Nestled in an obscure corner of Montgomery County, MD, is an explosion of vibrant yellow, set against the lush green forests set just off the Potomac River. Thousands of sunflowers stretch out before you in rows, craning their necks toward the sky. It’s nearly silent, save for the buzzing of the bees and the calling of a few birds. This is McKee Beshers Wildlife Management Area.
It can be hard to believe this peaceful place is located just 25 miles from the pulsing power corridors of Washington, DC. Let’s take a closer look at how and why this under-the-radar but Instagram-worthy spot came to be.
Why Are There Sunflowers At McKee Beshers?
It’s not the most obvious connection, but you can thank Maryland’s hunters for this unique natural site. These plants aren’t grown for the flowering beauty that draws thousands of tourists every summer. Instead, state officials and sportsmen care more about what happens after the plants die. The nearly 2,000-acres of McKee Beshers is a popular hunting ground for mourning doves, which love to eat the dried remains of the sunflowers once they begin to die in the fall. Perhaps not so coincidentally, this is also hunting season in Maryland. Fields and fields full of delicious food make sure there’s always plenty of birds to go around, year after year.
At the same time, the McKee Beshers sunflower fields also serve as a valuable part of the food chain for several other species, particularly bees. Bees serve as a crucial part of the natural ecosystem and have been dying at alarming rates in recent years, meaning they need all the help they can get.
How And When To See The McKee Beshers Sunflowers
The best time to see McKee Beshers sunflowers is mid-July. Generally, that’s when these striking plants have reached their tallest and most vibrant. State wildlife officials plant the fields in late April or early May and return in early to mid-August to begin the process of converting the fields into food. Luckily, Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources provides a helpful camera located at McKee Beshers to let you get a peek at conditions before leaving home. Be aware that hunting is allowed between September and early January, so be mindful of this during any visits during this period. In any case, there won’t be sunflowers at that point, and there are better options for hikes and nature walks in the surrounding area.
While the number of fields or particular field locations may vary somewhat from year to year, the map above from the 2021 season gives you a general idea of what you’ll need to do to see them. About a half-dozen small parking areas are located throughout the area, which can often fill up on busy summer weekends. If you can’t find a spot in one, keep trying – there may be a bit of luck involved on busier days. Most sunflower fields are then a short 5-15 minute walk from the parking area. Most are linked via gravel or dirt trails, allowing you to create your own walk to two or more fields. Trails also continue past the sunflower fields toward the Potomac River.
Getting To McKee Beshers Wildlife Management Area
Address: 16898-16500 River Rd, Poolesville, MD 20837
McKee Beshers Wildlife Management Area has no facilities of any kind on-site, including bathrooms, picnic sites, or benches.
By Car: Heading to McKee Beshers from Washington, DC, you’ll head northwest out of the city, likely using MD-190/River Road. What starts as a moderately-trafficked commuter route quickly gives way to a two-lane local road as you get further from DC. You’ll stay on this quiet route nearly all the way to McKee Beshers, making it one of the simpler trips from Washington. Turn left onto the smaller, semi-unpaved Hunting Quarter Road, where you’ll find the parking areas for the various sunflower fields. While the road can be a little bumpy in parts, you should be able to navigate it in just about any vehicle – no four-wheel-drive required here.
By Bike: Confident bikers or those looking to really get in touch with the natural environment of Montgomery County can head to McKee Beshers on two wheels, as well. For those looking to bike on the roads, it’s best to start outside the Beltway, creating a ride of about 30 miles roundtrip, about an hour and a half each way along the quieter portion of River Road. Up for a real challenge? You’re also able to start as far in as DC’s Georgetown neighborhood and take the beautiful C&O Canal Towpath. This route is as simple as following the same path until you reach Lock 24, where you’ll return to the regular roads for the final mile or so to the fields. From DC, the trip is about 25 miles each way and provides some one-of-a-kind views of the Potomac River.
See you on the road,