Picnicking 101: Finding Your Picnic Spot

9 Picnic-Perfect Parks
Katherine RivardTravel Ideas
Boy Scout Picnic Shelter at Herbert Hoover National Historic Site
– John Tobiason/NPS

Picnicking is a long-established American pastime. With so many outstanding national and local parks sprinkled throughout the country, there’s no excuse not to grab a cooler and pack some snacks for an outdoor feast. Start by reacquainting yourself with the basics (read: how to prepare, what to pack, etc.) and then get your imagination running with possibilities! Check out these national parks which offer unforgettable picnicking accommodations and be inspired to find a perfect picnic spot near you.

Bandelier National Monument

Empty picnic tables amongst trees next to a parking lot at sunrise at Bandelier National Monument
National Park Service

This squirrel-filled park in New Mexico includes 2 picnic areas, one of which includes grills. We ask that you refrain from feeding the bushy-eared Albert’s squirrels, no matter how much they beg, but feel free to enjoy the over 70 miles of trail. Bandelier National Monument’s Main Loop Trail is a favorite among visitors, as it provides the option to go to Alcove House, the reconstructed former home of 25 Ancestral Pueblo people. To reach the house you must first climb up 4 wooden ladders and a set of stone stairs, making your way 140 feet up the canyon wall. Burnt Mesa Trail is also a great post-picnic option. A short flat trail perfect for summer, this 2.5-mile jaunt (5 miles total) offers the chance for guests to see wildflowers, birds, and butterflies.

Colorado National Monument

Wooden sign saying "Saddlehorn Picnic Area" with a bike and a ranger hat at Colorado National Monument
National Park Service

If you’d like to host a large group during your trek through Colorado National Monument, the park offers a few options which require an application and fee. Whether you choose to chow before or after grilling with the crew, the park offers several short hiking trails, including Serpents Trail, the “Crookedest Road in the world.” If you’re interested in something more leisurely, Alcove Nature Trail is another scenic option. This trail is great for families with small children and acts as a perfect introduction to the park’s flora and fauna.

Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Black Cuyahoga Railway train with red and yellow accents on the tracks
National Park Service

Picnicking spots are scattered around Ohio’s Cuyahoga Valley National Park. All the venues have tables and some also have grills. Alcohol is prohibited, but the park offers a few unique activities not found in other areas.  

Enjoy a scenic train ride (runs Wednesday-Sunday in the summer/fall). Trains began transporting coal in the valley in 1880. Today you can purchase a ticket to ride the train round trip or get off and enjoy the park before catching another train when you buy an all-day pass. Depending on which picnicking spot you choose, you can also go questing (April 15-November 15), visit any of the 4 private golfing courses in the park, or hike the 125 miles of trail.

Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area

People picnicking on the grass at Delaware National Water Gap
National Park Service

Work up an appetite biking or driving down Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area’s Old Mine Road, a scenic drive first constructed in the mid-1600s to connect the Hudson River, Philadelphia, and the Pahaquarry Mines. Then stop by any of the numerous picnicking spots in either New Jersey or Pennsylvania. Grills aren’t provided, but you can bring your own to the picnicking spot of your choice. Just remember: collecting wood is prohibited!

Greenbelt Park

Colorful fall leaves on a tree at the sweetgum picnic area at Greenbelt Park
National Park Service

Just a short drive outside of our nation’s capital, Greenbelt Park is the perfect lunch break before or after visiting Washington’s many monuments and attractions. Sweetgum Picnic Area is located near the entrance of the park and is open 8 a.m. to dusk. Perfect for families, this spot offers 2 sets of playground equipment, a baseball field, and a large open field.

Herbert Hoover National Historic Site

green and brown wooden picnic shelter with picnic tables at Herbert Hoover National Historic Site
John Tobiason/NPS

Located in Iowa, Herbert Hoover National Historic Site (the birthplace of our 31st president) hosts two picnic shelters that are first-come, first-served unless you’re interested in reserving one in advance for a fee. After lunch, walk off your meal by going on a self-guided walking tour of the historic site or hike along the 2.5 miles of unpaved trail.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area

red picnic shelter amongst the red rock cliffs of Lake Mead National Recreation Area
Andrew Cattoir/NPS

Hiking is not usually recommended during the summer given the heat, however Lake Mead National Recreation Area has plenty else to offer. So long as you have the correct fishing license, this spot is perfect for early morning fishing. Once the fish are ready to siesta and your own stomach starts to grumble, you know it’s time to picnic.

Covering parts of Nevada and Arizona, Lake Mead offers shaded picnic areas throughout the park. Visitors are also welcome to picnic along the beach, though bringing your own shade is recommended.

Whiskeytown National Recreation Area

View of lake with snow-capped mountain in the background at Whiskeytown National Recreation Area
National Park Service

Northern California’s Whiskeytown National Recreation Area offers beautiful shaded picnic areas with fire grills, bathrooms, and picnic tables. After a leisurely lunch with friends or family, go wading or swimming in the cool waters, or go ogle the beautiful waterfalls and creeks located in this park. Prefer to enjoy your dinner as a picnic? Stick around afterwards for astronomy programs led by the Sky Rangers during summer evenings.

Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts

people picnicking at tables and on the grass at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts
National Park Service

This Northern Virginia hotspot is best known as a concert venue but in the summer months, this is also the perfect spot to picnic. Though no grills are provided or permitted in Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts, you can pack some sandwiches and lounge along the small creek that flows through the park or spread your victuals across any of the many partially shaded picnic tables.

These are just a few of the many parks that offer a perfect spot to picnic. Remember to do your research for information on picnic area locations and rules, and be sure to always pack out what you pack into the park. Now grab your picnic baskets and coolers and go #FindYourPark, o mejor dicho, #EncuentraTuParque!


What? Nothing from the beautiful state of Oregon? What about Crater Lake?
I was just wondering why the Forest Service thinks they have to charge for using a campground for an hour for having a picnic. All of the sites are available but no you have to pay $15 for a picnic. If I wanted to pay that kind of money I would go to the restaurant. They get someone a free pass and it is their job to collect your money. I pay my taxes and I want my free pass.
This is a National Park website, Paul, not Forest Service. When the Park Service is millions of dollars short for infrastructure and basic maintenance, and administrations such as the present one wants to cut Park appropriations drastically for defense increases, the shortfall has to come from somewhere. Let your Congress reps know how you feel about Park fees for taxpayers.
Campgrounds are not designed for day use - they are for camping only. Usually there are nearby day-use sites that are available for picnics (often free, but this depends on the specific park for forest). This is true across most, if not all, public lands - national forests, national parks, state parks, etc.
Note Delaware Water Gap NRA is located in Pennsylvania and New Jersey; not Delaware (as indicated in the heading).
Fixed! Thanks!

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