So my main advice about walking to the arboretum is simple: don’t do it. Unless you’re really fit, get a zip car or an Uber – it’s worth it. The Arboretum is really nice to visit, but it’s a long way from most places in DC and walking takes you through some much improved but still sketchy areas, like Trinidad.
I was accompanied by a friend and her dog, which made me feel a bit safer. It was also the middle of the day, and as many people have said, probably fine really. But when we ventured into a liquor store (the dog in search of air conditioning) I was struck by how the cashiers were protected behind a riot-proof plastic screen – I’ve never seen that before, and it didn’t fill me with confidence as to the safety of the area.
A little while ago crime dropped in this area, thanks to some vehicle check points set up by the mayor. These were then pronounced unconstitutional, but I think the area is still improving. Like everywhere in DC, property prices are rising and gentrification is creeping even into this area. And at the depressed, northern edge of this area – where we encountered the scary liquor store – a shiny new Kip charter school has just opened.
Once past Trinidad and the cemetery, the walk becomes a somewhat unpleasant slog (at least in a DC summer) up a hill beside a busy road. And then, finally, you arrive at the oasis that is the National Arboretum.
Entry is free, and we picnicked on the tables by the visitor center. It was a lovely spot, and I could have spent much of the day there, especially if I’d brought a good book.
The arboretum is huge, so I think we only saw a small part of it. We visited the pretty herb garden, with its pond and neat trellises. From here there is a good view of the columns, and we were drawn to wander over the meadow towards these. These columns, standing alone in the meadow, date from the 1820s, but were actually moved to the arboretum in the 1980s – they originally supported the dome of the Capitol building.
From the columns we realized we could take the path down to a stream, through a planted meadow, and into the woods. It was a hot day, so it was good to get out of the sun. Here we wandered in circles, rested on the numerous benches, and enjoyed the little stone and wooden bridges that cross and recross the stream.
Finally we visited the bonsai garden. I must admit to not really getting the point of bonsai. I far prefer to see trees growing wild in a forest than presented, stunted and manicured in a pot. They certainly have a varied collection at the Arboretum though, and I did like how the garden was set out in traditional style.
And then it was time to head home again. By the end of the day I think I’d walked about 12 miles! So again, my advice is: do visit the Arboretum, but don’t walk there unless you’re after a good work out!