From tailgate parties to garden parties to a simple meal nearby a lake or waterfall, picnics have emerged as a way to change up your meal routine and bring some diversity, relaxation, beauty, and spontaneity into your life. While good picnics entail only three main ingredients – good company, flavorful and safe food choices, and an interesting outdoor location – here are a few tips to ensure your next picnic’s success.
- Keep your eye on the sky – and on the weather, particularly if your destination is prone to pop-up thunderstorms.
- Unless your chosen picnic spot has tables or a pavilion, be sure to bring a blanket that’s big enough to accommodate everyone comfortably. Sunglasses, sunscreen, wet wipes, a small first-aid kit, bug spray, and layered clothing will also go a long way toward making sure that everyone stays comfortable during the outing.
- Don’t over pack, particularly if you intend to hike in to your picnic spot, as many places have a carry-in, carry-out policy. While picnic baskets and hampers are both traditional and stylish, a backpack or insulated tote bag is more practical, especially if you want to explore your surroundings a bit.
- Choose your foods carefully. Avoid foods that can easily spoil, like salads that contain mayonnaise, and foods that easily wilt or deteriorate in the heat, like cut fruit or lettuce. Instead, pasta salads with vinaigrette or pesto are a good choice, as is kale salad, since they hold up better in warm conditions. Likewise, a crusty baguette or whole-grain crackers paired with a good selection of low-fat cheeses and cold lean meats are a better choice than premade sandwiches, which can get soggy easily. Finger foods, such as carrots and broccoli with a hummus dip, dried fruit, nuts, and popcorn are ideal for picnics, especially if there are children involved.
- Finally, since you’ve chosen a picnic location for its natural beauty, honor the environment. Use eco-friendly utensils and plates, reusable plastic containers, and cloth napkins, or if that’s not possible, purchase disposable products made from recycled materials. Recycle bottles and cans, and be sure to dispose of any trash responsibly.
Looking for a picnic setting nearby? The following is just a small sample of beautiful spots to consider in and around the Capital Region. Be sure to check out the websites provided for information on fees, directions, equipment rentals, pet policies, restrictions, and other details that are good to know before you leave home. And by all means, if you know of other hidden picnicking gems, be sure to share your favorites via the comment box!
Thacher State Park
1 Hailes Cave Road
Voorheesville, NY 12186
John Boyd Thacher Park, located west of Albany, offers stunning panoramic views along the cliffs of the Helderberg Escarpment, handicap-accessible picnic pavilions and tables, grills, ball fields, volleyball courts, playgrounds, and miles of hiking trails. Interpretive programs are offered year-round.
State and Willett Streets
Albany, NY 12210
This beautifully maintained and historic 84-acre park, often referred to as the Central Park of Albany, is an oasis of nature in an urban environment. Home to several concerts and festivals, including the iconic Tulip Festival, it also sports a children’s playground, a lake stocked with fish, historic monuments and statues, bike and pedestrian paths, a lake house and amphitheater featuring Broadway-style musicals, and a skate park.
Five Rivers Environmental Education Center
56 Game Farm Road
Delmar, NY 12054
With 450 acres of forest, wetlands, and fields that are home to a variety of wildlife, Five Rivers is a natural gem and a lovely, handicap-accessible backdrop for a picnic. It features miles of nature trails and an educational visitors’ center that offers classes, maps, brochures, and live and stuffed wildlife displays.
Henry Hudson Park
Barent Winne Road
Selkirk, NY 12158
Owned by the town of Bethlehem, the ADA-accessible Henry Hudson Park offers a picnic pavilion and picnic tables along the banks of the Hudson River. The facility also features a boat launch, fishing area, children’s playground, athletic fields, grills, horseshoe pits, and a volleyball court.
Olana State Historic Site
5720 Route 9G
Hudson, NY 12534
The 250-acre picturesque grounds of Olana, home and estate of Hudson River School painter Frederic Church, are an exceptional choice for picnicking, hiking, and birding. Visitors can also go fishing or kayaking if they obtain the necessary permit. A self-guided walking tour and guided tour of the house are available, and there is a visitor center that will provide an overview of the history and features of the historic site. An education center offers programs and events year-round.
Clermont State Historic Site
400 Woods Road (off Route 9G)
The Clermont State Historic Site, home of the Livingston family estate, offers gorgeous views of the Hudson River and stunning gardens, as well as extensive grounds and trails for picnics and hiking. Scenic views, a picnic area, and the gift shop are all handicap-accessible.
George Landis Arboretum
174 Lape Road
Esperance, NY 12066
Located in Montgomery and Schoharie counties, the George Landis Arboretum is a delightful spot for a picnic, featuring approximately 15 miles of trails that weave through collections of native plants, bog gardens, open fields, and pond areas. It is a haven for all sorts of birds, and smartphone users can activate QR-coded signs along the native plant trail to get an explanation of all the flora they are seeing.
Grafton Lakes State Park
100 Grafton Lakes State Park Way
Cropseyville, NY 12052
In addition to its 25 miles of park trails and six ponds, Grafton Lakes State Park offers handicap-accessible picnic pavilions and tables, as well as rich opportunities for viewing wildlife, hiking, swimming, boating, horseback riding, and fishing. Long Pond, the largest body of water there, also features a Beach Nature Center staffed by environmental education volunteers.
Schodack Island State Park
1 Schodack Island Way
Schodack Landing, NY 12156
Situated just south of Albany on the eastern shore of the Hudson River, the picturesque Schodack Island State Park covers more than 1,000 acres and includes eight miles of multi-use trails, a bird conservation area, campsites, a canoe/kayak launch site, and picnic tables and grills.
Saratoga Spa State Park
19 Roosevelt Drive
Saratoga Springs, NY 12866
A National Historic Landmark noted for the healing benefits of its mineral springs, Saratoga Spa State Park is known as much for its natural beauty as for the surrounding classical architecture. It offers expansive and varied picnic options, including ADA-accessible picnic pavilions and tables, as well as a host of cultural attractions, including the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, the National Museum of Dance, the Roosevelt Baths and Spa, the Spa Little Theater, a car museum, and the Gideon Putnam Resort. There are also multiple opportunities for recreation, including biking, tennis, hiking, golf, swimming, and bird watching.
Peebles Island State Park
1 Delaware Ave.
Waterford, NY 12188
If you enjoy being near water, you will love the view of the Hudson and Mohawk rivers – as well as the sound of the rapids and waterfalls – at the 190-acre Peebles Island State Park. There, you will find a handicap-accessible picnic pavilion and tables, as well as a visitors’ center, wooded nature trails, and fishing and swimming access.
500 Iroquois Way
Schenectady, NY 12309
Famous for its Rose Garden and extensive tennis facilities, Central Park also features numerous picnic areas and pavilions, paddle boats and fishing on Iroquois Lake, a concert stage, swimming pools, ballfields, disc and Frisbee golf courses, and basketball courts. There’s even a dog park for Fido!
Easily accessible to the Mohawk-Hudson Bike Trail, Lions Park offers picnic areas with scenic views of the Mohawk River, canoe/kayak access sites, and restroom facilities. It is also home to a restored turn-of-the-century train depot.
Mine Kill State Park
North Blenheim, NY 12131
If you’re looking for a scenic picnic setting that also has a multitude of recreational options, you need look no further than Mine Kill State Park. A natural playground for anglers, swimmers, kayakers, and boaters, the park features multiple swimming pools, a picturesque reservoir, and an impressive 80-foot waterfall. Landlubbers will enjoy the eight miles of hiking/biking trails, a disc golf course, as well as the handicap-accessible picnic pavilions and tables.