The U.S. National Arboretum is a sprawling 446 acre park maintained by the Department of Agriculture. Its main purpose is to increase the value of plants through research and conservation. But with 9.5 miles of pathways winding through fields and forests, the arboretum is also one of Washington DC’s best hiking spots. Grab a map from the visitor’s center to keep from getting lost in the large and hilly expanse. Entrance to the National Arboretum in DC is completely free.
You won’t be able to miss the National Capitol Columns, the arboretum’s most famous attraction. Twenty two sandstone columns that once graced the U.S. Capitol Building now hold up the sky in a vast field surrounded by trees. It is a favorite spot of local photographers.
Other spots worth seeking out include the Grove of State Trees, Fern Valley, the Dogwood Collection, and the National Herb Garden. Note that if you plan to climb Mount Hamilton for a view of the Capitol Building, the view is mostly obscured by trees. But the thousands of azaleas covering the slopes make for a lovely walk in late summer and early autumn. In fact, the National Arboretum is one of the best places in DC to view fall foliage.
The National Bonsai & Penjing Museum is located within the arboretum. Bradford pear, Japanese maple, quince, gingko, and even California Redwood trees can be pruned into delicate shapes with time and patience. During the autumn, the leaves of the miniature trees turned brilliant shades of red, yellow and orange.
The National Arboretum is located in Northeast Washington DC and is best reached by car. There is ample free parking if you drive. “Stadium-Armory” is the nearest Metro stop and can be accessed via the Blue/Orange/Silver. It’s a long walk from the station, but Metrobus B-2 services the route.