Who said hiking was the only way to enjoy National Forests? Whether they are the main destination or a stop along the way, picnic areas are great places to slow down and savor the moment (pun intended)!
National Forests and Grasslands are full of picnic opportunities from packing a trail snack to entire facilities complete with accessible tables and restrooms, grills, firepits, and endless opportunities for recreation and wonder! Here are our picks for some of the best picnic areas on National Forests and Grasslands.
Before you pack your picnic: Not all picnic areas have trash bins. Always bring your own trash bag and leave with everything you brought (including trash)! If you plan on using a grill or firepit, make sure to check what fire regulations are in your area at the local U.S. Forest Service District Office.
Carrizo Canyon Picnic Area
Comanche National Grassland, Colorado
Three hours from Colorado Springs, CO
Surrounded by prairies, canyons, and pinyon-juniper forests, the Carrizo Canyon Picnic Area is the prefect entry point to learn about the unique landscape and history of southeastern Colorado. A short trek from the picnic area, visitors can find petroglyphs craved by Native Americans as long as 8,000 years ago along the walls of Carrizo Canyon. Carrizo Creek also attracts a wide variety of bird, animal, and plant life, making this a perfect spot for naturalists to try their hand at identification or learn something new!
Angel Creek Picnic Area
Eldorado National Forest, California
Two hours from Sacramento, CA
Located on the east shore of Gerle Creek Divide Reservoir and a short walk from the Gerle Creek Campground, Angel Creek Picnic Area is the perfect place to pull off road for a summer cookout complete with swimming, boating, and fishing. Nothing beats the heat like a glass of lemonade, a slice of watermelon, and getting out on the lake! Anglers can catch Brown, Rainbow, and Brook Trout in the reservoir.
Russell-Colbath Historic Site
White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire
Two hours and 30 minutes from Bosten, MA
This charming historic site offers travelers a quiet place to rest near the Kancamagus Scenic Highway. After having lunch, visitors can explore the accessible half-mile Rail ‘n River trail or tour the 19th century Russell-Colbath House. This picnic spot is a must for travelers that appreciate a scenic drive and learning a little history along the way. It is particularly beautiful in autumn when the leaves change color.
Pink Beds Picnic Area
Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina
Three hours and 30 minutes from Atlanta, GA
Pink Beds Picnic Area offers picnic tables, shelters, and a large open field for the classic picnic blanket and games. This popular picnic area accesses the Pink Beds hiking trail which takes visitors through rare mountain bogs, fields of summer wildflowers, and groves of rhododendron and mountain laurel that turn the forest pink in the spring. Because of its many unique biomes, Pink Beds is perfect for naturalists hoping to spot rare plants, insects, and other wildlife. Best of all, the five-mile loop has little elevation change so it is accessible to most skill levels.
Photos by the U.S. Forest Service.
Whitewater Picnic Area
Gila National Forest, New Mexico
Four hours from Tucson, AR and Albuquerque, NM
The Whitewater Picnic Area is a great choice for picnickers that are looking for adventure. The ruins of a 19th century mill cling to the canyon wall overlooking the picnic area, and The Catwalk Trail takes visitors through the canyon following the path of the original hanging walkway build by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. Filled with history and adventure, this picnic area is perfect for those looking for a way to spice up their next picnic!
Big Pine Picnic Area
Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan
Four hours and 30 minutes from Grand Rapids, MI
Right on the shoreline of Lake Superior, Big Pine Picnic Area is the perfect spot for an inland beach day. These long, beautiful beaches have something for every member of the family to enjoy, from swimming, to building sandcastles, to searching for beautiful stones. And when you need to escape the heat, there is plenty of room to relax under the canopy of the picnic area’s giant red and white pine trees while looking out over the water.
Alum Cove Natural Bridge
Ozark National Forest, Arkansas
Two hours from Little Rock, AR
The Alum Cove Natural Bridge Picnic Area is a great place to have lunch and spark kids’ curiosity for the natural world. The 1.1 mile trail from the picnic area offers access to and views of the magnificent 130 foot Alum Cove Natural Bridge. From the natural bridge, the loop trail takes visitors to see wet-weather waterfalls, caves, and other interesting rock formations along the bluff line in the cove. This easy trail packed with geological gems is perfect for families looking for an afternoon outdoors.
Ocean Beach Picnic Area
Siuslaw National Forest, Oregon
Three hours from Portland, OR
Ocean Beach is a small, understated day use area with big views. The picnic tables by the parking area are the perfect place to take a break and take in the sights and smells of the ocean after a long drive on Highway 101. From the picnic area, visitors have a scenic view of the beach and the rocky outcroppings that the Oregon coast is known for. Visitors can also take a short, paved trail from the parking area to the beach. This is definitely a picnic area that rewards those that stop and smell the roses.
Cover photo by the U.S. Forest Service.
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