Where to Park Your Picnic
12. U.S. NATIONAL ARBORETUM – 3501 New York Ave. NE. 202-245-7276. www.usna.usda.gov. Open daily (except Christmas) 8 to 5, and until 7 Saturdays through July, except July 3. Any part of the 446-acre National Arboretum would be a scenic place to spread a blanket, but picnicking is only allowed at tables within the National Grove of State Trees. This quiet, 30-acre area nestled between the Azalea Collection and Fern Valley includes arbors representing every state and the District of Columbia. Planted in 1990, these labeled trees are smaller than many of the grand old trees that shade a few handfuls of picnic tables, some of which are wheelchair accessible. Many tables have a view of the National Capitol columns, 22 Corinthian pillars that once stood at the Capitol's East Portico and now grace one of the arboretum's many hillsides.
PICNIC PARKS GOOD FOR GROUPS
13. BLACK HILL REGIONAL PARK – 20926 Lake Ridge Dr., Boyds. 301-916-0220. www.mc-mncppc.org/parks/facilities/regional_ parks/blackhill. Open daily 6 to sunset. Family reunions and church groups flock to this upper Montgomery County park with 10 reservations-required covered picnic shelters. Half of the shelters contain 10 tables and two grills to accommodate up to 100 people. The remaining five shelters hold up to 40 people and include six tables and a single grill. The larger areas cost $150 per day and the smaller facilities cost $110 per day, and two-thirds of all guests must reside in Montgomery or Prince George's counties. Most picnic pavilions sit a short distance from a children's play area, and some have horseshoe pits or a volleyball court. Many picnickers make a short trek to the 505-acre Little Seneca Lake to fish or rent a canoe, kayak or rowboat, or tour the lake on a pontoon boat called Osprey. To reserve a shelter, call the park permits office at 301-495-2525 or visit www.parkpermits.org to view availability and make reservation requests with a credit card.
14. BULL RUN REGIONAL PARK – 7700 Bull Run Dr., Centreville. 703-631-0550. www.nvrpa.org/bullrunpark.html. Open daylight hours; $7 per car on weekends for those who live outside of Arlington, Fairfax or Loudoun counties. This flat park on the western edge of Fairfax County offers plenty of grassy play areas and a range of activities for groups of all ages. The park's sizable outdoor swimming pool promises to be more popular than ever with two new water slides. Other diversions include playgrounds, miniature golf, an 18-hole disc golf course and the 17.5-mile Bull Run-Occoquan Trail. A dozen group picnic areas (11 covered and one open-air space) are spread throughout the park. Covered pavilions, some with electricity and all outfitted with grills, hold 50 to 200 people. The rental fees range from $60 for a half-day to $275 for a full day. The uncovered picnic area accommodates 75 people and costs $55 to $65, depending on the day of the week. The park also rents a corporate shelter, for companies hosting up to 600 people, for $500 to $800 per day. For reservations, call 703-352-5900.
15. FORT HUNT PARK – Fort Hunt Road/Fort Hunt Park exit off George Washington Memorial Parkway, Alexandria. 703-289-2550. www.nps.gov/gwmp/fohu. The park is free and open daylight hours; group picnicking is from 10 to 6. Just off George Washington Memorial Parkway, Fort Hunt houses one of the area's largest public picnic pavilions, holding up to 600 people. A handful of other pavilions hold anywhere from 100 to 300 people. Fort Hunt is also one of the few area parks that allows the consumption of alcohol (beer and wine only) within its reserved picnicking areas. Unfortunately, no grills are provided, so groups planning a cookout must bring their own supplies. Reservations are required daily from May 1 through Oct. 31. To make picnic reservations, call 800-365-2267. Cost for picnic pavilions range from $25 to $410, depending on group size and day of use.
16. ROCK CREEK PARK – Northwest Washington. 202-895-6000. www.nps.gov/rocr. Open daylight hours; free. More than 30 different places to picnic are spread throughout Rock Creek Park's nearly 1,800 acres. A dozen areas can be reserved in advance for groups of up to 75 people and 20 other areas are first-come, first-served for up to 12. Many picnic spaces are wooded and hemmed along the rippling creek. Most have grills or fireplaces for cooking and some have running water. Reservations for group picnic areas can be made only in person between 8:30 and 5:30 Monday through Friday at the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation (3149 16th St. NW, 202-673-7646). Cost is $7 per group picnic area from 7:30 to 3:30 or 4 to dark. Each person can reserve only one area for a single time slot. Families and groups can also enjoy the summer concerts at Carter Barron Amphitheatre within the park; the concert line is 202-426-0486.
17. ROCK CREEK REGIONAL PARK – 6700 Needwood Rd., Rockville. 301-948-5053. www.mc-mncppc.org/parks/facilities/regional_parks/rockcreek/index.shtm. Open daylight hours; free. With 18 shelters, this park offers some of the most extensive group picnicking in Montgomery County, especially for smaller groups. Each covered shelter holds up to 40 people and sports a grill; shelters C and O have electricity. Most have views of Lake Needwood – or at least easy access. Anyone 16 and older can rent a rowboat, paddle boat or canoe for use on the lake, a popular fishing spot. A hiking trail skirts the lake, while the 13.6-mile paved hiker-biker trail extends all the way to Washington. To reserve a shelter, call the park permits office at 301-495-2525 or visit www.parkpermits.org to view availability and make reservation requests with a credit card.
18. WATKINS REGIONAL PARK – 301 Watkins Park Dr., Upper Marlboro. 301-218-6700. www.pgparks.com/places/parks/watkins.html. Open daylight hours; free. Located in the heart of Prince George's County, this park is one of the area's best group picnicking spots, especially from a kid's perspective. The park offers 14 reservable areas for 50 to 150 people. Five covered picnic shelters for up to 50 people ring the "adventure" playground area. Each pavilion has a handful of tables and two grills, while the bustling playground includes age-separated areas with swings, tube slides, seesaws, bridges, mini play tractors and plenty of climbing areas. Just a short walk away, families flock to an antique carousel (located in Chesapeake Beach, Md., for much of the 1900s), the Largo-Lottsford miniature train, an 18-hole mini-golf course and the Old Maryland Farm with roosters, cows, rabbits, ponies and more. Picnic areas for larger groups sit about a quarter-mile away from the amusements in a more woodsy setting, often paired with a basketball hoop or swings. Two-thirds of the guests picnicking in reserved areas must be residents of Prince George's or Montgomery counties. The cost is $100 to $400; for reservations, call 301-918-8111.
PICNIC PARKS WITH ENTERTAINMENT
19. FORT DUPONT PARK – Fort Dupont Circle Drive SE at Randle Circle. 202-426-5961. www.nps.gov/fodu. Park is open daylight hours; free. For more than 30 years, the National Park Service has sponsored free concerts at Fort Dupont's amphitheater, including world-class jazz musicians like Wynton Marsalis and Dizzy Gillespie. The tradition continues this year with a series of free Saturday night concerts, held rain or shine. Shows begin at 8, and free parking and a concession stand are available.
July 10: Cuba Gooding Sr., formerly of the Main Ingredient; Phil Flowers opens.
July 17: Roy Ayers, with Indigo opening.
July 24: John Lucien, with Image Band opening.
July 31: Con Funk Shun, featuring Michael Cooper and Felton Pilate.
Aug. 7: Will Hart, formerly of the Delfonics; Roger Chapman and Unity Project open.
Aug. 14: Ray, Goodman & Brown, with the Impressarios opening.
20. FORT WARD MUSEUM AND HISTORIC SITE – 4301 W. Braddock Rd., Alexandria. 703-838-4848. www.fortward.org. Open 8:30 a.m. to dark. History buffs always find this park entertaining because it harbors the area's best preserved Civil War fort (nearly 70 forts and 100 batteries once protected the nation's capital). Take a self-guided walk around the fort any time of year, then spread out picnic fixin's at one of the many tables scattered throughout the park. During the summer, the city of Alexandria sponsors free "Music at Twilight at Fort Ward Amphitheater," featuring local musicians. All shows start at 7, unless noted otherwise.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
(Illustration by Lisa Adams)