Sunflower Field at Dorothea Dix Park in Raleigh NC

We all love sunflowers. There’s nothing better than a happy photo of yourself, friends, or your family against those bright yellow, happy flowers.  

Every summer Raleigh puts on a show with a large sunflower field at Dorothea Dix Park that’s perfect for viewing, Instagramming, and just having a fun day out. It’s one of my favorite annual events in North Carolina.

Sunflowers beginning to close for the evening.

The sunflower field is a team effort between Raleigh Water and Raleigh Parks. Raleigh Water preps the field and plants the sunflower seeds in May. Raleigh Parks waters and maintains the field. Besides being beautiful for humans, the sunflowers act as a pollinator habitat for bees and other animals. 

After the sunflowers have completed their bloom, Raleigh Water harvests them to be processed for biodiesel.   

Where and When Can You See the Sunflowers? 

The sunflower field is in Dorothea Dix Park where Umstead Drive and Hunt Drive intersect. 

The field is seeded in mid-May with full bloom occurring usually in the second and third weeks of July. You can track the progress of the sunflower bloom on the Dorothea Dix Park website.  

The flowers usually bloom for about 1-2 weeks after they reach their peak.  

You can visit the sunflower field for free seven days a week. It’s open from dawn until dusk. There are always people there, so you can feel safe heading out for early morning or late evening photos. I visited alone on a weeknight and left at 9 pm. There was plenty of light, including in the parking lot, and many people were still milling around for photos when I left, including several families.  

Sunflowers beginning to droop with the last rays of sunlight behind them.

What’s the Parking Situation? 

There’s plenty of parking available. While many people visit the sunflower field, it never feels crowded.  

On weekends and weeknights, visitors can park in any lot. If you’re heading out in the evening, the parking lot across from the Dog Park where Blair Drive intersects with Umstead Drive (near the Kirby Building) is the best place to park. It’s easy access to the sunflower field and well lit.  

There are swings for the kids (and adults) to enjoy as the sun sets in the evening. 

If you’re there on a weekday afternoon, you’ll need to park in the gravel lot off Hunt Drive. It’s still an easy walk to the sunflower field.  

And just to throw it in there, there are port-a-johns available if needed.  

What Should You Bring to Visit the Sunflowers? 

It’s North Carolina in the summer and the sunflowers are in an uncovered area. You’ll be exposed to the bright sun all day so sunscreen is a must.  

I try not to wear bug spray so I don’t disturb the pollinators. I’ve never gotten a bug bite in the sunflower field and I tend to be the one that attracts any mosquito in a 2-mile radius. 

If you’re allergic to bees, bring any emergency medications you may need. As long as you’re careful, the bees and wasps will leave you alone, but there are many around and it’s better to be safe.  

Of course, bring your camera for those great photos.  

A single sunflower with two bees in its center.

Can You Bring Your Pet? 

Yes. Pets are welcome as long as they’re on a leash and you pick up after them. Keep in mind that many people bring their dogs. If yours don’t do well with other animals, you may want to leave them home.  

Can I Pick the Flowers to Bring Home? 

The Dorothea Dix sunflowers are for viewing only. Cutting and picking the flowers is not allowed. This is to ensure that everyone who visits can view the beautiful field in its entirety.  

There are several private locations in North Carolina that allow you to visit their sunflower fields and, for a fee, pick some to take home.  

What You Should Know Before Visiting the Sunflower Field 

There’s no best time of day to visit, just be sure you’re monitoring the website for peak bloom. When you visit, there are always people in the field, but it’s large and most visitors respect the camera and will wait for you to take your photo.  

I didn’t have any issues being able to find a location and take my time to get the best photos.  

Remember there are pollinators on the sunflowers, including bees and wasps. Don’t shove your children into the flowers for a photo or they may get stung. While the bees are generally not aggressive, they’re not always noticeable and you can accidentally get too close.  

There are aisles that lead you down the length of the field. Look for a less crowded aisle and head down.  

The flowers tend to be smaller close to the paved lot where Blair Drive meets Umstead Drive  They become larger as you walk the length of the sunflower aisles towards Hunt Drive.  

A few tall sunflowers extending above the sunflower field.

Tips for the Best Photos in the Sunflower Field 

The Best Time for Photos 

Many sources incorrectly state that sunflower heads track with the sun. This is only true when they are immature. Fully mature blooms almost always face east, although their leaves may rotate with the sun. As the sun rises, they open up and tend to aim upwards with a tilt. At the end of the day, they curl back down.  

If you want a fully open, bright sunflower, you’ll want to be there at least an hour after sunrise or 2 hours before sunset.  

This also means it’s going to be difficult to get a picture of the Raleigh skyline in the background with the flowers facing you, as the skyline is east. Your best bet for this photo will be mid-day when the blooms are fully open and tilted upwards.  

I found sunset to be a beautiful time to visit the field. As the sun sets, it provides a beautiful purple background of the hills behind the flowers.  

Field of sunflowers with a slight purple sky from sunset behind them.

Where to Get the Best Photo 

Head to the end of the flower field on the Hunt Drive side. This is the upper right edge of the field in the diagram. This end provides a lot of space to set up a tripod and get a good photo. You won’t have to worry about a narrow aisle.  

Diagram explaining the sunflower field orientation with nearby roads and the downtown skyline.

Several people will likely be there taking photos, but you can find a spot and shoot away.  

Photos down the aisles are also fun. If you see an empty aisle, don’t hesitate, run down it immediately. The aisles are also great for video.  

If you want a photo with the Raleigh skyline, it’s going to be tricky. The buildings tend to fall in and out of view as you walk through the sunflower field. You’ll need to try a few spots before you land on one that works with your camera and lenses.  

What to Wear for the Best Photos? 

I’ll readily admit I’m not the best photographer. I’m still learning. Many pros recommend wearing white, tan, blue, or orange to avoid clashing with the flowers.  

I really don’t like white, but that’s just me. I feel the human subject becomes lost against the flowers. Also, white can be difficult for many people to pull off.  

If you prefer a muted palette, I’d go with tan/khaki/beige before white.  

Author standing in front of sunflowers in white and blue striped shirt.

Personally, I really like how navy blue works against the green and yellow. A subtle orange also is pretty against the yellow. 

And while it’s your choice, red just doesn’t work. It clashes with the sunflowers and looks like a weird holiday gone wrong photo.  

My recommendation is to put on a tank top or camisole and bring a couple of different shirts so you can change if you don’t like the photos.  

The Sunflowers are Here Every Year 

Don’t worry if you missed the sunflowers, they’ll be back next year. Put a reminder in your calendar somewhere around July 7 to check the Dorothea Dix Park website for bloom dates and other information.

For a less crowded experience, you can also visit the sunflowers at the Museum of Art Outdoor Park in Raleigh. It’s a smaller field, but it’s unlikely you’ll run into many people there and it has the added advantage of the outdoor art installations and walking trails.

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