Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Car-free DC: National Arboretum

This article is first in a series on hikes in DC that can be reached by public transportation.

It's azalea time in DC, and nowhere are there more azaleas than at the National Arboretum. Thousands of them, arrayed on a hillside laced with trails for you to explore. What's more, at 240 feet above sea level, "Mount" Hamilton is one of the highest points around, and will reward a small climb with a view of the Capitol.

This year, the arboretum reported the blooms had reached peak on April 30. But there are at least some blooms for weeks on either side of the peak. Follow the azalea "blossom watch" here.

During peak azalea season, there will be crowds. To avoid them, the Arboretum recommends visiting during the week or in the early morning. Crowds also mean lots of cars and parking hassles. This is the perfect situation to inaugurate a series we're calling Car-free DC.

Besides the azaleas, there are lots of good reasons to visit the Arboretum. From the azalea area, you'll see an open field with what looks like the ruins of a Greek temple – it's actually a fun re-purposing of columns that were removed from the Capitol building in a 1958 addition.

Past the columns, you'll come to Fern Valley – the Arboretum's native plant collection and our favorite spot in the park. This is an excellent place to learn the names of plants that you'll see in the woods around DC – many are clearly labeled. Or you can just relax in the shade by the stream and enjoy the lack of azalea-gawkers. There's also a meadow planted with native prairie plants that will show off later in summer – asters, goldenrod, coneflowers, and the butterflies and other pollinators that visit them.

And there's much more: a bonsai collection, a youth garden where local kids have their own plots, a grove consisting of the official trees of every state, waterfront along the Anacostia River…and more. Check out this map of the grounds and this list of what's blooming.

To get to the National Arboretum by public transport:
  • Take Metro to the Stadium Armory Station on the Blue and Orange lines.
  • Take the B2 bus northbound (toward Mount Rainer). If you're unsure where to get off, tell the driver when you board that you want to go to the Arboretum; most drivers will be happy to help you out.
  • You'll get off the bus on Bladensburg Road at Rand Street, just past the Arboretum sign on the right.
  • Walk back to the sign, which is at R Street, and walk down R Street 2 blocks to the Arboretum entrance.

The bus runs every 20 minutes or so on Saturdays and every 25 minutes on Sundays, so you may want to look up when you should leave your local metro station to catch one with a reasonable wait, and take a schedule with you to know when you should aim to catch your ride home. (Of course, that assumes that Metro buses run on schedule, which we know they don't. But still, you can try.)

There's no charge for the Arboretum. The grounds are open 8-5 throughout the year except Christmas Day. The Visitor's Center and bonsai collection are closed for several holidays, and sometimes close early – check the website or give a call.

More info:

must be leashed at all times and must be controlled so that they do not urinate on, defecate in, or enter garden beds. Owners must clean up after their pets. Pets are not allowed in the Administration Building or in the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum."

Bikes: There are nine miles worth of roads you can ride on, and the speed limit is 20 mph. There are bike racks at each parking area in the Arboretum.

United States National Arboretum
3501 New York Avenue, NE
Washington, DC 20002-1958

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