There’s something special about setting up a blanket, a picnic bench or even your car and enjoying a meal outdoors on a nice day. With warm weather just around the corner, there’s no better time for planning a picnic. As we begin to recover from the pandemic and slowly ease into our new normal, alfresco is the way to go, especially when gathering in small groups.
Whether you plan to take advantage of your own backyard or venture out to a local park, here’s how to plan a picnic you won’t soon forget.
Note: Due to the ever-changing nature of the COVID-19 crisis, please see official websites before visiting to check for restrictions or closures.
Step one to planning a picnic is preparing. From utensils to sunscreen, think about what you’ll need ahead of time and make a checklist if it helps.
First, you need a place to settle down. Pack a blanket, large towel or tablecloth to sit on in case picnic tables aren’t available. Consider lawn chairs or some kind of cushion or pillow for anyone in your household who might find the ground too uncomfortable.
You’ll also want a picnic basket, tote, reusable shopping bags or a backpack to carry your lighter-weight and non-perishable supplies like utensils, napkins, wet wipes, hand sanitizer and a bottle opener or cork screw if needed.
A cooler and icepacks and/or ice are essential for keeping your foods fresh and beverages cold. Consider reusable bottles, utensils and food storage containers. Make sure whatever vessels you use seal well to avoid accidental spills.
Other picnic supplies you might want to bring along include bug spray, sunscreen, a trash bag for cleanup and an umbrella for shade. You may also want to consider packing a few games to stretch out the day. Kites and a Frisbee are classic if you have enough outdoor space. Board games, books and playing cards are also good options.
The best picnic foods are snacks, drinks and meals that are easy to transport and eat. Foods that can be made ahead of time are also preferable.
Classic picnic foods include sandwiches, wraps and grilled or fried chicken. Sides like fruit, pasta and potato salads are also popular, along with coleslaw and deviled eggs.
Staying hydrated is also important. While water is always a good idea, drinks like iced tea and lemonade are tasty and seasonal — and who can resist an Arnold Palmer? If you’re staying home to picnic, you can always mix up a spiked version for the adults.
When it comes to snacks, the possibilities are practically endless. Though you can’t go wrong with chips or pretzels, consider chopped vegetables, nuts and/or trail mix; not only are these snacks healthier, they’ll take up less room compared to airy chip bags and won’t get crushed as easily. These healthy road trip snacks are also great for picnics.
Fresh fruits like berries, cherries, grapes, peaches and (as summer nears) watermelon are excellent picnic treats. For something a bit sweeter, desserts that don’t need utensils like cookies, cupcakes and brownies are ideal.
Finding a Spot
As warmer weather draws more people outdoors, public areas are beginning to reopen. If you’re going out in public, continue using caution and try to stay local. Follow state and CDC guidelines like only visiting parks that are close to home and staying at least six feet away from non-household members.
When it comes to picnicking, always check online beforehand to see which parks are open. Please note that in many areas, public restrooms and indoor facilities are closed. Also, wearing masks/face coverings is encouraged or many be required. Finally, have proper park etiquette and ‘carry out what you carry in.’
If local parks are overcrowded, consider planning a picnic in your own backyard. If it’s raining, there’s no need to cancel either. An indoor picnic can be just as fun for kids and can be a creative date idea. Simply lay a blanket down on the floor of your living room or den, enjoy the food you prepared and play longer games like Monopoly or Risk or watch a movie.
Connecticut’s 139 state parks and forests, from Black Rock State Park in Watertown and Dennis Hill State Park in Norfolk to Wharton Brook State Park in Wallingford, are open with restrictions. For scenic landscapes that pair perfectly with lunch, visitors can picnic informally the grounds of the Topsmead State Forest in Litchfield. Similarly, the park grounds of Weir Farm National Historic Site in Ridgefield are open daily, sunrise to sunset, year-round.
Massachusetts has guidelines for park visitors. Dunn State Park in Gardner and Look Park in Florence are classic picnicking spots. While the weather is still chilly, there are fire pit picnics at Appleton Farms in Hamilton and Ipswich. Fans of flowers will like picnicking throughout the grounds, including scattered tables and mowed grassy areas, of Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston (reserve entry tickets in advance). Meanwhile, those planning a picnic with waterscapes will appreciate Crane Beach in Ipswich and World’s End in Hingham, which are open with a required timed or daily parking passes.
Residents of New Hampshire currently have to make online reservations to visit several of its 93 state parks. These include Bear Brook State Park, Flume Gorge, Miller State Park, Monadnock Sate Park, Pawtuckaway Sate Park, Rollins State Park and Winslow State Park. Anyone looking for a waterfront view should consider Kezar Lake in Sutton, Massabesic Lake in Manchester or Garvins Falls Dam in Concord.
New Jersey is home to 33 state parks and 11 state forests. Picnic areas are available at parks like Allamuchy Mountain State Park, Cape May Point State Park, Fort Mott State Park, High Point State Park and Liberty State Park. Monmouth Battlefield State Park and Washington Rock State Park are also nice places to lay down a blanket.
Check specific park websites in advance, as restrooms may be limited or closed.
Great views of water can be found at Chittenango Falls State Park in Cazenovia, Lake Erie State Park in Brocton, Letchworth State Park in Castile and Heckscher State Park Beach on Long Island. Those looking to feel close to nature will like Orange County Arboretum in Campbell Hall and Yaddo Gardens in Saratoga Springs.
Note: many parks have reduced parking by 50% and roads may have closures in effect. Some parks may require reservations.
Parking spaces have been reduces and restrooms may not be available. Pavilion and picnic table rentals are available for group sizes adhering to current safety guidelines. Call the regional park office for more information.
What’s your favorite part of planning a picnic? Share your favorite picnic spots in the comments below.