Visitor’s Guide to the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C.

Spring is the time for revitalization and regrowth. Much like autumn, spring provides gorgeous colors, but this time a sea of pastel greens and pinks. Cherry blossoms are among spring’s best attractions, and one of the most spectacular places to check out the blooms is during the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C.

Visitor’s Guide to the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C.

While the timing of the festival changes every year, over the years the schedule has extended to run across several weeks to increase chances that visitors will be able to see peak bloom. Peak bloom is defined as the day when 70% of the cherry blossom trees in the area have opened their buds. In general, the festival runs from mid-March through mid-April, though the organizers did make last-minute changes to the dates in 2017 and 2018 to accommodate an early bloom.

Of course, Washington isn’t the only place that has a cherry blossom festival, but it is the oldest and also the largest in the United States. Although the main event is definitely checking out the beautiful cherry blossoms, there’s much more to do over the three-week-long festival.

National Cherry Blossom Festival History
Visitor’s Guide to the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C.

The effort to bring cherry trees to Washington started in 1885 with Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore, who had floated the idea to plant cherry trees along the Potomac River after her trip to Japan. Unfortunately, the initial idea was rebuffed, and it wasn’t until 1909 that Scidmore took matters into her own hands and raised money to buy cherry trees to donate to the District. She reached out to First Lady Helen Taft, informing her of her plans, who in turn agreed to the project.

Visitor’s Guide to the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C.

At the same time, a Japanese chemist was also in Washington with Mr. Midzuno, the Japanese consul to New York City. When he learned of the plan to plant Japanese cherry trees along the speedway, he donated an additional 2,000 trees on behalf of Tokyo. Unfortunately, the original 2,000 trees had to be burned due to bug infestation. Luckily, Mayor Yukio Oazaki donated another 3,000 in 1912 to enhance the friendship between the U.S. and Japan. First Lady Helen Taft and Viscountess Iwa Chinda planted the first cherry trees on March 27, 1912.

Visitor’s Guide to the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C.

Although the cherry trees were planted in 1912, the first Cherry Blossom Festival was held in late 1934, becoming an annual event in 1935. Since then, more events have been added to the festival to what is now a three-week cultural festival that more than 1.5 million people visit each year. The number of trees has grown to 3,750 over the years, featuring more than 16 varieties of cherry blossoms.

What to Do at the National Cherry Blossom Festival?
Visitor’s Guide to the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C.

The highlight of the festival might be the cherry blossoms, but there’s a lot more to it than pretty flowers! The festival offers a variety of activities. Of course, if you want the best views of the cherry blossoms, there are a few key locations for some amazing pictures, many of which get very crowded. The most crowded place will be along Tidal Basin, so if you want to avoid the crowd, there are a few locations that are just as pretty and often have better views:

Visitor’s Guide to the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C.

After you’ve had your fill of cherry blossoms, there’s still plenty to do at the festival. In fact, there are over 200 family-friendly events and performances. New ones are added to the itinerary every year, but there are a few events that happen consistently every year:

Support D.C.’s Cherry Trees
Visitor’s Guide to the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C.

Maintaining all 3,000+ trees isn’t free and requires expert horticulturists and botanists to keep the trees healthy. More than 100 years of wear and tear, increasing foot traffic, and consistent flooding have taken their toll on these beautiful trees. In order to keep these trees healthy, the Trust for the National Mall started the Endow a Cherry Tree Campaign. If you have visited and enjoyed the Cherry Blossom Festival, or even if you haven’t attended yet, you can choose to adopt a cherry tree. Your donation will help support the care and nurturing of a tree all season long. The money is spent on pruning, mulching, fertilizing, and feeding the trees, which will preserve them for generations to come.

Visitor’s Guide to the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C.

Even if you cannot adopt a tree at this moment, you can still make a one-time donation to support the effort. You can also start a fundraising team and collaborate with your peers to reach a goal to endow one or more trees. The goal of the endowment is to raise $3.7 million per year in order to care for all the trees on a yearly basis.

Visit the National Cherry Blossom Festival
Visitor’s Guide to the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C.

There’s no better way to celebrate spring than to enjoy all the beauty that comes with it. The National Cherry Blossom Festival provides one of the most spectacular displays of nature and culture in the United States. Once you’ve soaked up the beauty of the blossoms, there’s so much to do in Washington, D.C., proper that you can easily spend a full week exploring the nation’s capital and visiting some of the best museums, botanical gardens, and zoos in the country.