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Hey, the azaleas are already looking good -- let's go take a peek!

OK, 8:00 am is early, but the Arboretum always piles the Azalea Blossoms on top of the Bonsai Festival, so if we don't get there early, we'll have quite a crowd to contend with. Let’s get in first thing for some quality time with the azaleas and then stretch it out with a nice hike east through the Arboretum to the Anacostia and back!

The route:

We'll meet in front of the Arbor House and head straight for the Azalea Collection, winding our way uphill through the network of woodland trails to the top of Mount Hamilton and back down again, exiting the Azalea Collection to the south.

From there we'll rev things up a bit and head east along Crabtree and Hickey Hill Roads to the Asian Collection, where we'll take the winding pathway down to the bank of the Anacostia River and see how flooded it is after an entire week of steady rain.

Popping back up on the road, we'll walk north past the Dogwood Collection and head back west along Meadow Road, with a jag south along Beechwood Road to walk past the National Capitol Columns before returning to our starting point. The Bonsai Garden is nearby for those who wish to linger longer and tour the tiny trees.

The hike is a circuit (loop) of 4 miles of smiles and should take about 2 hours, given the slower initial pace in the azaleas. The path is a mix of paved and fine gravel/wood chips, with hills and some steps here and there.

Google Map: http://tinyurl.com/kuzqh8b

How to get there:

• Metro is not recommended. See the driving directions at the Arboretum’s website here: http://tinyurl.com/3yueul

• The approximate street address to the gate is 2371 R St NE, Washington, DC 20002, GPS = 38.912579,-76.971749

NB: Try to arrive early! Cars usually queue up along R Street NE, waiting for the gates to open so they can snatch all the good parking spots, immediately to the left after you enter the gate.

Parking: The main parking lot is on the left just past Hickey Lane. If that lot is full, there's more parking south along Eagle Nest Road.

Cost: None.

What to bring: Water, comfy shoes, and your furry friend if desired (leashes are required). The forecast is mostly sunny and a high of 72 degrees, so consider a layer for the morning chill. Of course, a camera is a great idea!

Administrative stuff: The Arbor House, immediately to the right as you enter the park, has drinking fountains and "real" restrooms. There are also porta-johns positioned here and there in the park. As a reminder, this is a kids-free zone, no one under 18 years of age is permitted.

After the hike: If you forgot breakfast on your way to go hiking, Dangerously Delicious Pies and the H St Coffee House are 5 minutes' drive away along H Street NE in the Atlas District.

Notes:

• US National Arboretum: http://www.usna.usda.gov/

• PDF map of the grounds: http://tinyurl.com/2r2gc8

• Dangerously Delicious Pies, 1339 H St NE, Washington, DC, (202) 398-7437, http://www.dangerouspiesdc.com/ #

• H Street Coffee House & Café, 1359 H St NE, Washington, DC