Welcome to Dorothea Dix Park: A Guide to Raleigh’s Urban Oasis

Hey Raleighites! Are you looking for a dose of green tranquility right in the heart of the city? Look no further than Dorothea Dix Park in downtown Raleigh – your go-to urban haven for a perfect day out.

People having a picnic in a park with a city skyline behind them.
Dorothea Dix Park with downtown views!

Down below is the full scoop on what makes this huge park a must-visit of the Raleigh parks and how you can dive into all there is to offer at this huge city park!

Where is Dorothea Dix Park? 

Google map of a city
Dix Park is just 2.5 miles Southwest of downtown Raleigh.

Conveniently nestled just 2.5 miles from downtown Raleigh, the park’s address is 2105 Umstead Drive. Proximity to the city center means easy access, whether you’re walking, biking, or hopping in the car. 

Mural on a building that says "it starts here"
Cool mural in the park

Can you believe this green oasis is practically in our backyard?

Discover the Past and Present: A Bit of History

Firstly, let’s understand a little of the history of Dorothea Dix Park, which dates back to four centuries ago when it was the hunting grounds for several Native American tribes. 

Fast forward to the beginning of its white history in the 1850s when it transferred from private plantation land to state owned for the opening of Dorothea Dix Hospital, a public service providing both inpatient and outpatient mental health care. 

Aerial photo of a park with city in background
Drone shot from the Big Field.

This happened thanks to advocacy by its namesake, Dorothea Dix, a nurse who believed those suffering from mental illnesses needed compassionate care that offered close connection to nature and community service. 

After the hospital closed in 2012, it was purchased by the City of Raleigh to create a sprawling 308-acre park that is a community hub offering plenty of green spaces for all to enjoy, including hosting great festivals and events. 

There’s currently a 40-year development plan in place to help create one of the biggest new urban parks in the USA. 

Man explaining a map of a park
Learning about the development plan on our guided walk

You can read more about the history and future development of Dorothea Dix in our post sharing the free guided walking tour of Dix Park. That will also share more about who Dorothea Dix is and just why this park was named after her! 

In this guide to Dorothea Dix Park below, we’ll share more about the different areas of the park, things you can do in Dix Park to enjoy this beautiful urban space, and a few logistics like parking and accessibility.

About Dorothea Dix Park (areas to Explore)

People walking a path in park
Dix Park walking tour

Whether you’re seeking serenity among the flowers, breathtaking views from the hilltop, or a vibrant communal space for events, Dorothea Dix Park’s different sections offer a little something for everyone.

It’s all about exploration, discovery, and creating your own memorable moments within this sprawling urban oasis. Let’s dive into the specifics of Dorothea Dix Park’s size and its various sections.

Harvey Hill and The Grove

People standing in a park taking photos of a city skyline
Harvey Hill view

The Northeast section of the park is where you’ll find one of the best views of the Raleigh skyline. Some will say it’s the best view in Dix Park, others will say (including me) the one at the Flower Fields is better. You decide for yourself!

Climb to the top of Harvey Hill, and you’ll be rewarded with a panoramic vista overlooking downtown that’s nothing short of stunning.

Lady standing under a tree taking a photo
Beatuiful Oaks in the Grove

I love this 16-acre Grove area of the park as it’s where you’ll find the oldest oak trees. It’s the perfect shady area for a picnic and tree hugging, and in winter it offers the best sledding in town! 

Down the bottom is a flat grassy area along the Rocky Branch Greenway and creek, which they intend to expand and create a marshland in this area.

The Big Field

People walking across a green grass field
The Big Field

Ready to run free? The Big Field is a wide-open 35-acre meadow perfect for flying kites, tossing a frisbee, or just rolling down the grassy slopes with pure abandon. 

The Big Field is also where the major festivals and events are held like Falling for Local and the incredible Dreamville music festival (which was attended by 50,000 people this year). It’s a really awesome festival venue with its mix of flat and rolling hills and borders of oak and pine trees.

dreamville festival raleigh 5
Dreamville Festival in the Big Field

Except for the periphery, this is not any shade in this area, so it’s not ideal for hanging out here in Dorothea Dix in the middle of the day during the height of summer.

Flowers Field

Large grass park with a city skyline
11-acres of rolling lawn

This is my favorite view of Downtown Raleigh, especially when the magnolias are in bloom as there is a pretty explosion of magenta flowers underneath the skyline. It’s a different view to Harvey Hill so make sure you do both. 

The Flowers Field has 11-acres of rolling lawn and uninterrupted views. It’s a popular spot for picnics, ball games, and pet play. There’s also a small pine forest here with a walking trail. Like the Big Field, it can get hot in the summer as there is little shade.

People laying in a park with a city skyline in the background
Love those magenta hues

I love the Flowers Cottage and can’t wait to see what they turn this into with the expansion – it would be a great cafe or beer garden. 

Woman overlooking a city park from a wooden deck
Incredible view from Flowers Cottage

In this area you can enjoy the daffodil blooms at the end of Feb/ March and the Sunflower fields in July.

Dix Dog Park

Dog park with a fence around it
Dog park

Opposite the Sunflower Field parking lot is a large grass-covered dog park for your furry friends. A water station is available for you and them.

Hospital Complex

People looking at an old hospital building
The Hospital

As this used to be the Dorothea Dix Hospital, there are still 83 buildings that once comprised the psychiatric complex. They are currently used by the state health department who are leasing them from the City of Raleigh.

As soon as the health department moves into their new development at Blue Ridge near the NC Museum of Art, the city will take back leases on buildings.

stone cottage
One of the stone cottages getting renovated

The plans are to leave around 35 houses for various uses such as conservancy offices, educational buildings and small museums. The rest will be demolished so the land can be returned to its natural state.

Some are quite pretty and hold a lot of interesting history like the Stone Cottages (currently being restored), the mid-century modern Greg Poole Jr All Faiths Chapel, and Spring Cottage.

Future Planned Areas

Drawing of a map of a park
Map of new developments coming!

Hold on to your hats – exciting developments are in the works! Future sections are slated to include the Gibson Play Plaza, which will be a gathering spot for all ages, and the aforementioned creek expansion and marshland.

Things to do in Dorothea Dix Park

Dix Park is all about recreation and relaxation. It’s a place to enjoy a little natural solitude, or to gather and laugh uproariously and play with friends. It’s a park for all y’all and a space to cater to whatever it is you want to do.

Free Guided Walking Tour

People looking at a white house
Spring House

We can’t recommend this free guided walking tour of Dorothea Dix enough. After 11 years of living in Raleigh we finally attended this last month and loved it. 

We learned so much about the history of this park from the native owners to the Civil War and important mental health service. We were able to tour most of the park with our informative guide Adam and learned so much about the exciting future developments. 

Woman outside a church
Outside the chapel, the guided walking tour starts here.
People inside a church
Inside the chapel

Tours run every second Saturday at 12pm and meet at the Greg Pool, Jr All Faiths Chapel. Read all the details (with photos) in our detailed guide about the Dorothea Dix walking tour.

Swing in a Hammock

Lady swinging in a hammock under trees
Hammock time

The Dix Conservancy has already implemented part of the Dix Development plan – Hammock forests! 

Bring a book and your best relaxed vibes and swing away in the pine tree forest with views. You’ll find hammock groves in between Flowers Field and Sunflower Field, in the Grove section of the park, and the Big Field’s pine forest. 

Take a Walk

People walking down a path surrounded by oak trees
Many paths to explore

Dorothea Dix stretches across a whopping 308 acres of lush green goodness, that’s plenty for you to explore on a gentle walk. As future plans are implemented there will be even more walking trails and less driving streets. 

While each section of the park has its own unique flavor, they’re all connected by a network of trails, walkways, and green corridors. It’s like a puzzle of lush landscapes waiting for you to piece together your own adventure.

White House with a concrete path leading to the front door
The Spring House

On our guided walking tour of Dix we covered three miles walking mostly around the perimeter, cutting across the Big Field.

Be sure to stop outside The Spring House to read the information board and learn more about the history of this former plantation home and the people who were enslaved here.

Take in the views (especially at sunset)

Two people watching a sunset from a city park
Such a pretty sunset spot, even in winter!

As mentioned, the best views of the Raleigh skyline are at Flowers Field and Harvey Hill. As you walk around the park, you’re sure to find more. 

City park at sunset
Pink skies from Flowers Field

One of the best views in Raleigh is of the skyline at sunset from Flowers Field. Grab a picnic, your drink of choice, a blanket and some friends, and enjoy a pastel pink closing out of the day. 

Picnic and Play

Dorothea Dix Park, Raleigh
Picnic at Dorothea Dix Park

Yes. Just mentioned a picnic. Dorothea Dix is perfect for a picnic at any time of the day, and in any location. If you want to throw a ball or frisbee around, fly kites, or have lots of space (play those tunes loud) then Flowers Field will be your best option. 

If you want more privacy and a slower, just let me lie down and rest picnic, head to the Grove or another tucked away forest or shady oak tree area at the back of the park.

See the Sunflowers in Bloom in the Summer

Woman standing in a field of sunflowers
5-acre sunflower field

Everybody living in Raleigh now knows about the sunflower bloom every June. It’s a pretty time to visit the park and grab some photos with the giant yellow orbs. They too like to look at the Raleigh skyline. 

In 2023, the park saw about 100,000 people come to see them, which is tremendous growth from when a handful would visit when they were first planted along the Neuse River Greenway. That was a Raleigh hidden secret. 

Girl holding her moms hand as she walks between sunflowers
Your kids will love it too.

They moved it over to Dix Park in 2018 and now plant over 280,000 seeds in the 5-acre sunflower field. What’s great about it is it’s not just for pretty photos. There are some serious benefits happening here for our most previous pollinators – the bees – and the seeds are harvested at the end for biofuel for tractors, trailers and farm equipment.

There are signs up on the perimeter of the field offering sunflower facts as well as how this initiative is helping the environment and promoting sustainability.

Young girl next to a sunflower
Little ray of sunshine!

Please tread lightly and remember bees are more important than your photos. It’s pretty easy to take them without harming the bees. But, you know, I saw a video of people chasing bear cubs in Yellowstone National Park the other day.

Watch our video below of the sunflower fields from 2023 (includes drone footage shot from the Big Field):

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A post shared by Craig & Caz Makepeace | Raleigh Influencers (@thisisraleigh)

See the Daffodils Bloom in Spring

Sunflower field
Image credit: DixPark.org

Like the sunflower blooms, Dorothea Dix Park in Raleigh, North Carolina, is renowned for its breathtaking daffodil blooms, which paint the landscape in a vibrant sea of yellow and white hues every spring. 

These daffodils, with their trumpet-shaped petals and sunny disposition, typically burst into full bloom in early March, signaling the arrival of spring in the region. 

The flowers were first planted in 2018 through a Raleigh Parks initiative to brighten up the Raleigh skyline right at the height of our winter doldrums! 

Sunflower field
Image credit: DixPark.org

It’s also a popular spot for photographers, picnickers, and families seeking a serene and colorful backdrop for outdoor activities. The daffodils are planted in Flowers Field off Umstead Drive behind the Flower Cottage and near the historic cemetery. 

People having a picnic on a grass field
Picnic in Flowers Field

Be careful not to trample the flowers and keep an eye on kids and pets. And do not pick the flowers! The daffodils at Dix Park are a cherished springtime spectacle, symbolizing the renewal of nature and the joy of the season for all who visit.

Enjoy a Bike Ride

Woman riding a bike in a city park
We love biking through Dix!

A great thing about bike riding in Raleigh, is you can incorporate Dorothea Dix Park into any ride you take. We’ve done it several times now. It’s a beautiful park to cycle around, and on a bike you’ll see more of the park in less time. 

Woman biking through a city park
Love all the oak trees!

We’ve biked the Rocky Branch Greenway trail before which runs along the Western Blvd border of the park. See video below which combines the Walnut Creek trail as well:

We’ve also cycled the Art to Heart Trail which runs from the NC Art Museum to the Boylan Bridge passing Pullen Park and Dorothea Dix along the way. See video below of the Art to Heart Trail:

And, we’ve cycled in from Downtown Raleigh before, just to amble around the park and take in the views.

Bend and Stretch with a Yoga Class

People doing yoga in a park
Image credit: DixPark.org

The Zen of Yoga was made for outdoor spaces. You know what’s even better? Thai Dorothea Dix yoga class is free thanks to Dix Conservancy donors. 

It’s held every Monday night until the second week in November. So bring your mats, your water bottles, your tight muscles and a mood for relaxation. Register here.

top events in Dorothea Dix Park

If you’re in the mood for vibrant community gatherings, Dix park has you covered with a wide range of festivals and events, small and large, year-round. Here are some of the biggest annual events.

Dreamville Fest

Music festival with Usher on stage
Loved seeing Usher perform at Dreamville

We attended Dreamville for the first time in 2023 and were blown away by what a fantastic event it was. We’re not big rap or hip hop fans, but I loved broadening my musical horizons for this event. It was so well organized with fun art installations, bars, and food trucks. 

 We loved seeing Usher perform this year. Can’t wait to see who’s on the list for next year’s lineup. 

People at a festival in a park
Such a great vibe at Dreamville

The event was started by J Cole, a Fayetteville local AND Grammy Award-winning and multi-platinum hip-hop artist IN 2019. Dreamville is now one of the most popular and largest artist-curated music festivals in the country drawing in 50,000 people from around the world for the two day event.

Here is our complete guide to the Dreamville event in Raleigh.

Kirby Derby

people holding up signs
Kirby Derby

One of our favorite Raleigh events since we first attended way back in 2009 is the annual Kirby Derby. This event started as a way of bringing the neighbors in the Kirby Street area (just near Dix Park) together. 

The street party grew so big they had to move it to Dorothea Dix. Now each year attendees come dressed to match a theme, and with their go kart creations which they race down the hill to the cheers of the spectators. It’s a quirky Raleigh event in Dix Park not to miss. 

Inter-Tribal Pow Wow

Every summer, The Big Field hosts a day of competition dancing, music, vendors, and fun showcasing the incredible legacy and culture of Indigenous communities living in North Carolina today.

Falling for Local

People at a festival in a park
Falling for local

Every Fall, thousands come to Dix Park to celebrate the return of this fun filled season at Falling For Local held in the Big Field.

The festival is filled with local makers and creators’ stalls, beer tents, live music from local artists, and activities for the kids, such as hayrides and pumpkin patches. It’s a great way to welcome in Fall while still soaking up the last warm rays of summer. 

Here are a few more Fall festivals and events in Raleigh to put on your calendar.

WRAL Night of Lights Christmas Display

Mom and two daughters standing in front of Christmas lights
Night of Lights

Dorothea Dix provides the perfect backdrop for this magical holiday light show. Drive along a 1.3-mile route through the park to see art installations, illuminated trees, and festival light displays. Don’t forget to look at the views of the Raleigh skyline as well. 

They have evenings where you can walk or bike the route. See other Christmas and Holiday events in Raleigh.

Tunnel of lights
Tunnel of lights you drive through

Plus, Dix Pak has regular seasonal events like Foodie Friday, star gazing, movie nights, art and craft workshops, and fireworks on the 4th of July.

Want more information on Raleigh’s top events and festivals and weekly happenings?

Here is our guide to the top festivals and events in Raleigh, our monthly events guide, as well as what’s happening this weekend in Raleigh.

Where to stay near Dorothea Dix Park

Hotel on the lakes edge surrounded by forest
Stateview Hotel

If you’re attending a festival and event and would like to stay near Dorothea Dix Park, here are our recomemndations:

Dorothea Dix: The Future of More Awesome

Drawing of a map of a park
Future plans

Stay connected to us as we continue to bring more information about things to do in Dorothea Dix Park as it continues to improve and evolve.

The City of Raleigh’s master plan to make Dorothea Dix Park even more amazing includes more spaces for gatherings, more exciting events, creative play areas, and preserving the historical heritage of the land. 

Get ready for a future where the park becomes an even bigger part of our Raleigh story.

Join our email community via the form below so you don’t miss an important update. It’s free!

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FREE Printable CHECKLIST for all the best things to do in Raleigh  + updates + insider tips. 
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FAQs about Dorothea Dix Park

View of trees and city skyline

Here are some of the logistics on getting to and around Dorothea Dix Park and a few other frequently asked questions.

Is Dix Park Accessible?

A big focus of the Dix Park plans is to be more accessible for those visitors with disabilities. Currently there are some areas of the park that have uneven surfaces, which will be improved upon. 

There are accessible parking spaces in all lots, indoor accessible restrooms in the Chapel, and accessible port-a-johns in the Big Field and Flowers field.

Are there restrooms available in Dorothea Dix?

Indoor restrooms are located at the Chapel Event Center during visitor hours. Port-A-Johns are also located throughout the park and extra will be available during major festivals.

Can you get food and drink at Dorothea Dix Park?

City skyline in distance with trees in the foreground
No food, but plenty of oak trees!

Currently there are no services available for purchasing food and drink in the park, so bring in your own! However, the park has recently announced plans to bring in some permanent vendors. I’m excited to see how this pans out. Food trucks and mobile bars are present at every major festival and event.

How to get to Dorothea Dix Park?

White house with large oak tree
The Spring House

Dorothea Dix Park is easily accessible by car, and once you arrive, you’ll have the opportunity to explore its beautiful green spaces and recreational amenities. 

Note, whatever entrance you come into the park via, it’s easy and quick to get to your desired location.

Please note that the park may have seen changes or developments in its entrances and facilities, especially with all the park upgrades happening. 

Check the official Dorothea Dix Park website or contact the park administration for the most up-to-date information on entrances, parking, and any additional features or improvements that may have been made.

Where to Park at Dorothea Dix?

Stone cottage
Stone cottage under renovation

You’ll find parking lots near the Big Field, Flowers Field, and at the bottom of the Sunflower Field. You can park in all other areas – streets, hospital buildings after 5pm on weekdays and all-day on weekends.

NOTE: During business hours Monday-Friday, please use public parking areas only as the buildings are used for NC State Health administration staff. 

In a Nutshell: Dorothea Dix Park is Where It’s At

people walking under a tree in dorothea dix park
Dix has so much to offer!

Whether you’re seeking a serene escape, a place to hang with friends, or a front-row seat to Raleigh’s ever-evolving skyline, Dorothea Dix Park is calling your name. From history buffs to nature enthusiasts, it’s a slice of paradise right here in our vibrant city.

So, grab your picnic blanket, your camera, or simply your good vibes, and explore Dorothea Dix Park. It’s not just a park; it’s a story unfolding in the heart of Raleigh – a story that keeps getting better with every visit.


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