When it comes to summer traditions, just about everyone has a favorite ritual, vacation spot, or activity that is part of the fabric of each year. As a kid, summer wasn’t summer until my mom’s car crossed the Piscataqua River Bridge, ushering us from New Hampshire to Maine and from the end of the school year to the start of two, long, relaxing months at my grandparents’ summer cottage. For Adam, summer was defined by a visit to central Oregon and a week of outdoor activities at his parents’ timeshare. Over the last decade, travel has become our summer tradition; from domestic adventures like Disney’s Epcot and our road trip through the USA’s Southwest to bucket list vacations to Macchu Pichu and Petra, summer has been defined by exploring the world. If 2020 has taught us anything, though, it’s that exploring your backyard can be a wonderfully satisfying way to stave off wanderlust. This year, we’re especially grateful for the Maryland sunflower fields.
If you’re local to the Washington, DC area, visiting the Maryland sunflowers may already be a beloved part of your summer traditions. Popular with locals throughout the Mid-Atlantic for generations, seeing Maryland sunflower fields on Instagram is one of the first signs that summer is in full swing. If you’re looking for a place to enjoy the Maryland sunflowers within a short drive of DC and Northern Virginia, or if an upcoming road trip will take you through the area and you’re looking for a great place to stretch your legs, we know the McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area will exceed your expectations!
McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area: Home of the Maryland Sunflower Fields
Located in Poolesville, Maryland, the McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area is a great place for people to explore—but it wasn’t designed for humans. Every year, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife and Heritage Service plants sunflowers to benefit a number of birds, bees, and mammals who rely on them as a food source. Mourning doves serve as the driver for the flower planting each year; when sunflowers dry at the end of their blooming cycle, they provide food for the birds.
Sunflowers produce quite a bit of pollen and nectar, and that attracts hundreds of pudgy honeybees that float from flower to flower, happily pollenating the sunflowers as they contribute to a continuous cycle that sustains bloom and bee alike. Honeybees don’t typically sting unless they are threatened or provoked, so even though their presence may be startling they will gladly leave visitors alone if they are given the space they need to do their jobs.
Where Are the Maryland Sunflower Fields?
Poolesville, Maryland is only 45 minutes northwest of Washington, DC, an hour from either Baltimore or Annapolis, and two-and-a-half hours from Philadelphia, making the McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area an easy half or full day trip that is easy to pair with another destination or a nice, socially-distanced option depending on the amount of time you have.McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area has four separate sunflower fields, and it’s worthwhile to visit all of them. Free parking is available at each field, although some lots require a bit of a trek before you will reach the sunflower fields. Additionally, some parking lots are small, and they fill up quickly on weekends and holidays. If your visit to the Maryland sunflower fields can take place on a weekday, you’ll find better parking options and fewer crowds, which can certainly contribute to better photos and a more relaxed experience.
Be sure to wear good, supportive shoes if you plan to visit all of the fields; Field 2 requires a walk down a path that can get muddy if it has recently rained, and all of the fields involve walking along dirt paths or through grass to reach the best spots for photos.
The McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area offers a map that may be useful to you as you plan your visit. Staff determine the location and number of fields each year, which means the experience may vary from year to year. Be sure to visit their website for the latest updates.
More Information: McKee-Beshers Sunflower Fields (Maryland.gov)
When Is the Best Time to See the Maryland Sunflower Fields?
Although the best time to visit the Maryland sunflower fields will vary a bit from year to year (after all, there are a number of variables that contribute to their growth and how quickly they reach maturity!), the best time to see the sunflowers in peak bloom is often in July. The sunflowers are usually planted in late April or early May, and peak bloom is often 80 to 120 days later.
When planning your visit, know that you’ll have a limited window to see the sunflowers before they disappear for the fall. After they have reached peak maturity and start to wilt, stripes are mowed through the sunflowers to distribute their seeds and make them easier for the mourning doves to reach. This usually happens by mid-August, another sign that Fall will be just around the corner.
How large are the Maryland sunflower fields? What do the fields look like when the sunflowers are in full bloom? This video from YouTube user Blu Sky provides some great aerial footage and context to help you frame the experience you might have.
Tips for Visiting the Maryland Sunflower Fields
If you are planning your own visit to the Maryland sunflower fields, here are a few tips to help you make the most of your visit!
► Time Your Visit for the Experience You Want
If you’re hoping for fewer crowds or specific lighting, consider a weekday or early morning visit. The sunflowers are beautiful in the first light of day, so if you’re a morning person—or could be for just a day—you may find yourself rewarded with some one-on-one time with the flowers.
► Don’t pick the sunflowers
This may be obvious to most visitors, but it’s worth a mention in case you are tempted to take home a souvenir. Picking the sunflowers, which is viewed as destroying the fields, is strictly prohibited.
► Not all fields bloom at once
Soil conditions, seed varieties, and even weeds can impact how quickly the sunflowers bloom each year, and some plantings may reach maturity before others. Consider visiting all of the fields for your best chance at seeing them in peak bloom. The first field we visited housed hundreds of sunflowers that looked sad, like they were starting at the ground. Just a few minutes away, the next field we visited featured hundreds of sunflowers gazing skyward as honeybees buzzed around them. They looked like two ends of a summer spectrum, and we were glad we didn’t end our visit after the first field!
► Plan an Earlier Bathroom Break
There are no restrooms at the McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area, so plan to stop elsewhere before you arrive.
► Bring a trash bag
The McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area is a trash-free zone, which means trash cans are not available onsite. Bring a plastic bag or another trash receptacle to cart away any garbage you might have, and be sure you carry out anything that you also carry in.
► Take plenty of water
Summer in the Washington, DC area can be quite intense, so take a full bottle of water when you visit the sunflower fields. A reusable bottle with a hook you can attach to a belt loop or purse will keep your water in a convenient location while ensuring you have both hands free for a selfie or two.
► Pack your sunscreen
The sunflowers are tall, but shade is in short supply throughout the McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area. Apply sunscreen before your visit begins to avoid a sunburn, which is the last souvenir you’ll want from your visit.
Enjoy the Maryland Sunflower Fields!
When you think about summer traditions, there are unquestionably some that you’ll incorporate every year without fail. There is always room for a new one, though; it might be a visit to a new ice cream shop or a newly discovered winery, or it could be a morning spent walking through the Maryland sunflower fields. If you’re looking for an opportunity to enjoy some summer sunshine and spend time outside, the McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area offers a unique slice of serenity that might be just what you need. Before long, you may find that a visit to the Maryland sunflower fields are an annual tradition for you, too!
Want to discover more interesting places in the Washington DC region? Check out these articles!