Alabama: Smith Mountain
Unpack your picnic goodies close to the Fire Tower on Smith Mountain for some of the best views in the state. This lofty area is surrounded by hiking trails, but stopping and staring over the forest canopies down to the shimmering, sapphire-hued Lake Martin is our preferred activity. There are also some delightful spots along the shores of the reservoir, which is dotted with islets and has lots of lovely nooks, crannies and coves.
Alaska: Exit Glacier, Kenai Fjords National Park
OK, it isn’t always what you’d call picnic weather in Alaska, but go in warmer months (or just wrap up) and you can find some of the most scenic outdoor dining spots in the entire country. Kenai Fjords National Park is full of them, from meadows with views of jagged, calving glaciers to bays sprinkled with ice floes. Exit Glacier, the only area of the park accessible by car, has a picnic area with tables, toilets and (most importantly) views of the ice-covered valley.
Arizona: West Rim, Grand Canyon National Park
There are no bad views in this granddaddy of national parks (which has mostly reopened following COVID-19 restrictions – check the website). Some of the more unusual picnic spots, though, can be found at the West Rim, home to the vertiginous glass Skywalk. From tables facing the striped red rocks to this picnic bench in an old cabin at Guano Point, you’ll feel engulfed by the epic beauty of the park. There’s an entrance fee, but the area has good facilities including toilets and a café for extra supplies.
Arkansas: Buffalo National River
The Buffalo National River winds and weaves its way through the Ozark Mountains, with overlooks, waterside clearings and tiny coves offering rich pickings for picnickers. One of the best areas is Tyler Bend Campground, whose separate picnic area has a handful of tree-shaded tables right by the riverbank. A path leads to the water’s edge where you can fish and, if the weather allows, swim. The site has fire rings and toilets, though some buildings have been closed due to COVID-19, so check for updates.
California: Morro Rock Beach, Morro Bay
Colorado: Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre
A little outside Denver, Red Rocks is best known as an iconic concert venue – but it’s also packed with picnicking potential. The pavilion offers views of the amphitheater and Denver skyline beyond, while there are also lovely spots along trails that weave through the park’s rock-strewn landscape. You can enter the amphitheater on non-concert days, and while alcohol is allowed in the park only, glass is prohibited everywhere. The visitor center has been closed due to COVID-19, but there are bathrooms on site.
Connecticut: Stonington Vineyards
What’s better than a picnic with glorious views? A picnic with glorious views of a vineyard. With wine. Stonington Vineyards, on the CT Wine Trail, specializes in chardonnay and cabernet franc, which can be sampled with a tasting or purchased by the glass (or bottle). And bringing your own picnic is positively encouraged – as is wandering among the vines. The winery sometimes has guest catering, in case you’ve forgotten your own picnic (or just can’t be bothered) and typically hosts live music each Friday in summer. Check the events page for updates.
Delaware: Cape Henlopen State Park, Lewes
You know you’ve found picnic heaven as you skip towards the shortbread-hued beach of this coastal preserve, a former military base now occupied by sand dunes, shrubs, pine trees and native birdlife. The Atlantic Ocean views can also be appreciated from a Second World War observation tower, but they’re lovelier while munching on sandwiches with your toes in the sand. The beach is currently open with limits on visitor numbers, and face coverings are required when using the facilities. Check the website for the latest.
Florida: Bahia Honda State Park, Big Pine Key
You could pull up pretty much anywhere in the Florida Keys and (public access permitting) have a memorable picnic. But even amid all the blue-and-green beauty of the archipelago, Bahia Honda State Park is one of the most reliably gorgeous spots for a hike and an alfresco lunch. The handful of beachfront picnic benches are, understandably, nabbed pretty fast, but sitting on the soft, pale sand, perhaps under a palm tree, is a more than acceptable alternative.
Georgia: Tybee Beach, Tybee Island
Known as ‘Savannah’s Beach’ – and just a short, scenic drive from that moss-and-mystery draped city – this barrier island has a certain Southern charm all of its own. The broad sandy stretch is the highlight, dominated by a long fishing pier that has picnic tables under a gazebo. You’ll also find wooden swing benches on the beach, or you can just lay a blanket on the sand.
Hawaii: Nāpali Coast State Wilderness Park, Kauai
Thick rainforest covers much of Kauai, appropriately nicknamed ‘the Garden Isle’. And the brightest gem in its gem-encrusted crown is the Nāpali Coast, known for pali (cliffs) that shelter creamy beaches and sapphire water. Pick a spot by one of the waterfalls, which flow through narrow valleys and empty into the ocean. Or hike to one of the small sandy coves, backed by craggy, green-cloaked mountains. Check the Hawaii state parks website for the latest opening updates.
Idaho: Sawtooth National Forest
The forested trails and clearings are well worth exploring in this enormous park, but it’s the lakeshores and – in spring – the wildflower-strewn meadows that are the prettiest places for a picnic. There are hundreds of designated areas with tables and (in some cases) loos. Try the sites around Alturas and Pettit lakes for views of pine-studded mountains reflected in mirror-like water, or find a quiet spot on a pebbly beach by Redfish Lake (pictured).
Illinois: Millennium Park, Chicago
The Windy City really is mighty pretty, and that applies equally to its natural and manmade beauty. They work together wonderfully along the shores of vast Lake Michigan and the paths of the Riverwalk, where you can picnic on wooden steps and benches. The best spot is Millennium Park, a sprawling green space and outdoor art gallery dotted with sculptures including the famous Cloud Gate (‘The Bean’). Lay a blanket on the grass by the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, whose curly steel roof shelters musicians for free summer concerts.
Indiana: Lake View Beach, Indiana Dunes National Park
The sand dunes and beaches of this national park hug the shores of Lake Michigan, which is so vast and seemingly unending it may as well be the ocean. There are several picnic areas, though Lake View is perhaps the loveliest simply because, well, it has a great lake view. There are covered picnic shelters, loos, drinking water and built-in barbecue grills. You can even cool off in the lake between picnic courses – perfection. The park is currently open with some restrictions in place – check the official website for updates.
Iowa: Pikes Peak State Park
The Hawkeye State is perhaps better known for cornfields and rolling plains than waterfront picnic spots. But it hugs a few wiggles of the Mississippi and offers some prime places to dine by the mighty river. Pikes Peak State Park makes the most of the location with gazebos, picnic shelters and overlooks that jut above the water. Find a spot surrounded by forest and with views of river islets.
Kansas: Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve
The best picnic spots at Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve are by paths that wind through the rolling fields of Kansas’ Flint Hills, carpeted by prairie land. Tall grass once covered around 170 million acres of the US and most of the 4% that remains is in this preserve. Keep an eye out for (and keep your distance from) white-tail deer and bison, which graze the fields here. Hiking trails, toilets and the visitor center are currently open.
Kentucky: Cumberland Falls State Park
This state park is famous for its namesake waterfall, whose spray conspires with bright moonlight to create a ‘moon bow’ or lunar rainbow on some nights. A lunar-lit picnic would be lovely if you’re camping or staying at the resort hotel. Otherwise, grab one of the picnic tables or find a spot with a view of Cumberland Falls, whose broad cascade, surrounded by boulders and trees, is still impressive in daylight.
Louisiana: City Park, New Orleans
The Big Easy has a surprising abundance of gorgeous green spaces, and City Park is a neighborhood in its own right. It’s home to the New Orleans Museum of Art, whose sculpture gardens are a joy to wander. Stay for a picnic under moss-draped oak trees or on the shores of Big Lake. If you fancy something a little fancier, check the park website for catering and picnic area hire options.
Maine: Ship Cove, Cape Elizabeth
The picnic area by this bay has a handful of tables staring over the water and with views of Portland Head lighthouse, a little further down the coast. But it doesn’t really matter if all the seats are taken – it’s just as lovely sitting on a blanket on the grass or perching on a piece of whisperingly pale driftwood on the slice of rocky beach. Now discover stunning US spots to relax in your RV this summer.
Maryland: Sandy Point State Park
Water you can swim in, sand you can sit (or lie) on and trees to shelter beneath. Sandy Point State Park has all the ingredients for a perfect picnic apart from the food (that’s your job). The park hugs the shore of Chesapeake Bay with beaches the color of burnt caramel. There’s a grassy area with picnic tables and covered pavilions you can rent – though the beach has some of the best views of the rocky jetty, Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Sandy Point Shoal Light, a squat brick lighthouse.
Massachusetts: Race Point Beach, Provincetown
The entire peninsula of Cape Cod, which curls from the mainland of Massachusetts, is perfect for picnics. But we reckon this beach stands out with its rolling dunes, fragrant shrubs and sand as soft as talcum powder. That it’s in Provincetown, the buzziest and arguably most fun area of the island, makes it all the more surprising. Any time of day is gorgeous for an alfresco meal or snack, but it’s even more special at sunset.
Michigan: Inspiration Point, Arcadia
Minnesota: Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness
You don’t have to get in a kayak or canoe to enjoy this wilderness area. But paddling will help you scout out the best spots for a picnic. This area in the northern section of the Superior National Forest is laced with around 1,000 lakes, rivers and streams and dotted with islands and sandy coves. Find a picnic bench by one of the designated campsites or just pull your boat ashore and spread out a blanket. Permits are required for day and overnight use.
Mississippi: Bluff Park, Natchez
It’s the mighty Mississippi that makes this such a fabulous place to have a bite to eat. The tree-filled park follows the curves of the famous river along a bluff trail with broad paved paths, boardwalks and grassy areas you can sit (or recline) on. Benches face the water for views of the Natchez–Vidalia Bridge – actually twin cantilever bridges – and the broad brown river itself.
Missouri: Ha Ha Tonka State Park
The Show Me state definitely lives up to its name with this gorgeous park, which sprawls out from the shores of the jagged-edged Lake of the Ozarks. Boardwalks link up caves, bluffs, a natural bridge and castle ruins, with 20 designated picnic areas dotted throughout the park. Each has decent facilities including picnic tables, loos and drinking water, and there’s no compromising on the views.
Montana: Lake McDonald, Glacier National Park
There are several designated picnic areas around Lake McDonald. But, really, plonk yourself and your sandwiches anywhere on the shores of this gin-clear lake and you can’t go wrong. There are benches tucked amid lodgepole pines, clearings right by the water’s edge, and gravelly beaches where you can gaze at the mountains (and their perfect reflections in the lake’s mirrored surface). There are toilets and taps for drinking water at various points close to the lake and, though the eastern portion of the park remains closed, this whole area is now open.
Nebraska: Toadstool Geological Park
This badlands park is as oddly fascinating as its name suggests. The landscape of rock formations, from hoodoos to the eponymous ‘toadstools’, is often described as moon-like – but it also looks as if a few spaceships have landed on these plains. There’s a campground area with toilets and day-use picnic tables. Hiking trails lead out from here and you can picnic en route, right among the rocks.
Nevada: Zephyr Cove, Lake Tahoe
Really, wherever you lay down your basket on the shores of Lake Tahoe will be a perfect spot for a picnic. But a real favorite is Zephyr Cove, where grassy lawn meets a stretch of shoreline laced with sandy and pebbly beaches. It’s surprisingly easy to find a quiet spot on a boulder-strewn cove with lake and mountain views, or unpack your picnic on a bench in the designated area. There’s a disc golf course and playground nearby, plus loos and drinking water on site.
New Hampshire: Rocky Gorge Scenic Area, White Mountain National Forest
The White Mountains cover roughly a quarter of New Hampshire and the selection of perfect picnic spots is pretty overwhelming. Trails wiggle in every direction, cutting through forest and skimming around lakes. Take our tip and head straight for the Rocky Gorge area of the national forest, right off the scenic Kancamagus Highway. There’s a picnic area and loos next to the car park, while the gorge is spanned by a covered footbridge and thickly edged by forest.
New Jersey: Cape May Point State Park
New Jersey has a decent amount of green space and parks but, really, if you’re going to have a picnic here it has to be at the shore. Cape May, to the south, is retro heaven: all beaches, boardwalks, candy floss and candy-hued Victorian houses. Lay out your lunch on one of the picnic tables in the state park, home to honey-hued beaches, dunes and coastal marshes known for birdwatching.
New Mexico: White Sands National Monument
The picnic areas dotted on this ethereal landscape are suitably strange in appearance. With benches tucked under curved shelters, they look a little like they’ve been dropped here from space, or perhaps the future. There are 62 shelters throughout the park, each with a barbecue grill, bin and views across the dazzling white sand dunes. The park is open for day-use only, though some facilities remain unavailable due to COVID-19. Check the website for updates.
New York: The High Line, New York City
New York’s innovative urban green space – a disused railway line – is as perfect for picnics as it is for a stroll. There are broad steps, picnic tables, wooden benches, gardens and patches of grass along the elevated park’s 1.5 miles (2.4km), all with views of the Big Apple. Grab a spot among fragrant shrubs and flowers, or perch on the benches at 23rd Street, one of the most popular picnic spots here.
North Carolina: Pilot Mountain State Park
Picnicking in a car park is usually what happens when the weather turns out to be disastrous, but it’s actually very lovely when it’s the summit parking lot in this state park. The picnic area is a little away from the tarmac and has views across the vine-striped Yadkin Valley. Look up and you can see the crest of Pilot Mountain peeping from beneath its opulent cloak of forested slopes – it’s a short hike to the very top.
North Dakota: Painted Canyon, Theodore Roosevelt National Park
This is where the Great Plains meet the Badlands and the landscape turns into a strange dream of hoodoos, canyons and buttes, interrupted by plains grazed by bison and elk. In short, Theodore Roosevelt National Park has lots of incredible places to pause for a picnic. The Painted Canyon area is particularly spectacular, with a visitor center, loos and picnic tables, plus a nature trail for views of the softly striped rocks. Most of the park is open for day visitors – check the alerts page for the latest information.
Ohio: Old Man’s Cave, Hocking Hills State Park
Tucked in southeastern Ohio, Hocking Hills State Park is overloaded with beautiful places to picnic, from caverns to waterfalls. Old Man’s Cave, looped by a short hiking trail, is one of the most popular spots, and for good reason. Upper Falls cascades silkily into a turquoise pool, overhung by trees and rocks and spanned by a small footbridge. Pick a spot with a view of the waterfall or eat lunch on one of the few picnic tables. Now dig into the best sandwich in every state.
Oklahoma: Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge
The charming residents of Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, a protected wilderness area, include bison, river otters, burrowing owls and wild turkeys. Look out for them while following trails around the boulder-strewn prairie land, then stop for a picnic at one of the designated picnic areas with tables, fire pits, barbecue grills and toilets.
Oregon: Indian Beach, Ecola State Park
It’s rarely – if ever – crowded along Oregon’s coastline, and you’re pretty much guaranteed to find a lovely quiet pocket on Indian Beach for a spot of lunch. Perch on the bluffs for views over the water, or get right on the honeyed sand and find a rocky seat from which to breathe in the salty air and scour the horizon for gray whales (between December and April). Most of Ecola State Park is closed due to trail damage, but Indian Beach remains open.
Pennsylvania: Bushkill Falls, Delaware Water Gap
The vast Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area spans two states – sprawling into New Jersey – and has more than a dozen designated picnic areas among the trees and on the banks of the Delaware River. Perhaps the spot with the loveliest views, though, is Pennsylvania’s Bushkill Falls in the Pocono Mountains. A wooden boardwalk links up the series of eight cascades so you can earn your lunch with a gentle hike.
Rhode Island: Waterplace Park, Providence
South Carolina: Angel Oak Park, Johns Island
Mossy, velvety live oak trees are as Southern as barbecue and charm, and South Carolina is rich in all three. Few trees, though, are so spectacular – or famous – as the Angel Oak, which shades around 17,000 square feet (1,579sqm) of grassy parkland and is believed to be around 400 years old. You can’t spread your blanket right under the broad canopy, but there is a picnic area on the site so you can enjoy your meal with an iconic view.
South Dakota: Black Elk Peak, Black Hills National Forest
Black Elk Peak (previously known as Harney Peak) is the highest point in the US east of the Rockies and has some of the best views in the Black Hills. That’s saying something in this remote wonderland of alpine forests, canyons, lakes, mountains and meadows. It takes a few hours to hike to the lookout tower at the top, but those who make the effort are rewarded with a picnic spot that gazes over granite formations and cliffs with sweeping views encompassing four states.
Tennessee: Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Cades Cove valley is gorgeous in its own right, with views across meadows backed by blue-green mountains. It’s also one of the best parts of the Great Smokies for viewing wildlife including black bears and groundhogs – so keep your sandwiches close and stick to the designated picnic area. Drive or cycle Cades Cove Loop, dotted with historic buildings including churches, barns and log houses. Or take the five-mile (8km) circular hike to Abrams Falls. Most of the park is currently open – check the dedicated page for updates.
Texas: Auditorium Shores, Austin
Utah: Grotto, Zion National Park
Spread your blanket and unpack your basket amid scenery that is too dramatically, mistily marvelous to be real. Except it is real, and you can sprawl out right next to it in one of Zion National Park’s three designated picnic areas (each with toilets). All are glorious, but the Grotto Picnic Area puts you closer to the apricot rock formations the park is so famous for. Reach it via shuttle bus or with a hike along the West Rim Trail, whose highlights include the incredible Angel’s Landing.
Vermont: Lake Champlain
Virginia: Lake Anne, Reston
Virginia has plenty of lovely picnic spots, from national parks to wineries, but there’s just something so charming and pretty about Lake Anne, a reservoir lined with a village of the same name. Paths and looping footbridges, which span the water, are brightened by cherry blossom in spring and warmed by jeweled leaves in fall, though it’s pretty all year round. There are places to stock up on picnic supplies and, on Thursdays during summer, usually free concerts around the pavilion – check for updates.
Washington: Deception Pass State Park, Oak Harbor
Spread across two rugged, forested isles (northern Fidalgo and southern Whidbey), Deception Pass State Park is a salt-sprayed balm for the soul. There are picnic benches under towering Douglas fir trees, but the best spot for views of Deception Pass Bridge and the blue-gray bay is on the beach. Find the most comfortable driftwood log and feel like you’ve found the edge of the world.
West Virginia: Hawks Nest State Park
Hawks Nest offers an eagle-eye view over a bend in the New River Gorge, spanned by the intricate, rust-red arches and curves of its bridge. You can picnic at designated areas with benches (dotted around the grounds) or just perch on the low wall of the overlook, which has the clearest views of the river and the thickly forested mountain ridges that surround it. Need some picnic inspiration? Try these super summer salads.
Wisconsin: Harrington Beach State Park
You can picnic right at the water’s edge in Harrington Beach State Park. It’s pretty hard to find a spot that doesn’t have a view of Lake Michigan, in fact. Unfold your chairs or spread out a blanket on the grassy lakeshore or relax on the sandy beach. The park has even more water in the form of Quarry Lake, an old stone quarry that’s now filled with limpid water, and popular fishing spot Puckett’s Pond. Most of the park is open, though you have to purchase a pass in advance.
Wyoming: Otter Creek, Yellowstone National Park
This vast and eclectic national park has dozens of picnic spots, all with tables and many with loos and barbecue rings. Otter Creek has tables only, but what it lacks in facilities it more than compensates for with views. The spot is on the banks of Yellowstone River, which snakes through the park, and is often beautifully quiet and peaceful. Dreaming of the open road? We reveal the most beautiful weekend road trip in every state.
Source: Read Full Article