It’s taken a long time for winter to yield to spring this year, and if you’re like me, you’re craving warm-weather activities in all forms. One of the simplest and most enjoyable ways to usher in spring and summer is a picnic with friends or family members in one of New York’s many beautiful, and often breathtaking, natural settings. Whether you prefer tailgating or a simple meal on a blanket near a lake or waterfall, picnics are a great way to change up your meal routine and unwind in the middle of nature.
While good picnics require only three main ingredients – flavorful and safe food choices, the company of good friends or family members, and an interesting outdoor location – there are some things to keep in mind to ensure that your picnic is truly enjoyable.
- Check the weather report for your destination, and keep your eye on the sky, particularly if the location is prone to pop-up thunderstorms.
- Unless the picnic spot you’ve selected has tables, be sure to pack a blanket that’s large enough to accommodate everyone comfortably. Sunscreen, sunglasses, wet wipes, a small first aid kit, bug spray, and layered clothing will help ensure that everyone stays comfortable during the outing. If your kids are in tow, consider bringing some outdoor games or toys to keep them occupied so that you can relax and savor your meal.
- Bear in mind that many places have a carry-in, carry-out policy, so if you intend to hike in to your chosen picnic area, be careful not to over-pack. Although old-school picnic hampers and baskets are charming, a backpack or insulated tote bag is more practical, especially if you intend to explore your surroundings.
- When choosing your foods, consider safety, as well as the tastes of those who are at the picnic with you. Avoid foods that spoil easily, like salads or sandwiches that contain mayonnaise, and items that easily wilt or deteriorate in the heat, like lettuce or cut fruit. Pasta salads with vinaigrette or pesto dressing are a good choice, as is potato or cabbage salad made with oil and vinegar, because they can better withstand warm conditions. Likewise, whole-grain crackers or a baguette paired with low-fat cheeses and cold lean meats are going to hold up better than pre-made sandwiches, which can get soggy easily. Finger foods, such as cut-up cucumbers, carrots, peppers, and broccoli, along with a hummus or yogurt-based dip, are ideal choices, especially if children are involved. The same goes for nuts, dried fruit, popcorn, and granola bars.
- Finally, since you’ve selected a picnic location for its natural beauty, help keep it beautiful by respecting the environment. Use eco-friendly plates and utensils, 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 visit in and around New York’s Capital Region and Hudson Valley. Before you go, though, be sure to check out the websites provided for information on fees, equipment rentals, parking, pet policies, and other details and restrictions, as these may have been updated since this blog was published. And by all means, if you know of other hidden picnicking gems, be sure to share your favorites via the comment box!
CAPITAL REGION AND NORTH COUNTRY
Falls View Park
North Mohawk Street
Cohoes, NY 12047
Falls View Park, home to the scenic and majestic Cohoes Falls, is a great spot for picnics. The bi-level park features a 192-foot pedestrian bridge, interpretive signage highlighting the geological, educational, and historical significance of the area, an amphitheater, picnic area, and fishing platform.
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.
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.
Clermont State Historic Site
87 Clermont Avenue
Germantown, NY 12526
The Clermont State Historic Site is home to five miles of trails, the former estate of the Livingston family (open for tours), a gift shop, and four unique gardens: the Walled Garden, South Spring Garden, Upper Garden and the Wilderness Garden. Come for a slice of history and a walk amidst magnificent gardens, then stay for a picnic!
Lake Taghkanic State Park
1528 Route 82
Ancram, NY 12502
Equipped with a picnic pavilion, snack shop, and two beaches, Lake Taghkanic State Park is an ideal spot for outdoor fun. Paddleboat, kayak, and rowboat rentals are available, as are sports fields and two playgrounds. Visitors can enjoy hiking, swimming, fishing, and biking.
Olana State Historic Site
5720 Route 9G
Hudson, NY 12534
A trip to Olana offers visitors a rich experience combining the worlds of art and nature. The 250-acre site is the home and estate of Frederic Church, a celebrated Hudson River School painter. In addition to picnicking, you can take a self-guided walking tour of the magnificent grounds and/or a guided tour of the Persian-inspired mansion, explore the site’s history at the visitor center, or go birding, fishing, or kayaking (permits may be required).
Cherry Plain State Park
10 State Park Road
Petersburg, NY 12138
Cherry Plain State Park offers 175 acres and numerous nature trails that can be explored by foot, bicycle, or horseback. Picnic tables and pavilions are available, and afterward, you can enjoy the sandy beach on Black River Pond, rent a boat, or play with your kids on the playground.
100 Grafton Lakes State Park Way
Cropseyville, NY 12052
In addition to its 25 miles of park trails and six ponds, Grafton Lakes 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.
Moreau Lake State Park
605 Old Saratoga Road
Gansevoort, NY 12831
If you like a variety of activities to complement your picnic meal, Moreau Lake may be a prime spot to consider. The site features picnic tables and pavilions, nature trails for hiking and biking, boat rentals, a swimming beach, and a visitor/nature center.
Peebles Island State Park
1 Delaware Ave.
Waterford, NY 12188
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.
Saratoga National Historical Park
648 Route 32
Stillwater, NY 12170
If you’d like to include a little history lesson in your picnic plans, then Saratoga National Historical Park is a natural choice. The park, which includes four distinct parts – the Saratoga Battlefield in Stillwater, the General Philip Schuyler House in Schuylerville, Victory Woods, and the Saratoga Monument – offers visitors a glimpse of Colonial life and insights into one of the most significant battles in the Revolutionary War. In addition, the 4-mile Wilkinson Trail provides a great view of the mountains.
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.
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!
Indian Meadows Park
155 Droms Road
Schenectady, NY 12302
Located in a secluded and tranquil wooded area, Indian Meadows Park is an ideal spot for a nature walk and picnic. It also features basketball courts and a unique playground patterned after a treehouse.
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.
If you’re looking for a scenic picnic setting that also has a multitude of recreational options, 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.
George Landis Arboretum
174 Lape Road, Esperance, NY
With sites ranging from bog gardens and a native plant trail to an old farmhouse and quarry gardens, the Landis Arboretum is well worth a visit. Take your pick from 15 miles of trails along woodlands and wetlands and then enjoy your lunch at one of the picnic tables that are up for grabs. If you have your smartphone, you can activate the QR-coded signs along the Native Plant Trail and listen to the creator of the trail describe what you’re viewing. Review the visitor guidelines before you get there.
Warren County Fish Hatchery
145 Echo Lake Road
Warrensburg, NY 12885
For a unique picnicking experience along the Hudson River, consider the Warren County Fish Hatchery, located in the town of Warrensburg. The site offers two sheltered picnic areas equipped with restrooms, a large open area for games and activities, a play area for kids, canoe access, and a visitor center where you can learn how the staff operates the hatchery, raising three species of trout, rainbow trout, and landlocked Atlantic salmon.
Walkway over the Hudson State Historic Park
Poughkeepsie, NY 12601
Once an abandoned railroad bridge, the Walkway over the Hudson in Poughkeepsie has been transformed into the longest elevated pedestrian (and bicycling) bridge in the world. There, visitors can ride a glass elevator up to the park to enjoy spectacular scenic views of the Hudson River guided by interpretive signs and a Talkway Over the Walkway cell phone tour. Picnic tables and parking are available near both ends of the bridge.
Based on traditional principles of Chinese and Japanese gardening design and created with an architect’s eye, Innisfree Garden is 150 acres of pure, meandering beauty. The setting takes about 90 minutes to explore at a leisurely pace and offers a lake, mist waterfalls and water sculptures, a circular grotto, and scenic views of the Hudson Valley, as well as a cornucopia of flowering plants and lush vegetation. An open-air picnic site is located between the visitor checkpoint, parking area, and the lake, and some of the tables are situated to overlook the garden. Be sure to check the website for hours, admission fees, and policies.
Minnewaska State Park
5281 Route 44-55
Kerhonkson, NY 12446
The striking Shawangunk Mountains are the backdrop for this state park, which boasts a number of waterfalls, three lakes, dramatic cliffs, and carriageways and walkways for hiking and biking. Picnicking, swimming, and boating opportunities are also available.
Home to Lake Louise and part of the Marlboro Mountains, Shaupeneak Ridge offers a 2.2-mile trail around the lake that is suitable for both young and old. It also offers excellent picnicking and birding opportunities, as well as hiking and mountain-biking trails that range from woodlands to wildflower-strewn grasslands and interesting rock formations. Find yourself a picturesque spot and claim it as your picnic site!
Got a favorite picnic spot of your own? Be sure to share it via the comments section below. For more ideas on low-cost, outdoor activities, check out our previous posts for information on where to swim, take a hike, fish, bike, go caving or geocaching, or pick your own fruits and vegetables!