Established by Congress in 1927, the federally sponsored Arboretum is dedicated to breeding and fostering plants for different locales around the United States. Set a little over two miles from the U.S. Capitol Building, this 446-acre series of parks, forests groves, meadows and and gardens is connected by 9 ½ miles of roadways, making it most easily experienced by car or bicycle, with stops along the way.
Laid out by an advisory board that included Frederick Law Olmstead, one of America’s most accomplished landscape designers, the Arboretum is largely composed of elegantly-arranged garden collections, sometimes punctuated by sculptures and architectural details. Highlights include an extensive bonsai garden and an authentic Japanese pavilion; a huge pond stocked with hungry koi; thousands of azaleas along a woodland walk; and a stand of Corinthian columns salvaged from the Capitol prior to the building of its famous dome.
Throughout the year, an annual garden fair, a bonsai festival, and an orchid show draw thousands of visitors here; during these special events, a food vendor is brought on site. Otherwise, only light snacks are available in the Arboretum’s gift shop and from adjacent vending machines. Picnics are allowed every day, but only on the Administration Building east terrace or at the picnic area at the National Grove of State Trees.
It’s free to park in the Arboretum’s various on-site lots. The closest
Metrorail stop is Stadium Armory, serving the Blue and Orange Lines, and
requires a transfer to the B2 Metrobus; disembark the bus on
Bladensburg Road at Rand Street, walk back to the Arboretum sign at R
Street, then walk two blocks along R Street to the Arboretum entrance.