Fun & Weird

Visiting the National Arboretum: Attempt #1

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A few weekends ago I rolled out of bed with a mission! After 10+ years of living in DC, I was going to stop saying I wanted to go to the National Arboretum and use a rare weekend I was in town to actually do it. In addition to the bonsai museum, the azaleas are supposed to be quite marvelous, and this was the month for them!

I looked up the hours, noted that the crowds can get heavy and the parking sparse after 10AM on the weekends and headed straight out the door, stopping only to glance at the weather — scheduled for a high of 50F.

National Arboretum DC New York Ave Entrance

Pulling into the grounds a little after 8AM, I was struck by how beautiful the grassy expanses were. Especially after coming in off New York Ave, which is old warehouses and buildings still in the process of being revitalized. But barely 2 miles from the Capitol, there’s a delightful wilderness in the middle of everything. The green contrasting nicely with the gray overcast sky.

National Arboretum DC Visitors Center

I pulled around to the Visitor Center and popped in to get my bearings and maybe a map. Super friendly attendant who took the time to walk me through each of the National Arboretum’s sections, pointing out things not to miss and explaining the eagle situation.

National Arboretum DC visitors center lobby

Dated, but lovely lobby in the visitors center

National Arboretum DC visitors center outdoor seating

Yep, there were eagles nesting! And apparently they picked right smack in the middle of the azalea gardens to do it. Which meant road closures. Fortunately those gardens are pretty close to wear I parked and the exercise would do me good. Had I brought my mom with me, it would not have been so great, so visitors with limited mobility take note, seeing the azaleas right now requires A LOT of walking.

National Arboretum DC Azalea Garden

As I exited the visitor center I noticed a light mist was falling and the temperature seemed nowhere near the promised 50 degrees. But I took it all in stride, speeding my way through the trails.

National Arboretum DC azalea garden map eagle closures

Closures marked with yellow tape

Some things were in bloom.

National Arboretum DC Azalea path

National Arboretum DC azalea walled garden

National Arboretum DC Azalea clearing

National Arboretum DC azalea goldfish pond

I wonder how many kids have fallen off that tempting rock…

Others held great promise.

National Arboretum DC azalea buds

But clearly the peak was a few weeks away.

National Arboretum DC azalea trail

National Arboretum DC azalea sign

How the woods *should* look

And I hadn’t realized that the eagle’s nest had closed the foot paths as well as the roads.

National Arboretum DC azalea path eagle closure

But I did discover a new kind of pine, I’m now obsessed with the beautiful lace bark pine!

National Arboretum DC lace bark pine

National Arboretum DC lace bark pine closeup

As I emerged from the trees, the mist had turned into a light sprinkle and I realized how woefully under dressed I was for the unspringlike, sub-40 temperatures. Oops.

I was reminded of one of the downsides to traveling solo. When you make dumb decisions, like choosing not to bring a coat or an umbrella, there’s no one to call you on it in time.

National Arboretum DC capitol columns vista

National Arboretum DC National Capitol columns

It both looked and felt like I was back in England. Long expanses of wet grass, chill wind, and fake ruins in the distance. 🙂

At this point I was pretty chilled and still had 30 minutes to kill before the bonsai museum opened, so I decided to drive around the National Arboretum, ultimately stopping at the beautiful Asian Woodlands which overlook the Anacostia River.

National Arboretum DC asian woodlands sign

National Arboretum DC asian woodlands seating

About 5 minutes along the path I heard the rain starting to come down hard among the trees so I sprinted for the pagoda, bypassing someone’s dropped insole. How do you not know you’ve dropped an insole??

National Arboretum DC lost insole

That’s when I realized I wasn’t getting wet, but I was getting hit in the head. Ahhh, April hail. Of course!

The gentle sound of April sleet falling in the Asian Woodlands

A video posted by Keri Anderson (@keriatheelsfirst) on

At this point my fingers were so cold my phone screen wasn’t responding when I tried to take pictures, so I decided to pack it in for the morning. It was beautiful enough that I was inspired to come back in a few weeks when the azaleas were at their peak. That’s supposed to be this week, so I’ll report back when I go.

Full Disclosure: I may receive affiliate credit from links in this post or on this site which will help fund my travels. Thank you for your support!

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