From all-American Apple to Japanese Zelkova, trees are as beneficial to environments as they are beautiful to observe—and D.C. has leafy friends in spades. The result is a culture-filled destination that stimulates and enriches where you can also enjoy the simple pleasure of a tree-lined street. With a climate that’s similar to temperate zones in Asia, the nation’s capital allows a wide variety of tree species—including ornamentals like Zelkova and Yoshino cherry—to thrive. Whether you find yourself looking up to admire the National Christmas Tree in the winter or down at the cherry blossoms that carpet the ground in spring, take a trip that focuses on D.C.’s spectacular specimens to get to the, ahem, root of why we all should care about trees, no matter where in the world we live. Pro tip: wear comfortable shoes—you’ll be walking quite a bit.
Itinerary / 3 DAYSPLAN YOUR TRIP
DAY 1Forest bathing in the National Grove
Begin your tree travels with a little “forest bathing” (the practice of spending time in nature to de-stress and revive) at the National Arboretum. A national treasure, it’s a 446-acre public research facility dedicated to preserving the environmental and economic importance of landscape and ornamental plants. Walk through the National Grove of State Trees (or “The Grove” for short), a patriotic plantation of trees—the first one planted in 1990—representing the 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Plan to stay a while by bringing along your lunch so you can pause to enjoy it at one of the picnic tables provided (find them close to the entrance portal and the M Street parking lot). Transport yourself to the Far East with a visit to the exquisite National Bonsai & Penjing Museum, located on the grounds of the Arboretum, and learn about growing your own food and composting with the Washington Youth Garden Field Trip.
After so much natural beauty, take in D.C.’s manmade majesty on an evening bike tour of “America’s Front Yard,” the National Mall. Its many iconic sites—including the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial—are even more breathtaking after dark. Bike tour companies such as Unlimited Biking will escort you through these sites, or get yourself rolling with Metro DC’s bikeshare service, Capital Bikeshare, and tailor your own tour.
DAY 2Enjoy a D.C.-area refuge with majestic trees
For today’s big tree excursion—to Rock Creek Park—you’ll start on the Metro and head toward D.C.’s Northwest. The stations at Friendship Heights and Fort Totten are closest to the Nature Center, where your park experience begins. It’s home to the Planetarium and nature exhibit area, where staff will answer questions and help you plan your trip. Known as D.C.’s oasis in the city, Rock Creek Park offers many points of interest, letting you escape the Beltway bustle and take a hike or go jogging, cycling, or horseback riding.
Here, visitors will “find a peaceful refuge with majestic trees, wild animals, fresh air, recreational opportunities, and thousands of years of human history”—not to mention breathtaking beauty. Officially authorized in 1890, Rock Creek is the third-oldest national park designated by the federal government. The park consists of nearly 2,000 acres, more than double the size of Central Park in New York City.
In the evening, refuel with a light-yet-filling noodle soup at Vietnamese spot Pho Viet, one of D.C.’s best.
DAY 3Discover the U.S.’s first botanical garden and “Spanish Steps”
Did you know Rome isn’t the only place with “Spanish Steps”? Up next are D.C.’s own Spanish Steps in the Kalorama Heights neighborhood, where you’ll find a row of embassies along Massachusetts Avenue and Mitchell Park, which has sports fields, a basketball court, and the landmark steps. Dating to 1911, they climb four levels up to a decorative fountain. This series of steps and terraces, also known as Decatur Terrace, leads to a tree-lover’s sanctuary right in the middle of the city. It’s easy to relax in this secret garden shaded by magnolias, Easter red cedars, oaks, and flowering trees.
For a delicious Japanese dinner, try the acclaimed sushi and other offerings at Momiji. Fittingly, the name is Japanese for “autumn leaves.”
As your trip nears its end, plan to keep in touch with trees through the D.C.-based American Forests, founded in 1875. The oldest national nonprofit conservation organization in the United States serves as “the pathfinders for creating healthy forests from coast to coast.” Cities have forests, too. According to American Forests, “Over 140 million acres of America’s forests are located in cities and towns. Urban forestry is defined as the planting, care and protection of trees in the urban and suburban environment.” Washington, D.C. is a prime example of a city providing an excellent ecosystem for trees. As you’ve now seen for yourself, trees of almost every imaginable species thrive here—inspiration to take home with you.