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The U.S. National Arboretum in DC is a fantastic place to take a day trip with your kids in any season. Here are 7 reasons we love to spend a few hours there!
We almost missed the best part.
I figured we would stop by the U.S. National Arboretum on our way to the zoo to see if the Cherry Blossoms were in bloom yet. I had no idea that the Magnolia collection would capture our imagination so completely.
As we drove the 9 1/2 miles of winding roads looking for the pale pink cherry blossoms, I noticed a gaggle of cars stopped next to a field. We rounded the corner and found ourselves surrounded by thousands upon thousands of magnolia blossoms in peak bloom. For the next hour my daughter and I played hide and go seek among the low slung magnolia branches. We sat and just admired their beauty– pinks, purples, creams– and pretended we were both princesses in search of a magic fairy.
The morning turned out to be magical.. absolutely magical. And the thing is, we have magical experiences almost any time we visit the U.S. National Arboretum.
7 Reasons the U.S. National Arboretum Makes a Great Day Trip With Your Kids!
To anyone who has visited, clearly the U.S. National Arboretum is not exactly a hidden gem, but it is also not on the top 10 or 20 list for most families wanting to spend a day or two in DC. But it should be because it is really that awesome.
The U.S. National Arboretum is located on the edge of Washington D.C. on 446 acres of well maintained outdoor loveliness. You could spend a few hours or all day here. Come with your kids and let them run and run and run. Pack a picnic lunch and just enjoy being outside.
Or, pair a side trip to the arboretum with one of the more well-known attractions downtown. The arboretum is actually very easy to get to and it is free… so that is kind of no-brainer for family fun. We have visited probably 1/2 a dozen times in the last few years and these are the seven highlights from our visits to this national treasure.
1. The National Capitol Columns
The National Capitol Columns, which have only been at the Arboretum for about 10 years, are probably the most recognizable feature of the expansive grounds. Every time we visit my daughter can’t wait to race up to the columns. From the Visitor Center, the easiest way to get to the columns is through the Herb Garden, which will be kind of obvious because they are located in the middle of a meadow.
Make sure you use the restroom at the Visitor Center before you head out to the columns, and bring water. The walk is actually a little longer than you would think.
2. Cherry Blossoms
The DC Tidal Basin is not the only great place to see Cherry Blossoms. If you want to escape the tourist hordes at the National Mall, the U.S. National Arboretum is a great place to check out the cherry blossoms. There are actually a number of cherry blossom varieties, including the Okame Tree (pictured below) and the Dream Catcher.
Because the cherry blossom trees are spread out throughout the Arboretum, you can drive right up to the different grove areas and if you are lucky, have the trees to yourself! The cherry blossoms are definitely one of my favorite ways to welcome spring each year!
3. Holly and Magnolia Collections
If you love cherry blossoms you will go gaga over the magnolia trees. Imagine thousands of blossoms- pink, white, and purple, bursting all over the grove. Bring a picnic blanket and just let your kids run in and around the gorgeous trees. Low hanging branches create the illusion of a secret garden and it is all terribly romantic. Of course, if the day is nice you will be sharing this lovely spot with a few hundred other fans… but there is plenty of room for all to enjoy.
We had a great time arranging the petals on the ground into messages or pictures.
A fantastic way to say hello to spring!
4. Azalea Collections
As if you needed another reason to visit the U.S. National Arboretum. Actually, the azaleas might be the best reason to pop into this lovely
nature escape. Every late April to early May (give or take), thousands of brightly colored azaleas are on full display on Mount Hamilton. The best concentration of azaleas is on the southern slope of Mount Hamilton in an area called the Glenn Dale Hillside. You will also want to visit the azaleas on the Henry Mitchell Walk and the Morrison Garden.
The best time to visit the azaleas when they are in full bloom is during the week (I suppose that is obvious). The website suggests weekend visitors should try to arrive before noon in order to see the azaleas without having to elbow a few hundred other bloom gawkers out of the way. The azaleas are really quite stunning though and the walk through the azaleas is lovely as well, with huge trees towering over the path.
The path is full of pink, purple, and white flowers. It is such a great idea for a late spring day trip!
5. Plenty of other flowers
By plenty of other flowers, I mean tons of other flowers. In early spring you will see loads of daffodils (a personal favorite of mine). In the summer the pergola in the Herb Garden is bursting forth with flowers. There are many types of roses on display, orange trees that smell delicious, and wildflowers blooming throughout the spring and summer.
6. National Bonsai and Penjing Museum
Regardless of the season, when you visit the U.S. National Arboretum, you will definitely want to spend a few minutes looking at the Bonsai trees. Your kids will get a kick out of how small these miniature trees are. You will too.. I promise.
If you time it right you might even get a rare treat– Bonsai trees in full bloom. We saw this beautiful tree in late April/early May (on the same visit as the Azalea Gardens).
I just can’t get over how vibrant these colors are!
And if you come back in the fall you won’t be disappointed either! Isn’t this fantastic?
Beautiful fall foliage… for smurfs! (I had to go there)
7. Big Trees!
Ok, so this is the U.S. National Arboretum… so, you should definitely expect to see loads of trees. What I wasn’t expecting were such BIG trees. These trees towered over the path on the Azalea walk and the trees throughout the grounds are really fantastic.
There is actually a grove of state trees, with each state’s tree represented. When you consider the skill it would take to accommodate that for 50 different climates, it is definitely worth checking out!
Know Before You Go
- The U.S. National Arboretum is open 8AM-5PM every day of the year except Christmas Day.
- There is no admission cost. Yep– it’s FREE!
- There is not a restaurant on site, or anywhere to purchase food… so pack snacks and/or a picnic lunch. And.. BRING WATER!
- Public restroom facilities are available at the visitor center.
- Here is the U.S. National Arboretum website: https://www.usna.usda.gov/
- Here is a link to the Google Map directions: https://goo.gl/maps/6GUdEov1bFM2
Anyway, I hope you plan a visit soon and I hope you and your kids have a blast!