Tidal Basin Loop Trail

Tidal Basin Loop Trail map image

This easy 2.1-mile loop takes you through natural and cultural treasures. Circling the Tidal Basin, this trail provides views most in accordance with the tradition of hanami (blossom viewing). The puffy white blossoms of the Yoshino cherry trees abound creating a cloud-like effect.

1. Japanese Lantern

More than 350 years old, this ten-foot tall granite lantern was dedicated on March 30, 1954, the 100th anniversary of Commodore Matthew Perry's opening of American trade with Japan. Its twin in Tokyo continues to honor warlord Tokugawa Iemitsu. As a gift to the United States from the Governor of Tokyo, the lantern stands as a symbol of Japanese American friendship and is lighted during the Cherry Blossom Festival. See the trailside sign for more information.

2. 1912 Plantings

Look for the bronze plaque on the rock. It is here that the first cherry trees were planted on March 27, 1912, in a very modest ceremony. First Lady Helen Herron Taft, a key figure in the acquisition of the cherry trees, planted the first while the Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Ambassador of Japan, planted the second.

3. Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial

This may be the most artistically complex of all the memorials due to the narrative use of the waterfalls. As you enjoy this unique setting for viewing the blossoms. Also consider how the landscape architect, Lawrence Halprin, tells a story simply through the design of the water features. For more detailed information about the memorial, pick up a brochure by the bookstore.

4. Japanese Pagoda

This granite structure, ca. 1600, was dedicated on April 18th, 1958, a gift to the city of Washington from the Mayor of Yokohama, Japan. In 1957, it arrived as a set of disassembled pieces packed in five crates and was unfortunately devoid of any assembly instructions. Specialists from the Smithsonian Institution assembled the pagoda based upon other examples. See the trailside sign for more information about pagodas.

5. Inlet Bridge

Following the disastrous 1881 flood that covered parts of the National Mall, the US Corps of Engineers began to dredge the Potomac River in order to improve navigability and reclaim land. The silt and mud placed behind retaining walls created 723.4 acres of new land upon which many of our memorials now stand, including Thomas Jefferson, Lincoln, and World War II memorials. The genesis of Inlet Bridge dates to 1887 when engineers began to install gates at the entrance and exit of a newly formed pond. The gates would allow the pond to fill from the river at high tide and then empty through the Outlet Bridge into the Washington Channel at low tide. This tidal driven action gives the pond its name, "Tidal Basin." The outflow of water through the channel flushes silt from the marina located there, reducing the need for further dredging. By 1890, the reclaimed land rose above the "high tide" stage and the Tidal Basin gates were completed and tested.

6. Thomas Jefferson Memorial

Started in 1938, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial was completed in 1943, during World War II. Because metals were considered critical to the war effort, the original statue was cast in plaster and then painted bronze. The current bronze statue was installed in 1947. To symbolize the war's principles, the original Declaration of Independence was displayed at the dedication ceremony during which President Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke of Jefferson, who "faced the fact that men who will not fight for liberty can lose it." The memorial provides an ideal backdrop for the blossoms, which according to Japanese culture are best experienced when a temple compliments the scene. Conversely, the memorial makes an excellent vantage point for panoramic views. However, the two did not always peacefully coexist. Construction of the memorial required the destruction of cherry trees already existing on the site. Public outcry about the loss of cherry trees led to a protest at the ground breaking dubbed the "Cherry Blossom Rebellion."

7. Crab Apple Trees (Malus sylvestris)

People often mistake these crab apple trees for cherry trees. The confusion is understandable; both are in the rose family and have similar looking flowers. Both also develop flowers before developing leaves and bloom at about the same time. Here you can compare the apple trees that stand between the path and the road with the cherry trees that grow on the other side of the path nearer the Tidal Basin.

8. Indicator Tree / Outlet Bridge

Called the indicator tree, this tree is growing very close to, even within, the large holly tree. Look for the numbered post to help guide you to the correct tree. This tree is called the indicator tree because it blooms about a week earlier than most of the cherry trees; thus, it is an indicator that the peak blooming period is soon to occur. Since the park has been administrated by a variety of organizations throughout the years, it remains a mystery who planted the tree, when it was planted, and even what species of cherry tree it is.

To the north, the path and road cross over the Outlet Bridge. This is where the Tidal Basin empties into the Washington Channel. See stop #5 for more information about the Tidal Basin.

9. Yoshino Cherry Trees (Prunus x yedoendsis)

The Yoshino cherry is the predominant cherry tree species in the park. During Peak Bloom, the Tidal Basin looks as if it is surrounded by fluffy clouds due to the profusion of the Yoshinos' single white blossoms. This variety can also be found in East Potomac Park and on the Washington Monument grounds. There are well over 2500 Yoshino cherries in total. These trees, known as Somei-Yoshino in Japan, are hybrids of unknown origin that were first introduced in Tokyo in 1872. As a constant living reminder of Japanese-American friendship, the Yoshino cherry trees continue to amaze the thousands of people who make the pilgrimage each spring to see them. Look for the numbered sign to identify the trees.

10. Floral Library

The nation's capital comes to life in the springtime not only with the vibrant cherry blossoms but also with countless other trees and gardens. You can find the most beautiful display of colors and shapes in this floral library, designed in 1968 by landscape architect Darwina L. Neal. The 92 planting beds were intended to be used as a tulip library, allowing visitors to view and compare a number of tulip varieties in close proximity. It also served as a demonstration garden for National Park Service employees. It is referred to as the Floral Library today because the tulips are replaced each year by annuals such as daffodils and hyacinth. The tulips are planted in November, emerging sometime in early to mid April. This spectacular floral display is the result of Park Service personnel carefully choosing from among several hundred varieties of tulips and planting them in masses. When in bloom, look for the pamphlets that describe each flower. You will be amazed!

11. Kutz Memorial Bridge

This is one of Washington, DC's more-"visited" memorials, but probably one of its lesser known. The bridge honors of Brigadier General Charles W. Kutz, who served as the DC's Engineer Commissioner in 1911-1917, 1918-1921, and 1941-1945. Kutz is remembered for writing the District's first zoning law and for his work in regulating the city's public utility companies. During his last term in office, Kutz oversaw the building of 15 bridges in the city, including the one that now bears his name. Originally known as the Independence Avenue Bridge, the DC Commissioners voted to name the span in honor of Kutz on July 17, 1953.

Last updated: March 19, 2021