Every March and April, the skyline and streets of the US capital are dressed in pink and white.
While in most of America, people turn to the groundhog to learn when spring will arrive, regardless of what the groundhog or calendar says, it doesn’t feel like springtime in the nation’s capital until the Cherry Blossom Festival arrives in town. The cherry blossom trees are the highlight of springtime in Washington DC, so join the pink party with our cherry blossom bloom tours! The tour coincides with the timing of the National Cherry Blossom Festival, which will take place this year from Monday, March 20 through Sunday, April 16.
For the past 8 years, USA Guided Tours has participated as an official tour provider of the National Cherry Blossom Festival. We invite travelers and locals alike to explore Washington DC this spring as we celebrate the 111th National Cherry Blossom Festival with the launch of the Cherry Blossoms Galore Tour.
If you are coming to the District for the cherry blossoms but want to stay for the history and other magnificent sites, take a fully guided tour of the capital with USA Guided Tours! Our Cherry Blossoms Galore Tour offers the backstory and fun facts to the monuments and shows you the cherry blossoms and beauty of Washington DC.
This half-day tour includes walking and photo op time, so you can perfectly capture the pretty trees in their springtime flowering glory. Experience an engaging 4-hour tour of this beautiful area, while learning the history behind the city’s renowned monuments and landmarks.
Private cherry blossom viewing tours are also available. Please call our office at 202-733-7376 for more information.
The peak bloom and its lifespan will last depend on weather conditions. Early spring weather can cause the pink petals to pop open prematurely, while extended winter weather will wane the wonders of the flowers. The flowers peaked as early as March 15 in 1990 and kept watchers at bay until April 18 in 1958. Once the flowers bloom, calm and cool temperatures are preferable for a prolonged visit. Frost or rain and wind can bring floral fun to a quick end. This year, our famed cherry blossom trees are ahead of schedule. Recent forecasts suggest the blossoms may peak as early as March 18.
The presence of cherry blossoms in the nation’s capital dates back more than one hundred years. The pretty pink petals are not native to our swamp. A majority of the cherry blossoms that dot Washington DC’s waterfront originated oceans away in Japan, where they were first spotted by Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore during a trip in 1885.
An influential 19th-century photographer and writer, as well as the first woman to join the National Geographic Society, Scidmore spent the next 24 years imploring the government to purchase cherry blossoms and plant them along the Tidal Basin.
First Lady Helen Taft began creating a federal budget for the blossoms in 1909, but after hearing about the interest in his country’s national flower, Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo organized a shipment of more than 2,000 cherry blossom trees for free.
Just as France famously presented New York City with the Statue of Liberty in 1886, Japan saw this gift as an everlasting symbol of the blossoming friendship between them and the United States. The gift came full circle in 1981 when the United States returned several trees to Japan after a typhoon caused severe flooding and destroyed thousands of native trees.
Unfortunately, a disaster also struck the District’s first cherry blossom trees, as the Department of Agriculture discovered an infestation of insects in the original 1910 gift of cherry blossoms. So, President Taft ordered all the trees burned to avoid the further spread of the infestation. With a generous gesture, Japan decided to send replacement trees with a larger gift of 3,020 cherry trees two years later.
The First Lady and Viscountess Chinda, the Japanese ambassador’s wife, planted the first cherry blossom together on March 26, 1912. A group of DC students recreated the initial planting on its 15th anniversary in 1927. Eight years after that, local civics group leaders expanded the tradition into the first-ever National Cherry Blossom Festival.
Initially a one-week festival, organizers expanded the National Cherry Blossom Festival to four weeks in 1995. This expansion proved fruitful for attendees because increasingly volatile weather patterns have made predicting peak bloom very difficult. The National Park Service defines peak bloom as the period during which 70% of the Yoshino flowers are open. Obviously, this is the best time for photo opportunities.
Within a period as short as four days or as long as two weeks, flowers will lose their pink and white petals, giving way to green leaves.
Luckily for visitors, a majority of the capital’s main tourist attractions are located near the National Cherry Blossom Festival. The Capitol Building, the White House, the National Mall monuments, and several Smithsonian museums are all located within 2 miles of the Tidal Basin.
Before your big visit to the festival, here are some useful pro tips about the capital’s cherry blossoms.
On average, 1.5 million people travel to the Tidal Basin for the month-long festival. 2014 was the busiest year with 1.6 million visitors. Giant crowds can make getting the best pictures or views hard. So, here are some tips for when and where to view the cherry blossoms:
All the foot traffic generated by visitors to the festival places great strain on the roots of the cherry blossoms. The trees are further impacted by Tidal Basin flooding, which typically occurs twice a day during high tide. Throughout the National Cherry Blossom Festival, attendees can expect high tides from mid-day to mid-afternoon. Therefore, some walkways may be inaccessible during these times. To ensure the cherry blossoms bloom for years to come, it is recommended that visitors do not climb trees, pick flowers, or walk directly on roots. In fact, picking flowers is against the law and will land a small fine to offenders.
The pink and white blossoms have become a lasting tradition in the nation’s capital, in large part due to the careful care of the Tree Crew. Though the National Cherry Blossom Festival lasts only four weeks, the National Park Service arborists work year-round to ensure the health of the trees.
On average, a cherry blossom lives and grows for 25 years. However, the arborists of the Tree Crew have developed the care and conditions necessary to help several cherry blossoms reach twice that age. Remarkably, a few of the cherry blossom trees remain from the 1912 gift, making them 111 years old! Some of the oldest trees can be seen near the Japanese lantern, located closest to the MLK Memorial.
This is the nation’s greatest springtime celebration. It runs for three spectacular weeks and four weekends of tours featuring diverse and creative programming promoting traditional and contemporary arts and culture, natural beauty, and community spirit. Visit nationalcherryblossomfestival.org for more information, and find us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Below is a guide to this year’s fun but be sure to check back as events and schedules are subject to change.
Those attending the National Cherry Blossom Festival can get more detailed information by visiting several tourist centers throughout the city. The festival headquarters is located in Union Station, while there is a D.C. Visitor Info Center inside the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in the downtown area. The festival hotline phone number is 877-44-BLOOM
Terry Cordaro, Washington DC Tour Guide in Collaboration With USA Guided Tours Blogging Team