Local Gems

The Delight Of Dorothea Dix

Less than half a mile from downtown Raleigh lies a swath of over 300 acres of land known as Dorothea Dix Park. In the past, we have showcased “hidden” gems – and we recognize how fortunate we are to have so many local gems that may not fall into the “hidden” category, yet deserve to be recognized nonetheless. We are excited to introduce Dorothea Dix Park as our first “Local Gem.”

The land that makes up Dorothea Dix Park has and continues to play a large role in Raleigh’s history. According to the park’s website (dorotheadixpark.org), the land has borne witness to transformations from sustaining Indigenous communities for thousands of years; to 150 years as Spring Hill plantation, worked by enslaved African-Americans; followed by 160 years as Dorothea Dix Hospital, North Carolina’s first mental health facility; and is now home to the headquarters of NC’s Department of Health and Human Services. Recognizing the fluid development of Dorothea Dix Park is integral in recognizing its long and influential presence in the Triangle and beyond – as well as how this complex history offers opportunities for the public to learn about North Carolina’s social, political, and environmental past, present, and future.

The park is part of the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience as the City of Raleigh recognizes the complicated history of the land and wants to ensure it makes a positive impact on the community moving forward. In terms of some of its revitalized aspects, the park provides large open areas in which you can picnic, appreciate the surrounding nature, fly a kite (or drones in the Big Field – 35 acres of gorgeous meadow), and witness a wonderful view of the Raleigh skyline. Additionally, built in 1955 and renovated in 2020, the Greg Poole Jr. All Faiths Chapel is the property’s first indoor space, serving as the park’s welcome center and an event space. The chapel also features a mural by NC artist Christopher Holt; the mural was commissioned by the Dix Park Conservancy “with the intent of showcasing the breadth of the land’s legacy and [incorporating] the significance of the chapel as a place of community, celebration, and remembrance” (dorotheadixpark.org).

Here are some additional park offerings:

Daffodils (February-March): Dix Park plants 40,000 daffodil seeds that begin to bloom in February. As one of the first flowers to bloom in spring, daffodils are thought to represent new beginnings. Visitors are encouraged to enjoy this ribbon of yellow from dusk to dawn each day of the week. The darling daffodils are planted in Flowers Field, near the Flower Cottage.

Sunflowers (July): With nearly 200,000 sunflower seeds planted in mid-May, Dorothea Dix’s sunflower fields are a sight to behold. Usually in full bloom by July and located off of Hunt Road, bring your camera, as the scenic sunflowers create a stunning subject or backdrop for your photos.

Dog Park (Year Round): Dogs and their owners are invited to jump, bounce, and play in the off-leash dog park. The large grass-covered park has separate areas for small and large dogs, and a water station available for both people and pets. The dog park is located off of Umstead Road.

Be sure to also check out: Harvey Hill, four acres of mature oak trees that provide a shaded grassy area, perfect for viewing the Raleigh skyline, picnics, reading spots, and more; The Grove, a 16-acre hillside offering beautiful views of Raleigh and a great sledding spot during snow days; and the Picnic Rooms, first-come-first-serve or by-rent covered picnic and play spots, with grills, tables, seating, and a water fountain.

Dix Park is open from dusk to dawn, seven days a week. To access the fields of flowers and several other areas of the park, you’ll encounter hills and uneven terrain, so take this into consideration when planning your visit. Additionally, as mentioned previously, the Department of Health and Human Services is headquartered at the park, so you’ll need to use only the public parking spaces during weekdays. Finally, public restrooms are located inside the chapel. For more information before visiting this local gem, visit dorotheadixpark.org.