Picnics That Hit The Spot

In the mood for outdoor family fun? Here are five great places in and around Baltimore.

April 28, 2002|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,Sun Staff

A loaf of bread, a jug of wine and thee might sound great for some romantic date, but it's only a partial list of ingredients for the perfect family picnic.

The ideal family picnic hinges on three factors: location, location and location. Someplace outdoors with a nice view is a good starting point. It also needs fun stuff nearby like picnic tables, hiking trails, clean bathrooms, playgrounds and ball fields.

To make your first picnic of the season a little easier, we canvassed the best parks in the greater Baltimore region and assembled a list of five top picnic spots. All you need is a warm, sunny day, a basket full of goodies and the appropriate number of relatives.

One cautionary note: Larger groups may want to take advantage of outdoor pavilions, covered picnic areas with extra amenities. They cost a little more and must be reserved in advance. For most of these parks, you had better make those reservations early -- most warm weather Saturdays are already booked.

1. The Baltimore Zoo, Druid Hill Park, Baltimore

Why: When it comes to giving young kids an adventure, no park does it better. Plus, it's great for the lazy picnicker -- plenty of vendors sell food.

Best picnic spot: Tables are at a premium on most weekends, so bring a blanket and look for a nice, grassy spot. Note: The Zoo allows food to be brought into the park but bans glass containers and straws (the animals can choke on them).

Cost: Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors, $6 for children, but the best deals are the family season passes.

Insider tip: Come on a weekday. No crowds. No lines. No stress.

Directions: Take the Jones Falls Expressway to Druid Park Drive. Go west and follow signs into the park.

Information: Call 410-366-LION, or visit the zoo Web site, www.baltimorezoo.org

2. Downs Park, Pasadena

Why: Old-fashioned family park with lots of amenities, including paved biking trails; ball fields; basketball, tennis and handball courts; playgrounds; and a lovely view of the Chesapeake Bay.

Best picnic spot: The picnic tables by the North Overlook. The view is awesome, and kids can fish from the water's edge if they bring their gear.

Cost: Admission is $4 per vehicle.

Insider tip: Want to play softball? The fields are actually across the street from the park's main entrance. Ask the gate attendant to buzz open the gate and let you in.

Directions: Take Route 100 east until it dumps onto Mountain Road. Follow to the V and stay to the left onto Pinehurst Road. Park entrance is on the right.

Information: Call 410-222-6239, or visit the Anne Arundel County Recreation & Parks Web site,http: / / web. aacpl.net / rp / parks / dp / index.html

3. Rocks State Park, Jarrettsville

Why: A naturalist's treasure, Rocks is one of the region's best kept secrets -- a combination of dramatic rock formations, hidden valleys and terrific facilities -- and it's seldom crowded.

Best picnic spot: A tough choice, but the winner is the Hills Grove picnic area, a scenic spot tucked away in a bend in Deer Creek. The playground is brand new and the bathrooms are (gasp) clean.

Cost: $2 per person on weekends and holidays, free on weekdays.

Insider tip: Like all state parks, Rocks is trash-free. Whatever you bring here, you had better remember to bring it home, too. Also, remember to bring inner tubes when it gets warm and float down Deer Creek.

Directions: Take I-95 north to Route 24 west, follow past Bel Air about eight miles. To find the Hills Grove picnic area, remember to turn left at the metal bridge and follow signs.

Information: Call 410-557-7994 or 410-836-6735, or visit the Department of Natural Resources Web site, www.dnr.state.md.us

4. Gunpowder Falls State Park, Hammerman Area, Chase

Why: Best waterfront park within spitting distance of Baltimore and loaded big-time with things to do -- from a swimming beach to kayaking, windsurfing and catamaran rentals, and top-notch playgrounds (including one made from recycled tires).

Best picnic spot: Has to be the two dozen picnic tables underneath the shade trees lining the beach. Incredible views of the Gunpowder River.

Cost: $2 per person.

Insider tip: Bring the bikes. This is a sprawling park and you don't want to have to drive around to get from the beach to the playground.

Directions: Take I-95 north of Baltimore to the White Marsh exit east to Route 40 east. Turn right at the first traffic light (Ebenezer Road) and follow into the park. Take the first park entrance on the left.

Information: Call Gunpowder Falls State Park headquarters at 410-592-2897 or visit the DNR Web site, www. dnr.state.md.us

5. Rockburn Branch Park, Elkridge

Why: Howard County park with lots of amenities, many of them in remarkably good shape.

Best picnic spot: The Picnic Pavilion, the brand spanking new picnic area with seating for 100 that is hidden in a corner but near the tennis and basketball courts.

Cost: Free. Yes!

Insider tip: The pavilion is often booked but there are plenty of single picnic tables elsewhere in the park. Also of note: the nearest restroom to the picnic area is a single port-a-potty, but real bathrooms can be found elsewhere in the park.

Directions: Take I-95 south to I-195 east to Route 1 south into Elkridge. Turn right on Montgomery Road. For the picnic pavilion take the park entrance on the right next to Rockburn Elementary School and follow to the end of the street and turn left.

Information: Call 410-313-4955 or 410-313-4644, or visit the Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks Web site, http: / / www.co.ho.md.us /rprock.html

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