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Your Guide to the Best DC Cherry Blossom Paddling

   April 17th, 2020   Posted In: Articles   Tags:

Your Guide to the Best DC Cherry Blossom Paddling Spots

Springtime in DC is a celebration. The gray hues of winter give way to blue skies. Signs of life start to sprout from the city’s abundant green spaces. And more daylight fosters new opportunities outdoors. But the crowning glory of this seasonal metamorphosis is the 3,000 cherry trees that bloom each year in the nation’s capital. For weeks, the National Park Service, along with local media and others, monitor the buds and project when they will reach peak bloom, signaling the best time to make the trip to see the trees in their full glory.

dc cherry blossom paddling

My husband, Scott, and I all geared up during the Cherry Blossom Festival in DC.

But to do this you’ve got to be ready to battle the crowds – unless you have access to a SUP of course. We all know paddling gives us a special perspective and unequal access to a lot of beautiful things. And that’s especially true in the case of witnessing DC’s renowned cherry blossoms.

Here’s your not-so-secret guide to the best places in DC to see the cherry blossoms by SUP.

DC Cherry Blossom Paddling Spot #1: The Tidal Basin

The Tidal Basin is the spot in DC that’s most synonymous with blossoming cherry trees, drawing 1.5 million tourists each year. The Jefferson Memorial and the Washington Monument serve as iconic backdrops to the countless photos snapped of the most well-known cherry trees in DC. The basin itself, a partially man-made reservoir, covers about 107 acres and is the focal point of the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival. While personal watercraft aren’t permitted in the basin, you can still get pretty close to the action on just the other side of its gates to the Potomac River.

Paddle up and down the DC shoreline and you can see the cherry blossoms. The Jefferson Memorial may be a little hidden from this vantage point, but from the right spot, you’ll be able to glimpse the towering Washington Memorial behind those fluffy blooms. Put-ins can be found through apps like Go Paddling, giving you an opportunity to make this as short or as long of a paddle as you’d like.

DC Cherry Blossom Paddling Spot #2: East Potomac Park

If you’re comfortable with choppier water, paddle the Potomac downstream from the gates of the Tidal Basin to East Potomac Park. This is a man-made island that lies southeast of the basin and is home to over 400 cherry trees, many of which you can see from the river. Follow the island to the tip – called Hains Point – and up the Washington Channel, which separates the island from DC’s southwest waterfront.

Many of the East Potomac Park cherry blossoms are of the Kwanzan variety, which tends to bloom later than the Yoshino cherry blossoms that are abundant in the Tidal Basin. That means peak bloom isn’t the only time to get out on the water to see the blossoms.

DC Cherry Blossom Paddling Spot #3: Anacostia River Park

For a quieter place to see the colorful flowers in full bloom, head to Anacostia River Park in southeast DC, which gives the public access to the river. Thanks to the National Cherry Blossom Festival tree planting program, the Anacostia area now has 50 cherry trees. Now, dozens of cherry trees bloom between the Anacostia River and the river trail at this 1,200-acre park. It’s also the site of the Anacostia River Festival, which closes out the National Cherry Blossom Festival each year.

Paddling here gives you a great view of Nationals Park, the ballpark for the Washington Nationals, and provides access to other activities post-paddle, including walks along the river, picnicking and playgrounds.

If you’re up for a longer paddle, head upstream to Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens to check out more of the urban nature DC has to offer.

Preparing for a Cherry Blossom Paddle

What to Wear

Before you jump on your SUP to see the cherry blossoms, take a moment to prepare for springtime weather and water conditions. Some afternoons get tantalizingly warm, but the water can still be dangerously cold. Even though you’re above water, dress for the immersion. Nothing is foolproof.

dc cherry blossom paddling

Scott in his wetsuit layers!

Your trip to see the trees should include a lot of layers, and a wetsuit should be your first consideration when you’re getting dressed. Need a quick lesson on finding the right wetsuit thickness? Here are some important tips on thickness and on understanding wetsuit measurements. Once you understand how these measurements work it’s easier to pick which one will match the water temperatures you’re paddling in (but here’s a good rule of thumb).

While it’s important to keep water temperatures in mind, you also need to consider your level of expertise on the board and the type of water you’re paddling in. How much are you actually going to be getting wet? Well, it depends on where you’re paddling, how windy it is, how comfortable you are on your board and a host of other factors.

This is where layers come in. Maybe a full wetsuit isn’t the right choice, instead, it’s a long john wetsuit. Or, maybe it’s a pair of neoprene pants paired with neoprene boots and lighter layers on top, like a rash guard. Grab a neoprene hoodie or jacket and pack it in a dry bag in case you get cold or need a dry piece of clothing to put on. A neoprene vest is also a good choice to help keep your core warm without overheating the rest of your extremities.

At the end of the day, you know your preferences best. Just be ready for all scenarios and stay within your paddling ability.

Know Before You Go

In addition to having the right gear, make sure you’ve done your homework on the local laws and regulations for where you want to paddle and put in. DC has lots of rules (see example above – no paddling in the Tidal Basin) so it’s important to do your due diligence before just going out. SUP is still a new and growing sport in many ways and how we represent it could impact how it’s accepted by states and localities.

And lastly, do some research on local tides before you hit the water. Each of these three locations is on the tidal Potomac and Anacostia Rivers. Tides can vary widely along sections of the rivers and low tides can limit the areas accessible to exploration. Here’s one resource to check local tides.

Now get out there and enjoy those beautiful blossoms!


*As of this writing there are many closures and restrictions due to COVD-19. Please follow CDC guidance in all activities during the coronavirus pandemic and follow any federal or state mandates.

Meredith was hooked on standup paddle boarding from the first time she held a paddle in her hands. She became an American Canoe Association L2 certified SUP instructor after taking classes for one summer in her home waters of the Potomac River. Meredith found a way to be on the water as much as possible by becoming an instructor with Potomac Paddlesports. She teaches flat water and race training classes and is regular SUP racer in the mid-Atlantic region. Meredith's close proximity to both the Potomac River and the Atlantic coast gives her ample opportunity to hone her river and ocean surfing skills. In her life off of the water, Meredith has lived in West and Central Africa and is a human rights advocate.

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