the Jefferson Memorial during the Cherry Blossom Festival. Washington, DC

The nation's capital comes alive with cherry blossoms each spring. (Getty Images)

It's just about time for more than 1.5 million visitors to swarm Washington, D.C. What's the occasion? It's the National Cherry Blossom Festival, which runs from March 17 to April 15. Though the 3,000-plus cherry blossom trees are the star of the festival, there are dozens of events around the district that celebrate and honor Japanese culture and the everlasting friendship between the U.S. and Japan. After all, it was Tokyo Mayor Yukio Ozaki who first gifted the trees to the city back in 1912. To help you navigate the festival and the city, U.S. News spoke with the festival's president, Diana Mayhew. She offered tips on can't-miss events, top-notch photo spots and the best times to visit the iconic cherry blossom trees.

Keep Your Eye on the Calendar

Many visitors are concerned with peak bloom, or the point at which 70 percent of the blossoms of the Yoshino cherry trees are open. According to the National Park Service, peak bloom for 2018 is expected to take place from April 8 to 12. But if you've planned your visit outside those dates, don't fret. "The blossoms are beautiful when they first start coming out to the very end," Mayhew says, reminding visitors that the blooming period, when 20 percent of the blossoms are open before the petals and leaves fall, can span 14 days depending on weather conditions. To keep an eye on the blossoms, Mayhew suggests using the Bloom Watch tool on the festival's website for the most up-to-date information about where the trees are in the blooming cycle. "You can still enjoy the days before and after peak bloom; there's so much to take advantage of," Mayhew says.

[Read: 6 Washington, D.C., Tours First-Time Visitors Should Experience.]

Arrive Early

It's no secret that the trees along the Tidal Basin in West Potomac Park are crowd magnets. If you're hoping to avoid the masses, you'll need to time your visit accordingly. "Avoiding rush hour on the metro can make for a more pleasant experience overall," Mayhew says, advising travelers arrive at the Tidal Basin before dawn if they are intent on beating the rush. Early risers can also take advantage of optimal photo conditions. "The photographs taken at dawn and dusk are so spectacular," Mayhew says.

Use Public Transportation

The district's extensive public transportation system makes it easy and affordable to reach the Tidal Basin without a car. The DC Circulator offers six routes throughout the city, including one that travels the perimeter of the National Mall, with stops at the Washington Monument and the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. Plus, rides cost just $1. Meanwhile, the Metro's Blue, Orange and Silver lines also provide easy access to the National Mall. If you exit at the Smithsonian Metro stop, it's a quick 10- to 15-minute walk to the Tidal Basin Welcome Area at 1501 Maine Ave. SW, which is staffed by festival volunteers and National Park Service rangers.

You can also take in the views from the water. DC Water Taxi offers looped, narrated cruises between Georgetown and the Tidal Basin, while the free Wharf Jitney allows visitors to access Hains Point, located at the southern tip of East Potomac Park. Once on the island, travelers can bike or walk the 4-mile Hains Point Loop Trail, which is home to a variety of cherry blossom species, according to the National Park Service. You'll find Hains Point much quieter than the Tidal Basin (perfect for crowd-free photo ops).

If you must drive, Mayhew suggests you use a parking app, such as SpotHero, to help secure a spot. With the app, drivers can reserve and pay for parking spots in advance, which Mayhew says alleviates the amount of circulating vehicles around the National Mall.

[Read: 6 Best Places to Shop in Washington, D.C.]

Explore Beyond the Tidal Basin

After you've had your fill of the Tidal Basin, take advantage of events around the district. "We're hoping to take the celebration and energy around the Tidal Basin and spread that throughout the city," Mayhew says, referencing the various events throughout the festival. What's more, many of the events and activities are free. Among the signature events are the Blossom Kite Festival, Petalpalooza (a daylong music and arts festival and evening fireworks show) and the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade. Plus, this year the festival partnered with iHeartRadio for the inaugural Blossom Bash concert on April 6 at The Anthem at The Wharf.

As you traverse the city, consider visiting some under-the-radar spots if you want to snap the perfect picture of the blooms without fighting the crowds. The U.S. National Arboretum, which sits less than 10 miles northeast of the Tidal Basin, is home to 40 different types of cherry blossom trees. Meanwhile, the aptly named Cherry Hill at the Dumbarton Oaks estate in Georgetown boasts a variety of species. If you want to stick closer to the National Mall, Lower Senate Park and the Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism During World War II are your best bet.

Take Advantage of Themed Packages and Events

Cherry blossom season in the district isn't isolated to the National Mall. All over the city, travelers can take advantage of promotional deals and packages, especially at some of the area's best hotels. For instance, the Rosewood Washington, D.C. offers a package that includes a customized picture frame, a catered bicycle tour and cherry blossom-inspired welcome cocktails, including the Gyoiko, named for the cherry trees found on the White House grounds, according to Pascal Forotti, the hotel's managing director. Meanwhile, The Willard InterContinental hosts an afternoon tea, among other events, that serves a selection of teas and Japanese-inspired savories and pastries, such as teriyaki-cured salmon tea sandwiches and matcha green tea scones. Even if visitors aren't taking advantage of The Willard's cherry blossom package, they may want to stop by to see the hotel's lobby, which is adorned with cherry blossom "trees" made out of 1,200 pounds of cherry blossom branches.

[Read: The Best Things to Do in Washington, D.C.]

Foodies should plan to dine at the restaurants participating in the annual Cherry Picks program, which encourages area dining establishments to incorporate cherry blossom-themed food and drinks into their spring menus. Participating eateries include Jaleo, which is offering a cherry blossom wine dinner that includes a dessert of chilled cherry soup, and Farmers Fishers Bakers, where diners can enjoy specials, such as a smoked blossom sushi tasting plate and a cocktail made with sour cherries, vanilla, cinnamon and tequila blanco. For a quick bite, head to District Doughnut for its Cherry Blossom – a yeast doughnut with cherry pie filling, cream cheese glaze and pie crust crumble.


Photo Gallery
Woman Atop Angel's Landing.
Shenandoah, Virginia sunset
Landscape Arch in the Arches National Park, Utah, United States.
Looking up at the redwood trees at Muir Woods in San Francisco.
Toroweap Overlook on the north rim of the Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona.
Joshua Tree with Milky Way
 Sunset at the Newfound Gap in the Great Smoky Mountains.
USA, Wyoming, Yellowstone National Park, Midway Geyser Basin, Grand Prismatic Spring
Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park
|

Grab your camera and cross these national treasures off your list this season.
With pleasant temperatures, few crowds and dazzling floral displays, spring tempts us to get outdoors and embrace unspoiled hiking trails, spectacular vistas and incredible wildlife-viewing opportunities. Whether you want to commune in nature in a charming mountain town, admire grand geological formations in the Southwest or explore dramatic natural wonders along the coast, there are plenty of popular and little-known parks well-suited for ushering in the season. Plus, if you're on a stringent budget, during National Park Week, you can take advantage of complimentary entry from April 15-16 and April 22-23. With that in mind, here are inspiring parks with attractions and enticements catering to every kind of adventurer.
(Getty Images)

Shenandoah National Park
Virginia

For a legendary spring road trip, you don't want to miss soaking in jaw-dropping views along Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park, says Everett Potter, a travel columnist for USA Today and author of Everett Potter's Travel Report. This scenic, 105-mile stretch snakes through the rolling hills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, offering picture-perfect vantage points, eye-catching blooms, striking waterfalls and abundant wildlife (think: black bears, songbirds, deer and more). Plus, you can hike along a section of the Appalachian Trail, Potter explains. Even better, the park is just 75 miles southwest of the District of Columbia and 40 miles northwest of Charlottesville, Virginia, offering an easy and convenient weekend escape for city dwellers.
(Getty Images)

Arches National Park
Utah

Since the Northeast was pummeled by heavy snow this year, it's a smart idea to visit the Southwest, where the dry climate and high elevations allow for pleasant conditions for outdoor exploration, Potter says. He points to Arches National Park as particularly picturesque, with its mesmerizing red rock structures and more than 2,000 unique rock formations. For postcard-worthy views, head to Delicate Arch to enjoy a memorable hike or car ride. Another highlight: Devils Garden, a picturesque hiking trail that features a variety of heavy hitters, including Navajo Arch, Landscape Arch and Dark Angel. If you're on a budget, stay in nearby Moab, Utah, along U.S. Route 191, where cost-effective lodging options abound.
(Getty Images)

Redwood National Park
California

Spring marks a sweet spot for exploring Redwood National Park's scenic trails, with average highs in the low 60s. The picturesque Coastal Trail, spanning the western border of the park, is filled with redwood groves, captivating Pacific coastline views and sandy beaches. Other standouts include Gold BluffsBeach, Trillium Falls and Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway, which offers a route meandering past enchanting old-growth redwood trees. As an added bonus, the park offers a variety of ranger-led programs, from nature walks to campfire circles to expert-led kayak adventures. Plus, it's easy to enjoy stargazing without bursting your budget with four developed campgrounds and eight backcountry campsites.
(Getty Images)

Grand Canyon National Park
Arizona

This iconic national park draws heavy tourist crowds year-round, with nearly 6 million annual visitors, but it's hard to resist the appeal of taking in awe-inspiring vistas of geological formations, gorges and other natural splendors in spring. Enjoy biking, white-water rafting and tagging along guided nature walks. Another highlight: exploring the Rim or Bright Angel trails. While the weather will likely be chilly in early May, the park offers a quintessential family bonding experience. After all, what beats camping and sleeping beneath the stars? There are plenty of cost-effective campgrounds available on a first-come, first-served basis along the South Rim, including the Desert View Campground.
(Getty Images)

Joshua Tree National Park
California

With otherworldly geologic structures, impressive low- and high-desert ecosystems (the Colorado and the Mojave), and rare species such as the cholla cactus and desert fan palms, Joshua Tree National Park caters to active types craving a thrilling hiking or mountain biking adventure. Spring is an excellent time to visit, with temperatures hovering in the high 80s versus the sizzling triple digits of summer. If you're a novice hiker, tackle the 1-mile Hidden Valley, and if you're yearning for a challenge, try the Ryan Mountain Trail, a more strenuous route that yields dramatic valley views at its peak. Best of all, the park is located 140 miles outside of LA and offers nine kid-friendly campgrounds to pick from.
(Getty Images)

Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Tennessee and Virginia

Great Smoky Mountains National Park draws nature-seekers year-round, but spring is an especially enticing time to visit, when flowering plants and unique local flowers (think: crested dwarf irises and lady slipper orchids) are on full display. Surround yourself in beautiful blooms during the Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage, from April 11-15, Potter says. During the annual event, you can enjoy photography workshops and art lessons, plus you can attend evening lectures covering environmental conservation efforts, among other activities. And if your top goal is wildlife viewing, head to Cades Cove Loop, an 11-mile stretch where black bears, deer, coyotes and more creatures are often spotted.
(Getty Images)

Yellowstone National Park
Wyoming, Idaho, Montana

While Yellowstone's most prized geological splendors – Mammoth Hot Spring and Old Faithful – enchant visitors year-round, there are other noteworthy attractions worth visiting, says Alexis Kelly, editor at Fodors.com. Trek the 1.3-mile Geyser Hill Loop boardwalk to view active thermal features, including the violent Giantess Geyser, "which erupts only a few times each year and spouts from 100 to 250 feet in the air for five to eight minutes once or twice hourly for 12 to 43 hours," she says. And to explore the park's impressive wildlife-filled landscapes, dotted with bison and bighorn sheep, head to Yellowstone Lake. As for lodging, there are 2,000-plus campsites; make your reservations early to ensure availability.
(Getty Images)

Rocky Mountain National Park
Colorado

With staggering summits, some reaching over 14,000 feet, Colorado's Rocky Mountain National Park delivers heart-pounding thrills year-round. If you're interested in viewing frosted mountain scenery – complete with snow-capped peaks and alpine lakes – arrive in April. Come May, the area bursts with colorful wildflowers, but keep in mind many trails may still be blanketed in snow. "For a bird's-eye view of the area, hitch a ride on the Estes Park Aerial Tramway," Kelly says. And sky-watchers shouldn't skip out on the night sky and astronomy programs, which begin in June, she adds. "Park rangers and local astronomers lead free 30- to 90-minute sessions observing constellations, the moon and the Milky Way," she explains.
(iStockPhoto)

Woman Atop Angel's Landing.
Shenandoah, Virginia sunset
Landscape Arch in the Arches National Park, Utah, United States.
Looking up at the redwood trees at Muir Woods in San Francisco.
Toroweap Overlook on the north rim of the Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona.
Joshua Tree with Milky Way
 Sunset at the Newfound Gap in the Great Smoky Mountains.
USA, Wyoming, Yellowstone National Park, Midway Geyser Basin, Grand Prismatic Spring
Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park

Grab your camera and cross these national treasures off your list this season.
With pleasant temperatures, few crowds and dazzling floral displays, spring tempts us to get outdoors and embrace unspoiled hiking trails, spectacular vistas and incredible wildlife-viewing opportunities. Whether you want to commune in nature in a charming mountain town, admire grand geological formations in the Southwest or explore dramatic natural wonders along the coast, there are plenty of popular and little-known parks well-suited for ushering in the season. Plus, if you're on a stringent budget, during National Park Week, you can take advantage of complimentary entry from April 15-16 and April 22-23. With that in mind, here are inspiring parks with attractions and enticements catering to every kind of adventurer.
(Getty Images)

Shenandoah National Park
Virginia

For a legendary spring road trip, you don't want to miss soaking in jaw-dropping views along Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park, says Everett Potter, a travel columnist for USA Today and author of Everett Potter's Travel Report. This scenic, 105-mile stretch snakes through the rolling hills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, offering picture-perfect vantage points, eye-catching blooms, striking waterfalls and abundant wildlife (think: black bears, songbirds, deer and more). Plus, you can hike along a section of the Appalachian Trail, Potter explains. Even better, the park is just 75 miles southwest of the District of Columbia and 40 miles northwest of Charlottesville, Virginia, offering an easy and convenient weekend escape for city dwellers.
(Getty Images)

Arches National Park
Utah

Since the Northeast was pummeled by heavy snow this year, it's a smart idea to visit the Southwest, where the dry climate and high elevations allow for pleasant conditions for outdoor exploration, Potter says. He points to Arches National Park as particularly picturesque, with its mesmerizing red rock structures and more than 2,000 unique rock formations. For postcard-worthy views, head to Delicate Arch to enjoy a memorable hike or car ride. Another highlight: Devils Garden, a picturesque hiking trail that features a variety of heavy hitters, including Navajo Arch, Landscape Arch and Dark Angel. If you're on a budget, stay in nearby Moab, Utah, along U.S. Route 191, where cost-effective lodging options abound.
(Getty Images)

Redwood National Park
California

Spring marks a sweet spot for exploring Redwood National Park's scenic trails, with average highs in the low 60s. The picturesque Coastal Trail, spanning the western border of the park, is filled with redwood groves, captivating Pacific coastline views and sandy beaches. Other standouts include Gold BluffsBeach, Trillium Falls and Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway, which offers a route meandering past enchanting old-growth redwood trees. As an added bonus, the park offers a variety of ranger-led programs, from nature walks to campfire circles to expert-led kayak adventures. Plus, it's easy to enjoy stargazing without bursting your budget with four developed campgrounds and eight backcountry campsites.
(Getty Images)

Grand Canyon National Park
Arizona

This iconic national park draws heavy tourist crowds year-round, with nearly 6 million annual visitors, but it's hard to resist the appeal of taking in awe-inspiring vistas of geological formations, gorges and other natural splendors in spring. Enjoy biking, white-water rafting and tagging along guided nature walks. Another highlight: exploring the Rim or Bright Angel trails. While the weather will likely be chilly in early May, the park offers a quintessential family bonding experience. After all, what beats camping and sleeping beneath the stars? There are plenty of cost-effective campgrounds available on a first-come, first-served basis along the South Rim, including the Desert View Campground.
(Getty Images)

Joshua Tree National Park
California

With otherworldly geologic structures, impressive low- and high-desert ecosystems (the Colorado and the Mojave), and rare species such as the cholla cactus and desert fan palms, Joshua Tree National Park caters to active types craving a thrilling hiking or mountain biking adventure. Spring is an excellent time to visit, with temperatures hovering in the high 80s versus the sizzling triple digits of summer. If you're a novice hiker, tackle the 1-mile Hidden Valley, and if you're yearning for a challenge, try the Ryan Mountain Trail, a more strenuous route that yields dramatic valley views at its peak. Best of all, the park is located 140 miles outside of LA and offers nine kid-friendly campgrounds to pick from.
(Getty Images)

Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Tennessee and Virginia

Great Smoky Mountains National Park draws nature-seekers year-round, but spring is an especially enticing time to visit, when flowering plants and unique local flowers (think: crested dwarf irises and lady slipper orchids) are on full display. Surround yourself in beautiful blooms during the Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage, from April 11-15, Potter says. During the annual event, you can enjoy photography workshops and art lessons, plus you can attend evening lectures covering environmental conservation efforts, among other activities. And if your top goal is wildlife viewing, head to Cades Cove Loop, an 11-mile stretch where black bears, deer, coyotes and more creatures are often spotted.
(Getty Images)

Yellowstone National Park
Wyoming, Idaho, Montana

While Yellowstone's most prized geological splendors – Mammoth Hot Spring and Old Faithful – enchant visitors year-round, there are other noteworthy attractions worth visiting, says Alexis Kelly, editor at Fodors.com. Trek the 1.3-mile Geyser Hill Loop boardwalk to view active thermal features, including the violent Giantess Geyser, "which erupts only a few times each year and spouts from 100 to 250 feet in the air for five to eight minutes once or twice hourly for 12 to 43 hours," she says. And to explore the park's impressive wildlife-filled landscapes, dotted with bison and bighorn sheep, head to Yellowstone Lake. As for lodging, there are 2,000-plus campsites; make your reservations early to ensure availability.
(Getty Images)

Rocky Mountain National Park
Colorado

With staggering summits, some reaching over 14,000 feet, Colorado's Rocky Mountain National Park delivers heart-pounding thrills year-round. If you're interested in viewing frosted mountain scenery – complete with snow-capped peaks and alpine lakes – arrive in April. Come May, the area bursts with colorful wildflowers, but keep in mind many trails may still be blanketed in snow. "For a bird's-eye view of the area, hitch a ride on the Estes Park Aerial Tramway," Kelly says. And sky-watchers shouldn't skip out on the night sky and astronomy programs, which begin in June, she adds. "Park rangers and local astronomers lead free 30- to 90-minute sessions observing constellations, the moon and the Milky Way," she explains.
(iStockPhoto)

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Tags: travel, vacations, Washington, D.C., spring


Ann Rivall is an Editor for the Travel section at U.S. News. Since joining the Travel team in 2012, she has written and edited consumer advice stories on travel trends, created and edited content in association with U.S News Travel’s rankings products and overseen the management and expansion of the vertical’s travel guide content. Rivall is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin – Madison, where she earned her bachelor's degree in journalism and mass communication. She is based in Charlotte, North Carolina. You can follow Ann on Twitter, connect with her on LinkedIn or email her at arivall@usnews.com.

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