.
There were also reminders that we’re not the only living things enjoying the return of spring: A droning hum got louder with every step toward the Okame cherry trees, where bees buzzed while flitting between the scented blossoms carpeting every branch.
Meanwhile, some of the most popular varieties, such as the Yoshino, which famously surrounds the Tidal Basin, and the weeping Snofozam, or Snow Fountains, are still in the early stages of budding. (While some may be disappointed by the bare branches, the trail passes other flowering Japanese trees, and the delicate white petals of the Tsuno-Ume and fluffy pink blooms of the Okitsu-Akabana, both varieties of Japanese apricot, are currently on full display.)
The tour stops at 27 locations along a 3.2-mile trail, showing off the breadth of cherry trees that flourish here: Beyond the better-known Yoshino and Akebono, there are rare trees from China and New Zealand — the latter, known as Awanui, is the only specimen in America. The trees are primarily clustered in a few locations, but the tour also leads to some unexpected places, such as the Research Fields, a beautiful, sun-dappled grove containing trees grown from seeds collected in Japan, experimental hybrids and plants used for breeding and preservation. Unlike the Yoshino, the Research Fields looked to be in bright, full bloom.
Each stop is marked with a large pink placard. Pull up that number on the app to find a photo of the blossoms (helpful if the trees aren’t in boom) and a biography of the plant: It’s interesting to learn that the Yoshino at Stop 14 is a clone of one of the trees that first lady Helen Taft originally planted at the Tidal Basin in 1912.
The tour is mostly flat, except for one long upward slope on the back half, making it easy for walking or biking, and the interactive map shows your position relative to the nearest trees. (If you choose to drive, the map doesn’t show the exact location of parking lots, but they’re located near each of the primary groupings.) Because it’s self-guided, you can explore at your own pace: If it’s too crowded, or you only have time to see one or two stops, you can always pick up where you left off another day.
Before long, you’ll start to notice more cherry blossoms that aren’t highlighted on the tour — such as the First Lady tree sitting along Eagle Nest Road, facing the National Capitol Columns, offering a rather lovely photo opportunity across the Ellipse Meadow. And you’ll probably be making plans to come back in a week or two, when even more trees will be in bloom.
The U.S. National Arboretum is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Car access is allowed through the gate at 2400 R St. NE until 2 p.m. After that, cars must enter through 3501 New York Ave. NE. Free.