The cherry blossoms are in their absolute prime right now, just in time for one of the busiest weekends of the year for the National Mall area.
The National Park Service announced late yesterday that the cherry blossoms around the Tidal Basin reached peak bloom yesterday, April 10. That's a day earlier than the original NPS forecast issued in the first week of March and right in the window predicted by the Capital Weather Gang when they issued theirs about a week after the NPS. Hats off to both groups for remarkably accurate forecasts--an exceedingly difficult prediction to make that far ahead with so many variables that come into play.
The sun is finally making an appearance today after several days' absence. It teased an appearance right at sunrise this morning, but it couldn't quite overcome some lingering clouds low on the horizon. But by about 7:30AM the sun was out and it's now a sparkling day. Tomorrow is shaping up for another pearler. The storms forecast for yesterday never materialized--at least not here--so the trees didn't have to contend with the rain and wind and are in pristine condition (well, as pristine as trees over a century old can be, as some are).
Photographers turned out in droves taking advantage of the coincidence of the full bloom, the weekend, and the first non-rainy morning for several days. Well before dawn it was busy, and by 6am parking was already becoming scarce. There's a serious amount of camera gear being put to work down there and some stunning shots being taken.
It's going to be a superb weekend down at the Tidal Basin, but it will be very crowded. Metro and walking are the best ways to get there. Traffic and parking is going to be a real headache, especially tomorrow morning with the road closures for the Cherry Blossom 10-miler. Even by 7am this morning it was a problem. I do not recommend trying to drive and park unless you really have no other better option. Here are some other ideas.
Here are some answers to common questions I'm getting at the moment.
Will the blossoms still be out Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday...?
Perhaps. My best guess at this point is that Monday will be very good, that sometime around Tuesday or Wednesday they'll start heading out, and that by Thursday and Friday they'll mostly be gone. I don't expect there to be much to see next weekend, although there are other flowers and even other varieties of cherry blossoms nearby that might be coming into bloom (I'll have more on these in a few days). But there's nothing absolute about this guess. It might be that they're still looking wonderful on Tuesday. It might be that they suddenly disappear Monday. The current weather forecast for Tuesday seems to call for rain. If that eventuates and ends up being a good bit of rain, it might hurry things along by knocking some petals off. The rain might not come. All of which gets us back to my original answer: perhaps.
For another point of reference, last year the trees bloomed at right around this time. The trees reached peak bloom on a Thursday (April 10). They were looking stunning through a beautiful and warm Saturday and Sunday (you can see photos here). By Monday they were very quickly on their way out, and by Tuesday morning there wasn't much left to see (photos here).
I also have a photo timeline based on past years of what to expect, when that might help.
I'll be posting more updates over coming days, so stay tuned!
How Can I Avoid the Crowds This Weekend?
Don't go to the Tidal Basin or National Mall. I don't mean to sound flippant, but it's going to be crowded all through the daylight hours and well into the evening. There's a good reason that many locals wouldn't be caught dead anywhere near downtown this weekend.
By 6AM this morning parking was already a problem, and it's only going to get much worse as the day goes on. And you can see in the photos below there were already thousands of people at the Tidal Basin well before sunrise. It gets much busier later in the morning and through the afternoon.
The Tidal Basin is a big area, with a waterfront stretching about 1.8 miles, so there's lots of room and it can accommodate a lot of people quite well. But if you just can't stomach the crowds but still want to see some cherry blossoms, the Tidal Basin isn't the only cherry blossom show in town. Here are some other ideas.
Where is the Best Parking?
There aren't any magic solutions to the parking crush, so some combination of Metro and walking is by far the best bet (see: How to Get There).
If you do plan on driving and parking, don't forget the road closures on Sunday morning.
There's parking along Ohio Drive SW and around the outer edge of East Potomac Park/Hains Point (with a free shuttle bus circulating). There are also three smallish parking lots just under the 14th Street Bridge behind the George Mason Memorial. All the nearby parking options are well signed. There will, however, be a lot of competition for the spots, so expect to be battling traffic gridlock throughout the National Mall and Tidal Basin area (the photo at the top of the How To Get There page was taken on this weekend last year and gives a good illustration of the problem).
Here are some more good tips from the Washington Post, including options for commercial operators offering reserved parking in the downtown area.
Here are some shots taken very early this morning (before the sun came out) that will give you a sense of what you can expect to see if you head down there today or tomorrow.