According to the National Park Service, the cherry blossom peak bloom usually begins around March 20 to April 1. The best viewing of the cherry blossom trees typically lasts four to seven days after peak bloom begins, but the blossoms can last for up to two weeks under ideal conditions.
On a spectacular day during the first week of April, my husband I made our way to the District to experience our very first National Cherry Blossom Festival. While living a mere thirty miles from the Tidal Basin, we had never had the opportunity to enjoy the annual festivities – when more than 3,500 cherry trees, of twelve different species – burst into full bloom in the Tidal Basin area alone.
The Cherry Blossom Festival began in 1935 – sponsored by several civic groups – to commemorate the planting of cherry trees gifted to the people of the United States from the people of Japan in 1912. The symbolism of the cherry tree in Japanese lore is very powerful, making this a most highly regarded gesture.
Through the years, the festival took on more and more significance – growing from its initial three-day celebration – to its current two weeks, packed with ceremonial and entertainment events.
Days before we went, I checked out the National Park Service website and nationalcherryblossomfestival.org, where I found everything I could possibly need to know about the festival, events, best times to go, where to park, etc. It helped arm me with what was important to make our visit the easiest and most rewarding it could be.
As we walked to the Tidal Basin Welcome Center, we were afforded breathtaking views of the Jefferson Memorial, peeking through the cherry tree branches now groaning from the weight of the beautiful blossoms.
Thousands of visitors carefully made their way around the Tidal Basin Loop Trail, stopping to pose for selfies or enlist a bystander to take a shot of them – ensuring a lasting chronicle of their memorable visit.
Entering the Tidal Basin Welcome Center, we were greeted with the musical group Love Station on the main stage, singing “Ain’t That Love Under the CherryBlossoms,” a most fitting number. All around us, groups of children and adults were laughing and feasting on the goodies being sold at the stands. Spirits were high on this perfect spring day. Unfortunately, the paddle boats – a perfect mode of transportation to view the Tidal Basin from the inside, out – were closed for business that day due to windy conditions.
Stopping at the National Park Service Tent, we were given a colorful, foldout map of exactly where each species of tree was located, where the hop-on, hop-off bus stops were, and the exact locations of each memorial – including which had restrooms and offered food for purchase. Additionally, it listed every important National Cherry Blossom event – from the Opening Ceremony to the Anacostia River Festival. This was extremely helpful as we continued our trek around the Tidal Basin to view the memorials and take in the beauty at every turn.
Moving on, we took in the overwhelming Jefferson Memorial, climbing the steps to look out at the spectacular view of the Washington Monument. In completing the entire 2.1-mile walk, we stopped at the Japanese Pagoda, the expansive Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, and the very moving Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. The National Park Service affords many millions of yearly visitors with breathtaking, sometimes life-changing, memories.
After stopping at the Japanese Lantern and the location of the first cherry tree planting, we made our way across the Kutz Bridge to the World War II Memorial at the one end of the Reflecting Pool. The wind continued to blow, as all of us around the pool and fountains between the Atlantic and Pacific monuments got drenched from the nonstop spray. The kids were in their glory!
Our next stop was at the Korean War Veterans Memorial with its impressive, life-sized statues shown trudging through the Korean terrain. It gave me a startled, sad moment as I could almost feel their souls speaking.
At the stately Lincoln Memorial, we dodged around all of the stair-sitters to reach the top – a trek rewarded with a spectacular view of the Reflecting Pool and the Washington Monument in the distance. At any time of the year, the 2.7-mile walk around the Memorial Loop Trail is a moving, and wonderful trip. But during National Cherry Blossom season… it’s made far better with all of the bursts of color.
Our last, long stop was at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, where all of my high school and college memories of the conflict came flooding back in a wave of sadness. It’s unfathomable how one, long, triangular monument can evoke so many emotions, but it was evident by the many other, somber faces surrounding me.
The names of more than 58,000 Americans, who gave their lives in service to our country, are inscribed on the polished, black granite wall. Along the base of the memorial are hundreds of personal items, lovingly placed by family and friends to honor their missing service member. Many are in the process of making a rubbing of their loved-one’s name from the etching. The wall’s reflective composition allows you to see yourself within the names and draws you in. Without question, this is the most somber location on the memorial trail, as so many of us still have memories of that disturbing time in our country’s history.
As our day came to a close, we both realized how much we had been missing all these years and made a vow to experience more next year – from the Opening Ceremony, to the Blossom Kite Festival, Cherry Blossom Parade and the Sakura Matsuri Japanese Street Festival.
All told, it was a perfect day.
Each year, millions visit the National Mall and Memorial Parks to recreate, to commemorate presidential legacies, to honor our nation's veterans, to make their voices heard, and to celebrate our nation's commitment to freedom and equality.