Colorado’s 2017 sunflower season starts now: Here’s how to see them near DIA without angering airport security

Some of the first sunflowers blooming near Denver International Airport on Aug. 9, 2017. (Courtesy Kevin Henry)
Some of the first sunflowers blooming near Denver International Airport on Aug. 9, 2017. (Courtesy Kevin Henry)
Some of the first sunflowers blooming near Denver International Airport on Aug. 9, 2017. (Courtesy Kevin Henry)

The first yellow halos are emerging from the near-endless fields of green buds outside of Denver International Airport. This is the beginning of a remarkable season: the few weeks of the year when the sunflowers of the Front Range enter full bloom.

“I try and make it out there every year, and usually I miss them. This is the first year that I’ve been out there and really seen them in their prime,” said Kevin Henry, a Denverite reader and hobbyist photographer who captured the image above.

While only a smattering of flowers were out as of Aug. 9, more and more should emerge over the next couple weekends. “I would expect that we are approaching peak bloom now,” wrote Dr. Anna Sher, who studies plant blooming patterns for the University of Denver.

Where to find them:

Wild sunflowers and sunflower farms are spread across northeastern Colorado, especially alongside Interstate 76, but the international airport anchors some of the largest fields in the area.

That’s because the airport owns thousands of acres of undeveloped land surrounding the hub. For now, DIA leases about 16,000 acres of that land to farmers who cultivate wheat, corn and other crops, including sunflowers.

“One of the reasons we do it is to make sure the land is maintained. Having people farming it keeps it production, keeps it in use,” said Patrick Heck, chief commercial officer for DIA.

The fields are generally accessible by driving a loop around the airport along 120th Avenue, Imboden Road, 56th Avenue and Tower Road.

The farmers rotate the crops in order to keep the land healthy, so it’s impossible to say exactly where on that loop the flowers will appear.

“They’re never in the same place twice. It’s a huge area,” Henry said.

Sunflowers in full bloom near Denver International Airport in 2014. (Courtesy Denver International Airport)
Sunflowers in full bloom near Denver International Airport from a previous summer. (Courtesy Denver International Airport)
You have to read this part, too.

Before you rush off, read these rules to save your butt from getting kicked out by airport security or hit by a car and/or various bugs.

  • Traffic moves pretty fast along these roads, and there are no designated parking areas. You will be parking on the side of the paved roads. Do not leave the side of the road. Keep your car out of any kind of tall roadside vegetation, and watch that your vehicle’s heat does not start a brush fire.
  • Do not enter the sunflower fields or any other fields. Do not take sunflowers or any other plant. The crops belong to the farmers and the land belongs to the airport. Don’t ruin this for everyone else. You will be reported to police if you’re spotted in any of the fields. Also, there may be pesticides and other nasty stuff on the fields at any time.
  • Bring bug spray. “If someone thinks they’re going to go out there and take a sexy photo in a pretty dress, they’re going to be swarmed by bugs,” Henry said.
  • No drones. Airports really don’t like drones.

“Motto of the story is, please feel free to stay in public roads in safe locations, but don’t enter the fields or other private property,” wrote airport spokesperson Heath Montgomery.

This story was updated with additional guidance from the airport on rules and safety.

Andrew Kenney

Author: Andrew Kenney

Andrew Kenney writes about public spaces, Denver phenomena and whatever else. He previously worked for six years as a reporter at The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C. His most prized possession is his collection of bizarre voicemail. Leave him one at 303-502-2803, or email akenney@denverite.com.