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Dorothea Dix Park in Raleigh (7 Wonderful Things to Do, Background Info, and More)

Published by Carl Hedinger. Last Updated on February 27, 2024.

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Dorothea Dix Park (or Dix Park) is one of the most beautiful places you’ll find, and it’s less than a half-mile from downtown Raleigh. At 308 acres, it’s the largest park in the city, home to big open fields, gorgeous meadows, and some of the best views of Raleigh.

Personally, we love the Big Field at Dix Park, where you can hang out, have a picnic, fly a kite, and enjoy the scenery. But each summer, the park’s “flower field” really livens up when the sunflowers there start to bloom.

If you’re in the Dix Park Raleigh, NC area or on a day trip, we think you need to visit this awesome public space.

Before you do, we think you should know about Dorothea Dix Park’s trails, background, what you can do here, and more in this guide.

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Dorothea Dix Park in Raleigh, NC

Park Background

Prior to its current status as Dorothea Dix Park, Raleigh, the property served as the Dorothea Dix Hospital, North Carolina’s psychiatric facility. Before that, it was a plantation for roughly 150 years, and prior to that, the area was a Native American hunting ground.

We learned about all of this during our interview with Kate Pearce, who’s worked on Dix Park since its beginning.

Today, the Department of Health and Human Services is headquartered here. They occupy more than 80 buildings on the campus.

Who Was Dorothea Dix?

Dorothea Dix was a woman who lived in the 19th century and was largely responsible for establishing mental health hospitals in the US. She was also the superintendent of nurses for the Union Army during the Civil War.

Dix is not an uncomplicated figure. She accomplished a lot of good for a lot of people, but she also participated in discriminatory practices toward non-WASP patients.

We learned about this and more during our chat with Kate Pearce.

Today’s Dix Park

Dix park with a skyline view of Raleigh, NC

The City of Raleigh bought the property in July 2015 and established it as a park. The non-profit Dix Park Conservancy supports the city’s efforts in building up and maintaining the park.

7 Things to Do

With so much space to explore, it’s easy to believe there are some pretty wonderful things to do at Dix Park, Raleigh, NC.

Quiet Walks

One of Dix Park’s best activities is simply taking long walks and feeling like you’re a million miles from downtown. The wooded areas near Rocky Branch Creek are perfect for getting away, too. And if you’re walking through the Big Field of Dorothea Dix Park Trails, there’s a point where you can’t see anything around you except luscious, rolling green fields.

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Enjoy The Big Field (Run, Walk, or Fly!)

We love all the space at the Dorothea Dix Park Big Field, including playing soccer

You can walk or run through the Big Field, but it’s also a place where people fly their kites, model airplanes, or drones. And speaking of airplanes and drones, this deserves special attention because it’s an activity that’s been going on long before Dix Park was purchased by the city.

The model airplane and drone operators have been using this space for a long time, and seeing them in action is worthy of inclusion among our favorite things to do. Flying here is allowed, as the Big Field at Dix Park is designated as an unmanned, aerial aircraft safe place.

That’s hard to find in Raleigh due to all the rules and regulations around where you can and can’t fly drones and model aircraft.

You can even picnic here, which is rare for places close to such busy spots as the State Farmer’s Market, NC State, and downtown Raleigh.

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Yoga

The City also holds yoga classes at Dix Park. There are also individuals who go out there and teach small yoga classes. This is one of the many ways people make this park their own.

Take In the Views

a few large trees in the foreground of the big field in front of Raleigh

One thing that we mentioned at the beginning is the glorious views found at Dix Park. There are some obvious and lesser-known hidden ones around the property. “The Grove” is one of the best and is from the property’s eastern side.

On a clear day, this is a picture-postcard view of the downtown skyline.

Another area known as the “Flower Field” offers more views, too. You have downtown in one direction and the new Catholic cathedral in another. There’s also the NC State bell tower in the distance and the smokestack from the Governor Morehead School.

Kate Pearce shared some of her favorites with us, too. One she mentioned is a mound on the backside of the old soccer field. You can climb it and find a completely different view of downtown Raleigh.

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Have Fun at the Annual Dix Park Events

We've been coming to see the sunflowers at Dorothea Dix Park for years!

During a normal year at Dix Park, there’s a wonderful series of events.

SunFest is one of the most popular, held in July. It’s coupled with the four acres of sunflowers that bloom at Dix Park and a wonderful celebration of arts, music, and nature.

Additional events included the City of Oaks Pirate Fest in the Big Field, Earth Day, and more that you can follow on the Dix Park calendar.

Read More: 17+ Great Things to Do with Kids in Raleigh

Look to The Future

While Dix Park is a wonderful space for you to use today, things are in the works. There are plans to open the park’s first indoor space, inside a former chapel, at the beginning of 2021.

The park’s first major project, tentatively called “Plaza in Play,” will be the first playground/fountains/garden rooms/place for family reunions on the East Coast.

If all goes to plan, it will be Raleigh’s version of Central Park, and we can’t wait to see it finished!

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Escape at Dorothea Dix Park

pink flowers at Dix Park near Raleigh, North Carolina

Deep down, we view Dix Park as an amazing escape to nature in the heart of Raleigh. Whether you’re walking, running, or flying, we hope you enjoy this space as much as we do.

If you’ve visited this park, we’d love to know about your favorite things to do here, too. And if you’ve never been to Dix Park, we’d love to know what’s keeping you!

Let us know in the comments section, or contact us by email.

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