All 12 of these best picnic spots in New England (from hilltops and beaches to orchards and wineries) are well worth the trip.
looked all over the region to come up with this list of particularly scenic destinations for your next picnic: hilltops and beaches, orchards and wineries. All of them welcome picnickers, but they vary in their amenities. Some have picnic tables; others are spread-out-the-blanket spots. Most are free, but some, such as Vermont’s Hildene estate and Massachusetts’ Tanglewood, have an admission fee. All 12 of these best picnic spots in New England are well worth the trip.
Hammonasset Beach State Park
It’s unusual on the East Coast to be able to watch the sun set into the sea, but Hammonasset is angled in just the right way for prime sunsets. Eat on the beach, or at one of the picnic tables behind the dunes (water views are limited there). Admission: free. Parking: $13 for Connecticut residents, $22 for nonresidents, weekends/holidays; $9 for Connecticut residents, $15 for nonresidents, weekdays. 1288 Boston Post Road, Madison. 203-245-2785; ct.gov/deep
Wickham Park Gardens
Smack-dab in the Hartford suburbs, this 250-acre park boasts six themed gardens: English, Scottish, Oriental, rhododendron, and the like. Drop a blanket in your favorite or choose one of the many picnic areas around the property. Admission: free. Parking: $4 weekdays/$5 weekends.
Crescent Beach State Park
Sandy beaches aren’t Maine’s calling card, but they’re abundant in the south. And this mile-long arc of fine sand in Cape Elizabeth is one of its best, with lovely views of Richmond Island and amenities such as restrooms, lifeguards, a snack bar, and a shaded picnic area. Admission: $4.50 for residents (free for seniors); $6.50 for nonresidents ($2 for seniors); $1 for kids. 66 Two Lights Road, Cape Elizabeth. 207-799-5871; parksandlands.com
The name refers to the granite shelf that forms a natural seawall in the southwestern corner of Mount Desert Island. It’s the site of one of Acadia National Park’s three campgrounds and boasts a stunning picnic area. The best picnic tables are perched on flat waterside rocks with views of little tidepools ripe for exploration and Great Cranberry Island in the distance. Admission: $20 per vehicle. 664 Seawall Road, Southwest Harbor. 207-244-3600; nps.gov/acadia
This estate is the former summer retreat of Atlantic Monthly editor and publisher Ellery Sedgwick (Hemingway’s first American publisher) and his wife, horticulturist Mabel Cabot Sedgwick. The gardens, designed as a series of “rooms,” offer private corners bordered by perennial gardens, flowering shrubs, statuary, and exotic trees. After lunch, enjoy a stroll around the 1.2-mile nature trail. Admission: free. 572 Essex St., Beverly. 978-921-1944; thetrustees.org
Tanglewood Music Festival
There’s no picnic like a Tanglewood picnic, and if you haven’t experienced it, don’t let another summer go by. On the Great Lawn behind the Koussevitzky Music Shed, concertgoers enjoy blanket-top feasts, some with silver and china, some right out of the wrapper. As the sun sets, the music swells and the candlelight flickers. It’s magical. Admission: $11 and up; rates vary by performance. 297 West St., Lenox. 413-637-1600; tanglewood.org
Want to earn your feast? The 1.6-mile trip to the summit of Mount Willard–all at a consistently moderate incline–is often cited as one of the best “bang for your buck” hikes in New England. It’s just enough effort to work up an appetite, and the sweeping summit view of Crawford Notch is a fine reward. No formal picnic areas, but the flat summit is a nice place to sit. Admission: free. Trailhead located behind Crawford Depot/Macomber Family Visitor Center, Crawford Notch State Park, Route 302, Carroll. 603-374-2272; outdoors.org
Gould Hill Orchard
Come for the peaches, plums, or apples and stay for the view, spanning some 75 miles (on a clear day you can see the White Mountains). The Bassett family welcomes picnickers, and it’s easy to find a pretty spot beneath a tree and enjoy the fruits of your labors. 656 Gould Hill Road, Contoocook. 603-746-3811; gouldhillfarm.com
Fort Wetherill State Park
This park, a former coastal-defense battery, sits 100 feet above Narragansett Bay and looks out to Newport Harbor. It’s a terrific spot from which to watch tall-ship events and America’s Cup races. There are grassy spots and picnic tables and a lovely (if rocky) beach. Admission: free. Fort Wetherill Road, Jamestown. 401-423-1771; riparks.com
Carolyn’s Sakonnet Vineyard
Since Sakonnet was purchased by “Alex and Ani” jewelry founder Carolyn Rafaelian, the winery has added an on-site cafe where you can purchase salads, flatbreads, and local cheeses to enjoy with a glass of Vidal Blanc on the lush grounds (visitors may also bring their own food). Admission: free. 162 West Main Road, Little Compton. 401-635-8486; sakonnetwine.com
The Robert Lincoln family home is full of fascinating history, but the gardens alone are reason enough to visit. Find a secluded spot by a cluster of lilies or a peony border (there are also picnic benches near the visitors’ center); then explore the new floating boardwalk that allows up-close access to the property’s large wetlands area. (Note that for the animals’ safety, picnic food is not allowed on the farm portion of the estate.) Admission: $16 for adults; $5 for children. 1005 Hildene Road, Manchester. 802-362-1788; hildene.org
Mount Philo State Park
The view of the Champlain Valley, with the Adirondacks rising up behind, is one of the most spectacular in our region, and that’s what you’ll enjoy atop this small (968-foot elevation) mountain. The picnic area at the top offers stunning views, a big reward for the modest 1-mile hike. Admission: $3 for adults; $2 for ages 4-13. 5425 Mount Philo Road, Charlotte. 802-425-2390; vtstateparks.com