DC Cherry Blossoms 2021

Cherry blossoms — Washington, DC

One of the biggest regional photography events of the entire year will be upon us very shortly — the annual blooming of the cherry blossoms around the Tidal Basin in Washington, DC. This is an event that I’ve either painted plein air with watercolors or photographed nearly every year for the past four decades, and yes — it’s spectacular! However, like last year — due to the pandemic — it looks as though the entire area around the tidal basin is going to be off-limits for the duration of the blooming period. According to an article posted earlier this month on the Washingtonian website:

“Working with our cherry blossom partners and in consultation with the most recent guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and local health guidelines, the National Park Service continues to evaluate what, if any, opportunities will be available to view the blossoms in person at the Tidal Basin. We expect to make an announcement in the coming weeks.”

National Park Service spokesperson, Mike Litterst, to Washingtonian Magazine on March 1, 2021

As of this writing, the Tidal Basin area is still open to visitors — but surging crowds of cherry blossom viewers last year during the pandemic lockdown resulted in the DC Police abruptly sealing the entire area off to all vehicles and foot-traffic. Given how crazy people are about being cooped up for the past 12-months, I expect that the DC Police will respond the same way again this year (or at least tightly restrict access), because the crowds can be absolutely crazy down there.

So if access is tightly restricted or sealed off entirely, how can one see the cherry blossoms? The National Park Service is encouraging everyone to visit virtually, and have created a dedicated website for virtual viewing. The Trust for the National Mall also has a cherry blossom bloom cam setup, where you can watch the blooms live (though it’s currently offline as of this writing):

If the National Park Service relents and allows access, what should be expected? The plain and simple answer is this… pure insanity. There are extremely dense crowds the likes of which are never seen at any other time of year around the Tidal Basin. Check out these images I’ve taken in the past:

Cherry blossom crowds — Washington, DC
Cherry blossom crowds — Washington, DC
Cherry blossom crowds — Washington, DC

Even these images don’t do it justice: there are not only countless numbers of amateur and professional photographers (with tripods!) each trying to get the perfect shot — but there are also joggers, dog walkers, baby carriages, wedding photographers, engagement photographers, family event photographers, regular walkers, smartphone photographers, as well as mainstream media trucks with giant antennas, high-powered lights, and bulky video cameras. Trying to take photos that look picture perfect in all of this chaos can be maddening, but oh so worth it.

What about something other than the craziness around the Tidal Basin? DC is filled with all sorts of alternatives to the cherry blossoms, you just have to strike out on your own and discover what’s available. The challenge is find the other gems when the blooms for each location are at their peak, because there are so many different micro-climates and “hot spots” that exist within the big city, and few of them coincide with the blooming of the cherry blossoms.

But that’s what makes for an interesting and fun visit — just go with the flow, manage expectations, and enjoy being outside!

Please note: The cherry blossoms are expected to hit peak this year sometime between March 30th and April 9th, though I know from past experience that they can bloom much earlier or much later depending on what the weather conditions are like.

Image info:
Spring cherry blossom sunrise
Jefferson Memorial on the Tidal Basin
Washington, DC
April 2005
Canon 16/2.8 lens
Canon EOS 20D digital camera

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