Their vibrant colors were almost as bright as our smiles as the Raleigh sunflowers basked in the North Carolina sun.
We first visited on a Sunday afternoon, which admittedly, was probably a peak time to see the premiere sunflower field in NC. But we couldn’t worry about the crowds when we approached the beautiful expanse of summer blooms; they were there to see the same beauty we came to soak in. In future years, we were sure to visit on weekdays so it was less crowded.
We update this post every year and are happy to say that the sunflowers are a “go” this year! Which is super exciting because they did not plant them in 2020. But they’re BACK for 2021, baby! (They were planted in mid-May.) And there will be additional sunflowers this year to add to those at Dorothea Dix Park!
Having gone for three, including in 2021, we have a few tips for a successful visit.
Location, Hours and Cost of the Raleigh Sunflowers at Dorothea Dix Park
The sunflowers are in Dorothea Dix Park, near the Raleigh Farmers Market just outside downtown Raleigh. They’re open daily from dawn to dusk, including holidays. (Please note, however, while the park is open daily all year, the sunflowers are a seasonal attraction. Read on for more information.)
There is not a fee to see this stunning, ever-so-popular for photos, sunflower field at all! It’s free to visit. (See “Things to Do Nearby” later in the post to shop local to support the community.)
New for 2021: NCMA Sunflower Fields “City of Sunflowers”
An additional sunflower field is going to bloom at NCMA (North Carolina Museum of Art). The museum’s park has had sunflowers for a few years now, but this year there’s an additional “field: of sunflowers right by the Ellipse. (We visited and it’s more like a small plant bed but it’s very pretty.)
You can bike the 5.4 miles between Dorothea Dix Park and NCMA’s Museum Park with Citrix Cycle bike rentals in Raleigh if you don’t own your own bicycle. (It’s a great date idea!) It’s only $2 per ride for 45 minute, and just $2 each additional half hour.
The flower field at NCMA is a mix of sunflowers, zinnias and cosmos. The museum is offering two workshops this July to teach nature photography on Tuesday, July 20th and a week later on the 27th.
Don’t forget to use their hashtag, #CityofSunflowers on your social media posts!
Parking and Walking to the Sunflower Field in Raleigh‘s Dorothea Dix Park
You can drive to the sunflower field in Raleigh, bike or walk on the Rocky Branch Greenway.
Driving to the Sunflower Field at Dorothea Dix Park
GPS Address: Flowers Field at Dix Park, 2105 Umstead Drive, Raleigh, NC 27603
Parking near the sunflower fields during the weekdays are limited to the gravel lot off Hunt Drive (use the GPS address we posted above and you’ll start to see signs within the park for where the sunflowers are) and parking lot near the Magnolia Room (which is right off Umstead Drive, next to William Field in Dorothea Dix Park). This is because people who work in the buildings at the park, for NC Department of Health and Human Services, use the paved lots during the weekdays. (But there are less people visiting during weekdays too so there should be ample parking in the designated visitor lots.)
On weekends, any paved lot is fair game for parking as well.
The walk from the gravel lot off Hunt Drive lot near the soccer field to get to the sunflowers was about 50 yards – or a couple minutes. It is not far at all. The further inside you park to the gravel lot, the closer you are to the flower field.
We also saw a fair amount of people who biked to the park, which we thought was a great idea. (The lot shown below is now gravel, not dirt.)
Time to Allot
It depends on what you want to accomplish. We saw a good amount of families taking photos with a professional photographer while some parents were taking iPhone photos of their children dressed in matching outfits. Then we saw couples taking selfies but even more teenage and college women dressed to the nines, having friends take Instagram-worthy pictures of them. They were probably there a bit longer than we were.
Our interest was simply in going to see the field, snap a few photos of the Raleigh sunflowers for ourselves, take a selfie or two, and be on our way. We asked someone to snap some photos of us with my camera as well. It probably took us about 30 minutes once we arrived to Dorothea Dix to:
- Navigate the congestion of cars and park
- Walk to the sunflowers from parking
- See the flower fields
- Walk through the rows of flowers a little
- Take some photos…
- …and be on our way
Pets at the Flower Fields
We saw a few people with their dogs, so yes, pets are welcome on a leash. Just be kind about curbing your pet’s waste if you bring Fido along.
How Long are the Raleigh Sunflowers in Bloom?
It’s estimated that the sunflowers will bloom in mid-July, 2021. Below is a photo of what they looked like July 16, 2021, when some were at peak, others were just blossoming and some were just growing about a foot high without flowers just yet (which means they’ll be in bloom in groupings for a couple weeks more):
The estimated bloom time for 2019 was July 1st through 17th. It’s hard to say how long they’ll be in bloom for each year, though, since it’s nature.
In 2018, they were in full bloom on Sunday, July 8, and appeared to still be growing (like they would be in bloom at least another two weeks) until July 23.
As of July 29, 2019, some flowers had passed their prime while there were thousands more still in bloom! See below.
It’s still pretty cool to see the huge sunflowers that are past their prime. I’ve never seen the seeds dry and easily removed like they were on them! You could literally see how the seeds dried out, then take them out of the face of the sunflower.
For future reference here’s what the sunflowers looked like before peak, as of July 5, 2019. They were about three feet (or less) in height. They still needed time to grow! **Don’t forget that the incredible North Carolina State Farmer’s Market is only about a mile away and open daily, whether or not the sunflowers are in bloom. Support your local farmers!**
The photos below are from the second week of July 2019. Thus, as we mentioned, nature is unpredictable to 100% certainty. We do our best to keep you updated and keep past years in this post as a history of what’s occurred in the past since we update it yearly.
In general it seems the Raleigh sunflowers blooming schedule is in its peak during the first and second weeks of July.
- In 2019, the first week of July showed flowers not yet open and green stems about three feet or less.
- The third week of July 2019 was peak. The fourth week of July still showed plenty of sunflowers in bloom even though many were passed their prime.
- In 2018, the first week of July was ideal.
- In 2017, the end of June was the perfect time to see them.
As with any blooming schedule, like the Cherry Blossoms in Washington, DC, keep your expectations realistic. If you have gone in the past and they were towards the end of the line, be grateful you saw a glimpse of them! Also, notate “Raleigh Sunflowers” in your Google or iCal for the first or second week of July in 2021, so you’ll potentially be right on time in the future! And be sure to keep visiting our site, Sometimes Home, for updates.
Keep in mind flowers are seasonal – but that’s part of what makes us cherish them so much during summer. And for the last two years there was an additional small attractive flower field just next to the sunflowers. They kept us happy even past the prime of the sunflowers. They looked like the orange flowers below.
What happens to the sunflowers when they die?
The sunflower fields are a collaboration between Raleigh Water, the Office of Sustainability and Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources.
The sunflowers are a wonderful habitat for pollinating bees while they are in bloom. When the sunflowers die, the seeds are harvested from the flowers by Raleigh Water to process biodiesel for educational programs and demonstrations.
When to Visit this North Carolina Sunflower Field
Season and Months
Please note they are only in bloom during summer, June through August. And, within those three months, July is almost guaranteed but June and August are unpredictable. See “How Long are The Raleigh Sunflowers in Bloom?” above for more info.
Time of Day
The park is open from dawn to dusk (sunrise to sunset). The earlier you go, whether a weekday or weekend, the less busy it will be.
An interesting thing about sunflowers is the way their giant heads track the sun. Sunflowers are MAGICAL. They possess “heliotropism“, which is an ability to track the sun. It’s also known as solar tracking.
This means the sunflowers will be facing towards the east during sunrise and the west towards sunset. (The sun rises in the east and sets in the west.) We went in the afternoon and they were facing towards the downtown Raleigh skyline. This means if you were standing with the skyline behind you, you saw the “back” of the sunflower heads and stems. They may only face east, though, once they mature. (Partially because heliotropism is a result of the way the flower is going through stem growth and once it’s mature it stops growing.)
If you want to get there when the Raleigh sunflowers are facing the camera behind your back, when it’s the picture-perfect time to capture your face facing a camera and the sunflower heads facing towards it too, with downtown Raleigh’s skyline, go in the afternoon.
We’ve included screenshots from a sun app we use for photography purposes below. Notice the image on the left is during July 20th and the one on the right is during August 16th. The time between only varies slightly. This is where the sun will be each day, no matter the year. (Unless some “higher ups” of the world decide to change our clocks.)
In the images below, the numbers on the aerial view show the time of day (in military time with a 24 hour clock). The arrows point to where the sun is throughout the day, at that specific time. You can see how it moves in a semi-circle over the land as the day goes on, from sunrise to sunset. The direction of downtown Raleigh is to the right of the image, or east of Dorothea Dix Park. The sunflower heads will face towards the point of the arrow, because that’s where the sun is. And they love facing the sun!
Weekdays and Weekends
Inevitably, weekends are going to be busier than weekdays. They’re open from dawn until dusk, everyday.
We visited the sunflowers in 2019 once before peak and once afterwards (with sunflowers-a-plenty!) and have driven directly into the lot without issue. The busiest we’ve seen it during random weekdays was maybe with ten other cars there in addition to ours.
Back in 2018, we spontaneously decided to go on an absolutely gorgeous Sunday afternoon, July 8. It took about five minutes to sit in “traffic” to get to the parking lot. The dense car crowd had a lot to do with the influx of visitors when we went, who probably all had the same idea we did! “It’s gorgeous! There are sunflowers in bloom! Let’s go be outside amongst the flowers!”
SunFest used to be an annual event that typically took place the second weekend Saturday in July. They had a Ferris wheel, inflatable slides and bounce houses, putt putt golf, live music and other special vendors. Food trucks were plentiful and there were fresh brews and cider for the adults like the year before.
SunFest was been canceled for 2020 and we don’t see it has returned for 2021. We will continue to update this post with pertinent information for future years, as we have done the past four years.
Bring Snacks, Water, Sunscreen and Sunglasses
There was one taco food truck nearby, just a pathway walk away, while we were there. However it was mostly there for the adult soccer playing engaged in a soccer game in the adjacent park field. While there may be a food truck while you’re there on a weekend, I wouldn’t count on it.
Bring water and sunscreen – both of which you’ll be grateful you have! There isn’t any relief from the sun (no trees overhead for shade) which is why I mentioned sunglasses too. A hat or visor may also be a great idea.
Bathrooms and Bees
There are limited port-a-potties near the sunflowers.
There are also bathrooms available at The Chapel during visitor hours:
- Tuesday and Thursday, 6:00pm to 9:00pm
- Saturday from 10:00am to 4:00pm
- Sunday from 12:00pm to 5:00pm
I wanted to also include a note about the bees. If you can see from most of my photos, there are plenty of bees on the Raleigh sunflowers. If you have a bee phobia (melissophobia, as it’s called) this may not be the place for you.
However, if bees don’t bother you as long as they keep to themselves, you’ll be a-okay. They were way more interested in the sunflowers than humans. In fact, I didn’t see them flying around humans at all; they were cozy on the sunflowers and too busy pollinating them to notice there were people around!
Things to Do Nearby
We absolutely loved walking around the Raleigh Farmers Market after we had a lovely time with the Raleigh sunflowers. The time of year when sunflowers are at their peak happens to also be an amazing time to be at the farmers market. The tomatoes were divine, the blueberries and peaches in season, and the plant vendors fully stocked. We bought a good amount of produce and succulents to take home!
There’s also Boulted Bread and Sam Jones BBQ just blocks away, an amazing view at Lonnie Poole golf course across the road at NC State campus (great place to grab a beer), and incredible museums, photo spots, and restaurants downtown.
If you have the time, and you’re in from out of town for these beauties staying more than a day, check out all there is to do in Durham as well. It’s just thirty minutes northwest of downtown Raleigh.
Map of Dorothea Dix Park and Additional Information
For more info and a map of the park (including the sunflower fields and parking) check out the Dorothea Dix Park website.
For more to do in the Raleigh and Durham areas, check out:
- 16 Best Downtown Raleigh Photography Spots
- The Longleaf Hotel in Raleigh Has us Wanting to Check into 1960, Immediately
- Raleigh’s Morgan Street Food Hall