National Cherry Blossom Festival: Boating on the Potomac River
Ready for springtime? One of the most beautiful signs of spring in the United States is highlighted in the nation's capital at the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival along the banks of the Potomac River.
They call it “the indicator.” It’s a single Yoshino tree, the type that puts on a spectacular show of pink cherry blossoms every year in Washington, D.C., centered around the annual event, the National Cherry Blossom Festival. This particular Yoshino tree is on the National Mall, and it’s the one that the National Park Service watches closely at this time of year. “The indicator” tends to bloom seven to 10 days before the rest of the Yoshino trees—and it hit peak bloom on March 22.
That means the cherry blossoms should be most gloriously showing their color between March 29 and April 1. The colorful display can last for another 10 days after that, meaning we all have until about April 11 this year to see the cherry blossoms burst into their full natural beauty.
Boating on the Potomac River
While it’s still a bit chilly at this time of year for boating on the Potomac River—the air and water temperatures were hovering around 40 degrees on the day “the indicator” did its thing—the river does happen to be one of the best vantage points for viewing the cherry blossoms away from the 1.5 million or so people who crowd into the nation’s capital to view the trees on land.
The more than 3,000 trees are along the water’s edge at the Tidal Basin near the Jefferson Memorial, and anywhere there’s a water’s edge, there’s a way for boaters to get a more personalized view.
Gangplank Marina is closest to the Tidal Basin. It has transient slips available for boats up to 125 feet length overall, but reservations are strongly recommended year-round—and especially during prime times such as the National Cherry Blossom Festival. Daily slip fees are $2 per foot of length overall.
If you can’t get your own boat down the Potomac in time for the National Cherry Blossoms Festival, then you can rent (something small). Thompson Boat Center is about 2 miles south of the action on the Potomac River. It has kayaks, canoes and hydrobikes.
But if you go with such a ride, keep the weather in mind: In water temperatures of 40 to 50 degrees, hypothermia can set in during a time period of less than 5 minutes. That’s when the average person starts to lose dexterity. After 30 to 60 minutes in water that temperature, people experience exhaustion and go unconscious. You can see the cherry blossoms in a kayak, but wear a dry suit or a wet suit plus a dry top with neoprene booties and a hat.
And no matter how stunned you are by the spectacular cherry blossom view, don’t fall into the water.