Washington explorer

There is an epidemic spreading through Washington, and it’s called spring fever. Snowmaggedon is history, and so is that long slog through snow and mud on your way to work. Once again, outdoors has become the place to be. But even if you’re all cooped up in your apartment with nowhere to go, don’t worry — here are some suggestions guaranteed to beat moping around the house in your winter pajamas.

For strollers, hikers, nature lovers and horticulture enthusiasts alike, the National Arboretum in Northeast is hard to beat when it comes to diversity — or, for that matter, beauty. Though best viewed in its full splendor during the June-July bloom, the park still impresses with a different, if more rigid, beauty in the early spring season. Fed up with winter and hankering for signs of spring? Trek up Azalea Road before the azaleas have appeared, among budding trees, daffodils, and clusters of snowdrops poking out of the dead leaves, and your seasonal gloom should be cured within moments.

If you ask Kayla, an intern who works in the park’s herb garden, one of the best things about the arboretum is that it comes alive in a different way with each season. In mid-spring, one can enjoy the coming of the spring wildflowers. In summer, it’s the summer bloom. In winter, visitors flock to admire the conifer collection.

But the perennial visitor favorite for all seasons, according to Kayla, is the Bonsai & Penjing Museum. With multiple exhibits containing over 100 plants, all painstakingly pruned and groomed to perfection, it exudes a sparse, disciplined calm and stunning attention to detail.

If you happen to be in the U Street area, be sure to stop by Meridian Hill/Malcolm X Park, a beautiful, sloping park that was recently designated a National Historic Landmark for its “outstanding accomplishment of early 20th century Neoclassicist park design,” according to the National Park Service website.

Unfolding gently down the hill that serves as its namesake, and dotted with statues depicting Joan of Arc, Dante and James Buchanan, among others, the area somehow manages to combine stately grandeur with a friendly, communal atmosphere. In the lower park, which is divided into two by the park’s signature stepped fountain, outdoor enthusiasts of all ages gather on the grassy slopes to enjoy the sun, read, picnic or simply hang around.

On Sundays, the upper park is typically a flurry of activity. A drum circle gathers in the afternoon near the top of the fountain to play, inviting visitors to dance in whatever style they deem appropriate (when this writer attended, that turned out to include Spanish flamenco, African-style dance and one person enthusiastically working the hula hoops). Food is handed out to the homeless, and in the rear section of the park, visitors can play Frisbee and bocce ball on the lawns.

If your interest in parks is more of the free-roaming, exploratory kind, then you might want to check out Rock Creek Park — at 1,754 acres the largest park in the District. Walk beneath the oaks and sycamores along scenic Rock Creek, enjoy a picnic in one of the groves (you can reserve one for a fee at the National Park Service), or explore the many winding trails by foot, by bicycle or on horseback. Just make sure to clear your schedule and not to be in a hurry —to get the most out of this magnificent park, you need at least a whole day to spare.

The D.C. area is blessed with a large number of beautiful parks, a fact that residents and visitors alike should make good use of. Spring is a wonderful season, but remember: it only happens outdoors.

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