There is always a lot of hype and a lot more traffic in the area two weeks around the peak of the blossoms. There really isn’t anything like seeing little pink blossoms all over the trees around the Tidal Basin. After this year’s DC Cherry Blossom Mini Sessions, I wanted to share my experience with those traveling into DC and photographers wanting photograph next year’s blossoms. Below you’ll read all my tips to see DC Cherry Blossoms.
Where to see Cherry Blossoms
The Tidal Basin! Cherry Blossoms line the walkway around the Tidal Basin. Anywhere you stand along the Tidal Basin, you’ll have amazing views of the gorgeous pink flowers,Washington Monument, and Jefferson Memorial. The spring is a great time of year to visit DC. The National Mall and all the museums are such unique’s places to see. However, if you’re planning to visit DC around peak, without proper preparation, you might be disappointed.
When is Peak Cherry Blossom Season?
DC Cherry Blossoms usually peak mid-April. National Parks Service announces their predicted Cherry Blossom Peak date in early March with updates on the buds in February. You can see their predictions on their Bloom Watch website here. The blossoms are weather dependent, it’s hard for NPS to nail the exact peek date on the first try. This year, NPS pushed back peak 3 times! We had an early warm March then a sudden drop in temperature which pushed peak by a month!
In a previous years, we have gotten rain and wind storms or freezing temperatures which knocked most of the buds right off leaving dead looking blossoms. Keep close attention to NSP’s predictions, I usually check on a daily basis when it gets close to peak! This year, peak blossoms bloomed April 9th. Peak happened to be the same weekend as the Blossom 10 Mile Run and the weather was absolutely freezing! Keep in mind that even though the blossoms have bloomed doesn’t mean you will have ideal weather.
Best Time to see Blossoms
Once the blossoms have reached peak, be prepared for mass crowds in DC. EVERYONE wants to see the blossoms. It’s so crowded it’s hard to walk around the Tidal Basin. If you have kids, do not bring a stroller and do not bring your pets. The best way to see the blossoms is to go at sunrise. Wake up early and be in DC when it’s still dark. By the time the sun comes up, you’ll be able to enjoy the blossoms without the crowds and enjoy the beauty of it all. If you’re not a morning person, be there and enjoy the blossoms before 10am. After 10am through the rest of the day is when it gets way too crowded to me to enjoy. If you plan a week day trip, even better! The weekends are definitely the most crowded.
DC weather is unpredictable. One day it could be 70 degrees and the next day it could snow (and yes, that has happened before!) If you’re traveling into DC to see the blossoms, bring a jacket, umbrella, and anything else you feel you need to keep warm or cool with unpredictable weather. Bring comfortable, waterproof walking shoes and sunscreen if you burn easy. Keep everything in a little book bag that you can easily put on your shoulders and enjoy walking around.
This is always a tough one. It’s hard to say if there could be parking. I’ve arrived in DC at 5:45am and had to park almost 1 mile away from the Tidal Basin. There are several parking lots on Ohio Dr Southwest; however, these fill up quickly, but if you keep driving down Ohio there will usually be street parking (just kinda far down and away from the Tidal Basin.) The best way to get around DC is by metro. The Smithsonian stop on the Blue, Yellow, and Silvers lines is the closest. If you go to DC the weekend of the 10K run, forget everything I just told you. You will not be able to park anywhere close to the Tidal Basin since all roads surrounding it are closed for the race. It’s best to metro or Uber but you will still need to do quite a bit of walking to get to the Tidal Basin/ Jefferson Memorial.
If you’re a photographer (getting paid for your services) and you have clients wanting to have photos with the blossoms, make sure you apply for a permit. The permit process takes approximately 2 weeks and you will be emailed the permit that you must physically sign and return the week of your session. The permit is a total of $140. It’s a $90 nonrefundable processing/application fee plus a $50-$200 permit fee, (depending on the number of people – under 10 people will be $50). Read more detailed photography permit information on my blog about how to apply for a photography permit. Make sure you get a permit!! If the park rangers catch you photographing without a permit, there is a steep fine and possibly a night in the slammer.
DC Cherry Blossom Festival
In 2018, the National Cherry Blossom Festival ran from March 20 – April 15. The Cherry Blossom Parade took place April 15th which is the most crowded day at the Tidal Basin. If the parade and peak bloom occur on the same day, good luck. DC will be insanely crowded!
DC Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run
In 2018, the Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run took place April 8th. I was in DC the day of the race. There was no place to park and all of the roads around the Tidal Basin plus additional roads were closed. It’s extremely hard to get around DC with that number of roads closed. I would avoid the tidal basin and driving to DC during this time because traffic will be insane with nowhere to park.
Missed Peak Bloom?
Because the weather around this area is so unpredictable you may miss peak. After the peak blooms, the Japanese cherry blossom trees look like normal trees with green leaves and all the magic is gone. However, there are other types of cherry blossoms! I have a Kwanzan cherry blossom tree in my front year and it blooms about 2 weeks after the Japanese cherry blossom trees reach peek! The blooms look a lot different as well. The flowers are pinker, a lot larger, super fluffy, and absolutely gorgeous. These blossoms are just as pretty to see and photograph. They bloom all over the DMV (DC, Maryland, and Virginia) areas so you’re bound to see some if you’re in town.
Too Early for Peak?
Cherry Blossom trees are so weathered dependent. You may arrive in DC before they bloom. This year, peak was pushed back 3 times making peak almost an entire month after NPS initial peak date. Don’t worry if you’re too early, there are magnolias and other spring blossoms in the area you don’t want to miss.
Hope this post helped and you enjoyed reading tips to see DC Cherry Blossoms. Enjoy your trip into DC!
To view this year’s cherry blossom sessions, click here.
Sarah Botta is a Northern Virginia based newborn and wedding photographer whose work can be described as organic, natural, and timeless. Sarah specializes in capturing people’s stories and building connections with each client to help tell their story. Her residential newborn studio is located in Woodbridge, VA where she photographs newborns ages 4-12 days new.
Sarah has photographed over 30 weddings across Virginia and Maryland from rustic barn ceremonies to elaborate golf course receptions. Her natural timeless style shines brightest with outdoor locations. Sarah is available for travel and is passport ready.