Off The Beaten Turf: The U.S. National Arboretum

by Shilpi Paul


We know it is revered, but perhaps because of its unlikely location deep in northeast DC, amidst high speed streets and warehouses, the U.S. National Arboretum doesn’t attract nearly as many visitors as a place this lovely should. For this edition of Off the Beaten Turf, UrbanTurf visits one of the city’s best date spots, best places to greet Spring, and best places to get lost.

Inconspicuous entrance

The best way to experience the Arboretum is to follow your nose. With magnolias, camellias, a dogwood forest and ferns cleaning the air of the 446-acre grounds, the Arboretum offers a brief respite from the congestion and pollution of city life. The grounds are so expansive that seeing everything in one day is nearly impossible. (It is bounded by New York Avenue NE, Blandensburg Avenue NE and the Anacostia River map.)

In addition to being a scenic destination, the Arboretum is run by the USDA’s Agricultural Research Center and acts as a living museum of U.S. plant life, with researchers, breeders and taxonomists who offer lectures and walks, like the upcoming Native Plant Symposium and the monthly Full Moon hikes.

One of many pathways

If you’re in a car or on a bike within the park, you can make good time on the nine miles of roadways that connect the gardens to each other. If you want direction, the visitor’s center near the entrance provides maps.

Because of the peaks, valleys, narrow paths, tall trees, and the tempting stepping stone paths that lure you in unplanned directions, it’s easy to lose your companions, your way, or track of time. However, this place is made for getting lost, and the signage describing the local and transplanted flora keeps trips informative.

Japanese Forest

The Capitol columns of the Arboretum make the grandest impression. The massive stone columns, much taller than anything else around them, sit on a slight hill past an expanse of grass. The sight of these heavy columns, which were taken from the Capitol during a renovation, sitting alone, holding up nothing and looking slightly worn down evokes a crumbling empire, and is unlike anything else in staid DC.

In the Asian collection, which includes a Japanese Woodland, Asian Valley, China Valley and Korean Hillside, you can find a quiet bench from which to view the Anacostia River. Not far from there you’ll find the Holly and Magnolia collection, which has benches placed strategically under the Magnolia trees. There are many other gardens; a list can be found here.

Capitol columns

On UrbanTurf’s visit, we saw some adventurous parents letting their children roam free along paths and climb trees, couples canoodling in supposed privacy, and photographers emerging from behind bushes. Everyone was very well distributed throughout the park, and despite all the activity, it was very quiet. Some of the paths are steep enough that I left feeling like I had exerted a satisfying amount of energy. The acreage makes it almost certain that you’ll be able to find a quiet, private, beautiful space for a picnic, making for a mighty romantic date spot. We also hear that the moonlight hikes are full of couples, although you’ll be with a guide, a group, and will cover four miles at a steady clip.

See other articles related to: u.s. national arboretum, off the beaten turf, langdon

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/off_the_beaten_turf_national_arboretum/5306


  1. Elder Witt said at 3:57 pm on Tuesday March 20, 2012:

    Great idea to feature this beautiful spot! It’s a real underused asset in DC—and a great place to train for long-distance walking—or running! What are the nearby residential neighborhoods? (‘cause getting there via New York Avenue is not much fun sometimes.)

  1. Dick Simpson said at 4:02 pm on Tuesday March 20, 2012:

    For over 40 years our family has visited the National Arboretum in every season.  We only avoid the Azalea peak now because the traffic is unworkable.  The Gotelli Collection of Dwarf and Slow Growing Conifers is as beautiful with a snow covering as it is at any other time of the year and played a role in the interstate highway history of the area.  The Arboretum and the spectacular but even less visited Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens across the Anacostia have let us watch the bird populations in the area decrease to about 15% of what they were 20 to 30 years ago.  The only Arboretum disappointment is that even if we are all alone on a back trail with the family doggie if the robocops discover that you are “off leash” you will be obnoxiously threatened with permanent banishment even though we have identified completely unused and geographically secluded areas which would be ideal for a doggie playground.

  1. Shilpi Paul said at 4:55 pm on Tuesday March 20, 2012:

    Hi Elder,

    Thanks for the comment! The New York Ave entrance is definitely not that convenient - I think the R Street entrance off of Bladensburg Rd., near Trinidad, is a little better.


  1. Nick the Greek said at 5:26 pm on Tuesday March 20, 2012:

    My favorite at the Arboretum is the Bonsai/Penjing area behind the main building.  The set up is wonderful for display of fine examples of Bonsai and Penjing.

  1. Brian White said at 5:08 pm on Wednesday March 21, 2012:

    The Arboretum has robocops?

  1. Rayful Edmond said at 12:23 pm on Thursday March 22, 2012:

    Along the backside of the Park there a path following the Anacostia River. The path is outside the Park’s boundary so you must enter and exit through a gate. At the end of the path, you can relax at picnic benches or sit on the floating dock. You can then re-enter the Park near the bottom of the Asian Collection. Parking is available near the intersection of Crabtree and Hickey Hill Road. Dogs must be on-leash while in the Park, but free to roam along the River.

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