Shelly Pate

Insider Photography & Wedding Venue Guide: The National Arboretum DC Garden Beauties

Couple stands back to back at National Arboretum DC engagement session

One of my favorite Washington, DC wedding venues is without a doubt the National Arboretum. It’s a large amount of land that provides a garden getaway for couples who want to stay in the city. This epic botanical wonder is situated in the heart of DC just north of the Capitol building. Being surrounded by nature makes it feel like you are miles outside of the city. Below are countless reasons why I recommend the National Arboretum DC as your wedding venue!

Why Choose the National Arboretum as Your Wedding Venue

Newlyweds stand together in front of Capitol Columns at National Arboretum DC wedding

Photographically, the National Arboretum DC checks off all the boxes on your DC wedding venue checklist. It is the perfect natural backdrop to your intimate wedding ceremony, first look, portraits, day-before or day-after photos, or even your entire adventurous wedding! The Arboretum is flexible with renting the space for the full day, only your ceremony, or solely for portraits.

Man carries woman through flower field at National Arboretum DC engagement session

Some couples go there just for their portraits while their DC venue is at a brewery or boutique hotel. It’s perfect for couples who want to intertwine their love of the outdoors with city vibes! The Arboretum is also an all-in-one solution to have your ceremony, reception, and portraits in the same spot.

The Best Spots at The National Arboretum

The National Arboretum DC looks great in every season and depending upon the time of day, there are so many interesting pockets of light around the grounds. It is the largest outdoor wedding venue in the DC Metro Area with vast open fields, Asian gardens, dogwood trees, flowering rose gardens, and conifer trees. I really enjoy the trails and some of the areas just off the main event spaces.

Couple embraces in field at National Arboretum DC engagement session

As a photographer, I love this venue because there’s such variety in the looks and settings. The natural landscape and variety of locations provides so many backdrops, textures, and colors in your wedding photography. Each area has its own look, so there’s a ton of different places to take photos. I enjoy spring and fall the most and the Arboretum is my favorite option for winter engagements.

couple runs through woods at National Arboretum DC engagement session

National Arboretum DC By Space & Season

couple stands in snow outside of greenhouse at National Arboretum DC engagement session

The National Arboretum DC offers every category of outdoor location: vast open meadows, wooden arches, greenhouse, forest trails with fallen trees, expansive lawn, gorgeous gardens, dogwood and conifer trees, and the stunning architecture of the pillars and reflecting pool. You can read through a full description of each collection at the Arboretum or go through my favorites below!

national capitol columns in snowy field at National Arboretum DC
  • National Capitol Columns: the 22 Corinthian columns that were once part of the Capitol Building are placed in the Ellipse Meadow with a reflecting pool. You can personalize the look of your wedding by getting married with the columns off in the distance, or you can get married right within them. It’s just a stunning, unique place to wed and quite the epic sight!
couple stands holding hands in the middle of National Columns at National Arboretum DC engagement session
couple embraces in front of National Columns reflecting pool at National Arboretum DC

couple sits on bench at winter engagement session
  • Dogwood Collection: best for wedding-day portraits, engagement sessions, or an intimate ceremony. It has benches, and a fountain making it a park-like environment.

couple walks through trellis covered in greenery at garden wedding

  • National Herb Garden: best in spring and summer, most couples hold their ceremony there or use it for portraits.

National Arboretum DC: Top Tips for Every Kind of Event

couple runs through meadow of flowers at rainy spring engagement

Even though the National Arboretum DC itself is vast, you don’t have to utilize all of it on your wedding day for photos. I often joke that it’s the perfect solution for your wedding if you love the outdoors but aren’t so keen on the hiking idea. Staff will also drive us around in a golf cart so you can get to all of the photo locations on your list.

couple sits under trees together at fall sunset fall leaves engagement

Here are my top tips for how to utilize well whichever spots you choose:


A tent is available as a rain back-up or as a covered area for the reception placed between the National Herb Garden and the National Capitol Columns.

Time of Day

For all spaces at the National Arboretum DC, the best time of day to capture the light is at 8am when they open or 2 hours before closing (3-5 PM). The light is most epic in the morning especially at the Capitol Columns. Avoid the midday bright sun in the open areas and keep in mind that it’s a free public outdoor museum so other visitors may be present, but there’s plenty of room on this 446-acre property to spare!

Other Session Options

couple holds baby's hands in meadow at spring family session

Other portrait options include maternity, proposals, anniversaries and family sessions. With engagement sessions, it can look like we went to many different locations between the fields, forests, florals, columns, etc. It is really fun to explore and it is such a relaxing time. Also, the Arboretum is pet-friendly! Fur babies can join any kind of session!


I highly recommend Natalie Thomas at MTG Hospitality as the DC wedding planner to coordinate your National Arboretum DC wedding. She knows the ins and outs of the park and is an excellent resource for the DC Metro Area. Keep in mind that all photography sessions require a $30 permit + a photography fee.

I highly recommend you spend a day strolling around the National Arboretum DC taking in all it has to offer. It is an outdoor Washington, DC venue with a ton of options. To me, the Arboretum has that Pacific Northwest feel that’s hard to find on the East Coast! It’s just a picture-perfect place for a wedding or any other session! What season will your session be at the Arboretum? Let’s go!

couple dances in National Columns at  winter engagement session
couple walks dog through meadow at winter engagement session
couple walks through woods at wedding first look
couple walks through meadow holding hands at fall engagement
couple walks through meadow in front of Capitol Columns

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