Cherry Blossom Watch Update: April 9, 2015

The cherry blossoms are now in full bloom and putting on a wonderful show. Too bad the weather isn't playing along.

The cherry blossoms are putting on quite a show. Too bad the weather isn’t playing along. It’s drizzly, cool, and with very dull light so far. But the trees are looking beautiful.

They’re in full bloom now. The National Park Service judged that 70 percent of the trees had reached or passed through the “puffy white” stage as of yesterday. The historical average is that that is reached 4-6 days ahead of peak bloom. But in keeping with the unusually fast progression over the past week or so, it’s likely to be a shorter period this year. For a visualization of just how quickly things have been moving, here’s how differently they looked just three days ago.

While not every tree is fully out just yet, the ones that aren’t are in a clear minority. Some of the non-Yoshino varieties appear to be lagging just a little behind. As always, in the shots below I’ve tried to include samples of the various stages the trees are currently at to give a realistic view of what you might see if you were down at the Tidal Basin with me this morning (just add water for the rain). Based simply on how the trees look this morning (I haven’t done any counts), I wouldn’t be surprised if we get a peak bloom announcement today or perhaps tomorrow once the NPS arborists judged that we’re past the 70 percent threshold.

As we move through the peak bloom period, the clock is ticking. Last year peak bloom fell on a Thursday. The trees were looking glorious through Saturday and Sunday (you can see photos from the Sunday here). But by Monday most of the trees were on their way out. By Tuesday there wasn’t much left to see (photos here). In other years the process is a bit slower by a day or two. What’s going to happen this year isn’t clear, but the reality is that the closer your visit is timed to peak bloom the safer the chances of a beautiful scene.

The weather forecast is very good for the weekend but not great for today and tomorrow. The rain we’ve had so far hasn’t really had a negative effect on the trees. While it’s possible to find occasional scattered petals on the ground, it’s nothing to be concerned about and you don’t notice them unless you look for them. Storms tomorrow might have more of an effect, but there are so many flowers to start with that they can absorb large losses and still look beautiful. If I was making plans myself, I wouldn’t let the risk of storms tomorrow dissuade me from coming over the weekend.

This morning there was hardly anyone down at the Tidal Basin. There were a few more people than yesterday, and a few photographers out taking photos and the usual joggers, but early this morning there was wide open parking and lots of space to enjoy the cherry blossoms and hear the birds chirping. Expect bigger crowds over the next few days, and if you’re planning to come on the weekend be sure to factor in the events on Saturday and Sunday (see yesterday’s update for details).

A number of photographers have asked about lenses. I’ve included the lenses used for each shot in the captions below. I’ll throw some different lenses into the mix in the next update. Others have asked about the Reflecting Pool. As of this morning it’s still drained; I don’t know what the schedule is for filling it.

Last updated June 29, 2016

View Comments

  • We were in DC for the birth of our granddaughter on March 26-April 8. Our daughter felt well enough to get out April 7 so we took the toddler for a walk along the Potomac side of the basin and shot photos with the iPhone cameras. One year we did the Washington Post guide walk at peak. Both visits were ethereal and beyond our Texas vocabulary. Thank you for the stunning photos and advice.

    • Sounds like a special trip! I was down in Texas just last week and it certainly has its own charms at this time of year.

  • Awesome job... Every Year I follow your website. Keep up the great job.
    Please suggest some places, where the view would be great. I am thinking of driving down tomorrow.

    • Unless you're aiming to see the sun rise over the horizon (in which case, next the FDR Memorial is best), there are great views all the way around the full 360 degrees. To walk the entire way round is about 1.8 miles. Basically, you really can't go wrong.

  • Hi...I've been following your blossom watch and loving it. Thanks much! We are going to drive down Saturday to see it. Yeah! We plan to arrive before sunrise to take sunrise shots and before the crowd comes in.

    Where would the best place to go? And is it easy to find parking at 5.30am around the Tidal Basin? We would want to park all day till sunset. Thanks.

    • You'll be amazed at how many photographers will be down there with you at that hour being both the weekend during the bloom and the first proper glimpse of the sun for several days. Here are some examples from last year. If it's a clear morning, the long stretch running from the MLK Memorial up along the FDR Memorial is opposite the sunrise and is the most popular spot to catch the rising sun. This post might help. While parking should be okay along Ohio Drive SW at that hour, it will probably start to fill up not long after. If that stretch is full, you can go back around the Tidal Basin clockwise and once you get to the T-intersection between the Jefferson Memorial and the George Mason Memorial, take a left to more parking up past the bridges.

      But the catch is that I don't know that you'll get away with parking there all day. I might be wrong and haven't thought to check for myself, but I've heard that at least some of those areas might have 2-3 hour temporary override limits. I'm afraid I don't know whether that's in effect, which particular areas it's in effect in, or how vigilantly it's being enforced. It should all be clearly signed, and I'd err on the side of caution--DC's parking inspectors make hay during cherry blossom season.

  • Fantastic pics! I'm taking tips from your shots & get the creative juice flowing. :) I also have Nikon & will be bringing my 60mm Macro, 70-200 & 17-55s.

    We're planning to drive up from NC this Sat & will reach there by 11ish. I'm planning to leave the car at either of the two suburban metro stations you recommended above. I'll be travelling with my mom who is 75 yrs old, wife & teenaged kids. Though, she's good at keeping the spirit up, are there enough spots for her to rest when her body can't?

    After 3-4 hrs, I'm sure the kids will get bored. Any other way to keep the kids engaged?
    Also we're vegetarian. Are there any good restaurants at walkable distance or it would be better to walk back to the metro & drive?

    Thank you so much for all the valuable tips!

    • One of the things the Tidal Basin has in spades is lots of nice areas to rest in the shade. There are quite a lot of park benches and lots of space to spread out a picnic blanket. There are permanent restroom facilities at the MLK, FDR, and Jefferson Memorials and ample porta-johns in the parking lot off Maine Ave SW. Food and refreshment offerings are harder to come by, though, so it's worth making sure you have at least some water with you. There's a popup lunch place in the parking lot off Maine Ave SW. I'm afraid I haven't looked at their menu so don't know what they offer. There's an NPS kiosk nearby that has basic snacks etc. If you don't take your own picnic, the next best option is to head elsewhere. The downtown/Foggy Bottom/Penn Quarter areas on the other side of the National Mall have many options. Closer by, most of the museums have cafes--the ones in the National Gallery and the National Museum of the American Indian are a step up from others.

      There's a lot to do along the length of the National Mall, which is right next to the Tidal Basin. Any of the museums offer a way to easily spend several hours (and are air conditioned). The Holocaust Museum is the closest museum to the Tidal Basin and is well-worth a visit, although it is of course appropriately sobering. The Smithsonian Air and Space Museum is a popular favorite, as is the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. There are superb art galleries along the same stretch, including the National Gallery and Freer Gallery. The Smithsonian Museum of American History is good not only on history but also pop culture. And those are only some of the many options. The Lincoln Memorial and other memorials along the Mall are all very impressive as well and well worth exploring.

  • Gorgeous photos! Do you think there will still be flowers next Thurday (April 16th)? It's unfortunate that that I am only able to go that day. Thanks!

  • Thank you for the update! I am going to DC on 14-15 for 2 days, I think it's the best time!

  • Thanks for your update! I saw your post this morning and decided to go today. I arrived around noon and was able to get a great parking spot on Ohio Drive, near the FDR memorial. We had a great time despite the clouds. One note for other visitors hoping to park: today (and possibly other days) Ohio Drive goes only one way--northwest--in the West Potomac Park area. It seems like in past years it only went southeast.

  • David - Thank you so much for the real time updates! I have been using your website for the past couple years and have never missed a peak!
    Between Saturday and Sunday, which day do you think provides the better chance in terms of seeing pink flowers? I like them when they first turn pink but no leaves yet. Are you planning on another update when it officially reaches peak blooming?

    • I agree. That's when I think they're looking their best too. But I really can't predict when that'll be--it's such a fine line. But yes, I'm planning more updates in coming days, so that should help give an idea how the color shift is going.

  • David,

    I moved to the NYC area almost 20 years back and have never been able to see these famous blossoms. I have this in my list for so many years but was never able to make it on time. Now - many thanks to you - I will finally be able to cross this out from my to-visit list this Saturday.

    Are there any paid parking garages within walking distance? Crowd wise is it better to visit in the morning or evening? The earliest I could make it from NY would be around 11.00.

    Thanks again for keeping people like me updated with the latest! It requires a real strong commitment which is not easy. God Bless you and your family!

    • It's going to be busy all day Saturday starting before sunrise and extending into the evening. So I wouldn't try to plan around that. The area around the Tidal Basin is pretty expansive with a very long waterfront, so it can accommodate a lot of pedestrians comfortably. Any time of the day is pretty in its own way, so you can really go wrong there. Getting to and from is another matter--it's just going to be a busy weekend, period, and traffic in the area is likely to grind to a halt. Yes, there are paid parking lots in the downtown area, many of which are walkable, especially if your definition extends to a longish walk. And there's going to be quite a bit of competition for those spots too because of the parades. Another option that avoids the problem of road traffic downtown is that many of the suburban metro stations have commuter parking. The Smithsonian or L'Enfant Plaza stops are both easy walks to the Tidal Basin. The Washington Post has just posted this very handy guide. I haven't tried the parking spot apps mentioned at the end of it, but they might be another option worth looking into.