The Tidal Basin cherry blossoms are some of the best-known cherry blossoms in the United States. Every year people plan their trips to Washington, DC just to see the famous cherry blossoms.
The Jefferson Memorial peaks through the cherry blossoms as you look out across the basin and makes for beautiful photographs. Photographers set up family and engagement sessions and Instagrammers flock there to get the beautiful blooms on their feed.
This spring we went to visit some family and friends living just outside of DC and managed to be there just after peak bloom. This Tidal Basin cherry blossom guide includes everything from how to get great photos of the blossoms to where to park and when to see the cherry blossoms in DC.
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Table of Contents
Best Time to See Cherry Blossoms in DC
The Tidal Basin cherry blossoms typically reach peak bloom the last week of March or the first week of April. You can get there before peak bloom and still see the blossoms on the tree.
I would recommend getting to DC before the peak bloom if at all possible. While the bloom can last for up to two weeks after the peak bloom, the weather can also cause that window to be much shorter.
We arrived about two days after peak bloom, but a big rainstorm and the wind that came with it knocked down a lot of the bloom the previous day. We went back to the Tidal Basin four days later and there were very few flowers left on the trees.
You can see the difference in the photos above taken just four days apart with no rain and little wind. The weather was warmer than normal, and that also causes the bloom to not last as long.
Getting to Washington, DC before peak bloom gives you a chance to see it in its full beauty even if the flowers only last a handful of days like this year. We will definitely go back and plan around peak bloom next time. This year we had set dates to see family, but it worked out to be the right time.
Tidal Basin Parking for Cherry Blossoms
Due to the current situation, in 2021, the parking closest to the Tidal Basin was all shut down. This was meant to discourage people from crowding the area and to encourage social distancing.
Most years you can park in one of several parking lots near the Tidal Basin. There is parking at the Washington Monument parking lot near the Tidal Basin Paddle Boats, a few spots along West Basin Drive SW, and at the Jefferson Memorial. There is also parking along Ohio Drive SW between the Lincoln Memorial and the Jefferson Memorial and along Ohio Drive SW by East Potomac Park.
We had planned to park by East Potomac Park and walk down to the cherry blossoms, but the road closures around the Tidal Basin and East and West Potomac Parks meant we had to park a little further away this year.
Most years these roads stay open, but make sure to check the National Park Service for any road closures or traffic pattern changes if you plan to visit near peak bloom.
If there are road closures or if all of these parking spots are already taken, you can still park near the National Mall and White House and walk over from there. That’s what we ended up doing.
When parking in Washington, DC, make sure to look at the signs. Many spots are metered, and some parking spots along the road are only for certain hours. If you are visiting on a weekday and will be in the area during rush hours, you want to make sure your car will not be towed.
When we went on Sunday morning, we parked on Constitution Ave NW right in front of the White House just before 15th St NW. Because it was a weekend morning at sunrise, those spots were open, and we just had to pay the metered parking.
When we came back during the week, we parked on 17th St NW in front of the Red Cross headquarters. We also paid for metered parking here. You can download the ParkMobile app to add more time to your meter without having to go back to your car.
If you drive around the National Mall area, you should be able to find parking. There are some parking garages, but they were much more expensive than the street parking and may not be open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Tips for Visiting the Tidal Basin Cherry Blossoms
If you visit the cherry blossoms in DC near peak bloom, be prepared for crowds. Even if you go early, there will be lots of other people around.
Most years there is a National Cherry Blossom Festival with lots of events, but that was held virtually in 2021. Even with the National Park Service limiting both vehicle and foot traffic in the area, it was still crowded at sunrise on a Sunday morning when we went the first time.
There were people walking around and taking photos, photographers who set up family and engagement photoshoots, locals running or riding bikes, and lots of Instagram photoshoots going on thanks to the gorgeous backdrops the cherry blossoms offered. I can’t imagine how crowded it gets when they are not limiting the numbers!
The cherry blossom trees line the walkway around the Tidal Basin, stretching out across the paved walkway and hanging down over the water. The wind makes the blooms rain down and cover the walkway and the grassy areas in the white petals.
Cherry blossom season does not last long, so everyone tries to come see them while they last. The rainy weather the day before shortened the season, and the weekend after peak bloom happened to be Easter weekend too, so lots of people still came to the city to walk around the basin and see the flowers.
The weekend is the most popular time, and the weekend after peak bloom tends to see the highest number of visitors. If you can go early on a weekday and still find parking, you might have better chances of a smaller crowd then.
Take time to walk around the basin for the different views of the monuments through the cherry blossoms. You’ll find some areas are busier than others, but you can still get great photos even with the crowds.
Make sure to stop and look back if you are planning to walk in one complete circle around the basin. We ended up doing an out and back due to time, and I’m glad we did. When we turned around, we got some beautiful views of the Washington Memorial through the flowers.
If you want to see the main photo spots for the cherry blossoms, start near the Japanese Lantern and walk around towards the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. Continue on past the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial to the Ohio Drive Bridge and then to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial.
We actually only went to the FDR Memorial and then had to turn back for Easter Service, but when we went back we made it all the way around. When we turned back, I was glad we did since we would have missed out on some of my favorite photos otherwise.
Plan to spend at least an hour or two here if you are pretty quick with taking photos and want to walk most of the way around. If you like to take lots of time for photos, plan to stay longer, but make sure you don’t forget about upping your parking meter!
Tips for Photographing the Tidal Basin Cherry Blossoms
The most well-known photos of the Tidal Basin cherry blossoms include either the Washington Memorial or the Jefferson Memorial in them. The cherry blossoms are great for framing your shot of the famous landmarks.
When you arrive near the Japanese Lantern and walk around the basin, you’ll see many opportunities to frame the Jefferson Memorial with the cherry blossoms. As you walk around towards the Jefferson Memorial, you’ll continue to have these opportunities, so make sure to keep an eye out for framing you like.
As you enter the area between the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial and the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, you’ll have a chance to get the line of cherry trees leading to the Jefferson Memorial in your photo. Because of the way the land curves, this angle cuts out the Ohio Drive Bridge from your photos.
Once you reach the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial and go past it towards the Jefferson Memorial, you’ll want to keep an eye on the Washington Memorial towering above the trees. You can get photos of it reflecting on the water on a still day or use the cherry blossoms to frame it out.
If you want family photos, the grassy area near the Japanese Lantern was a popular spot. This area is crowded, but it seemed to have more trees leaning out over the water making for a perfect backdrop. The grassy area also has a worn down path through it, and it’s a beautiful area to photograph.
Because there are so many people in the area during peak bloom, you may have to use creative angles to crop people out or block them out with your subject or the trees. If you get off the paved pathway, there are more opportunities to get photos without people in the background.
Take a range of lenses with you for photographing the cherry blossoms if you have multiple lenses. Most of my photos here are taken on my Canon 24 – 70mm f/2.8, but a few are also on my Canon 70 – 300mm f/4.
If you are using an iPhone to take your photos, play with portrait mode to get the blurred background for a more dreamy look. You can also play with the 2.5x zoom and place your subject closer to the lens for a more natural blur in the background.
I used my iPhone 12 Pro Max for several of these photos as well, and I really loved using it for close ups of the flowers as we walked around. I’ll put a couple of examples of images with each option below.
Other Things to Do Near the National Mall & Tidal Basin
We did not spend much time in the city as we spent the majority of our trip with family and friends, but we did take a few hours to see some of the memorials near the National Mall.
With just a couple of hours, you can see quite a bit of the National Mall area in Washington, DC. From memorials to museums, it’s easy to spend a few days there as well exploring the best things to do in Washington DC.
Here are a few options of things to do when seeing the cherry blossoms in Washington, DC.
Lincoln Memorial & Reflecting Pool
We started our ride over to the Lincoln Memorial and around the Reflecting Pool. At the Lincoln Memorial, we parked our bikes to the right of the memorial at the bike racks.
The memorial is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, but rangers from the National Park Service are there each day from 9:30 a.m. until 10 p.m. The only day they are not there is on Christmas Day.
You can walk up the stairs to see the giant statue of Abraham Lincoln. When you turn around, you get a beautiful view of the Reflecting Pool, the National Mall, and the Washington Memorial.
Also nearby are the Korean War Veterans Memorial, D.C. War Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Vietnam Women’s Memorial, and Constitution Gardens.
At the other end of the Reflecting Pool is the World War II Memorial, a special one to me since my papaw was injured in WWII in the Battle of the Bulge and had shrapnel in him for the rest of his life from his injuries. If you visit the World War II Memorial, please do not wade in the pool.
Even if the Washington Monument is not open for you to go to the top, it is still an icon of the city. It’s hard to miss this towering monument in the middle of the National Mall.
While you can usually purchase tickets to go to the top and enjoy a birds-eye view of the surrounding areas, tickets are much more limited right now. Tickets can only be purchased from Recreation.gov or by calling 1-877-444-6777.
Tickets are sold each day at 10 a.m. for the next day, and each ticket is good for up to 4 individuals traveling together in a group. The reservation fee is $1.50 per ticket, and you get 10 minutes at the top. Please check the National Park Service for the latest requirements and opening hours.
Jefferson Memorial & Memorials on the Tidal Basin
Along the Tidal Basin walk, you can stop and see several memorials. The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial is just off of the Tidal Basin pathway not far from the Japanese Lantern. It is an outdoor memorial and open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. There is a bathroom and bookstore here as well.
Continue around and you’ll find the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. This memorial consists of five outdoor rooms, one for a prologue, and one for each of his four terms in office.
The Jefferson Memorial is one of the icons of Washington, DC and of the cherry blossom season. The Jefferson Memorial had scaffolding up while we were there for repair work and cleaning the dome, but the memorial is still open.
There are restrooms, and the memorial is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Park rangers are available for questions from 9:30 a.m. until 10 p.m. each day.
Enid A. Haupt Garden
If you visit in the spring, make sure to stop by the Enid A. Haupt Garden to see what is blooming. Open 24 hours a day and filled with beautiful flowers and gardens, you’re sure to find something blooming.
It does not take long to walk through the gardens, which are part of the Smithsonian Gardens. There are several seating areas making it the perfect spot to stop for a picnic lunch in the shade.
United States Capitol and Museums
When we visited in April of 2021, recent events and the current health crisis meant that many of the famous museums as well as the US Capitol building were all closed.
Depending on when you visit, you may want to see if these areas are open or not before planning your visit. The Smithsonian Museums are some of the best in the world, but I haven’t visited them since I was a teen. You can check out the options for museums and get current information here.
How to Get Around Washington DC
We brought our mountain bikes on the trip to do a mountain bike trail with my brother-in-law. (Check out the Meadowwood mountain bike trails if you want a fun ride!) Since we had them, we decided to use them to get around to the main sites in DC without having to deal with parking multiple times.
If you do not bring your bikes, there are plenty of bike and scooter rentals in the area. There are also biking tours if you are interested. If you bring your own bikes or rent one for the day, there are bike racks near most of the popular spots. We just brought a lock to lock our bikes up each time.
You can also easily walk the main attractions in the city, but you will need to make sure to remember to keep paying your parking meter using the ParkMobile app. Other options include a hop-on-hop-off bus, the Metro, and regular buses to use to get around. Uber and Lyft are also available if needed.
Where to Stay Near Washington DC
We stayed with my brother-in-law and his family for most of our visit since they are only 30 minutes outside of DC, but we did get a hotel one night. We stayed at Holiday Inn Alexandria at Carlyle (check rates and availability on Agoda or on Booking.com).
More Cherry Blossoms
If you want more cherry blossoms or arrive a little too late to see the Tidal Basin cherry blossoms at peak bloom, check out the Kenwood Cherry Blossoms in Bethesda, Maryland. These trees typically bloom a few days to a week after the Tidal Basin cherry blossoms, and they are worth the drive. Check out my full guide here.
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