The Most Scenic Places to Have a Picnic in New England
Including a spot so pretty, Little Women filmed there.
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The Covid-19 pandemic kicked off a renaissance of dining and drinking in parks and green spaces. But the rollback of social distancing rules doesn’t mean we have to retreat back indoors to eat and imbibe. Whether you’re carefully packing a five-course feast into an old wicker basket or simply tossing a loaf of bread and some canned beverages in a backpack, New England is a picnickers paradise, with gorgeous town parks and country oases where you can unfurl your blanket and savor the landscape with your nosh. Consider these six choice picnicking grounds, all within an hour and a half of Boston by car or are even accessible via public transportation.
Remember that pivotal scene in Greta Gerwig’s Little Women in which Laurie proposes to Jo on a sun-splashed hillside somewhere deep in Massachusetts? Those rolling fields and thickets that seem to go on forever weren’t green-screened. They’re the backdrop at Bancroft Castle. A short climb to the top of Gibbet Hill delivers you to a stony tower and the ruins of a Spanish-American War general’s unfinished estate (he ran out of cash). But the vista from the hillside is the real star of the show up here, offering a panoramic image of Central Massachusetts in all its bucolic glory, with Mount Wachusett looming in the distance.
The capital of Rhode Island is where decades-old industrial infrastructure meets the glittering waters of the Seekonk and Providence Rivers, and from the grassy banks of India Point Park, you can take in the full spectrum of this urban ecosphere. Located in the Fox Point neighborhood on the city’s tony East Side, India Point Park connects to the Providence River Walk, the waterside cobblestone pathway where revelers watch the WaterFire festival each summer and fall. The MBTA’s Providence commuter rail station offers convenient access to the River Walk, and once you reach the park, you’re steps from the Narragansett Brewery taproom, where the draft list includes funkier brews alongside the classic flagship lager.
Most Crane’s Beach visitors go straight for the sand, jousting for parking spots and forking over entry fees. But there’s another way to experience this rarefied slice of the north shore. Head for nearby Stavros Reservation, which encompasses more than 50 acres of salt marshes, and walk to the top of Whites Hill, a coastal drumlin with a banger view of Crane’s Beach, Castle Hill, and the surrounding coastal territory. Like Crane’s, the reservation is a Trustees conservation property, but admission to the general public is free.
Whether it’s the enormous wooden pier jutting out into the surf, the views of Portsmouth and the Atlantic Ocean from grassy overlooks, or the looming stone walls that still run along the beach, everything about Fort Foster feels big. The site of an early 20th Century coastal defense fort—partially dismantled during World War I so that the onsite artillery could be sent to the Western Front—Fort Foster is now an explorer’s oasis, right on the Maine and New Hampshire border. Wandering pathways meander through the breezy seaside woods, and the fort’s old staircases and rusted ladders will help you poke around the preserved ruins.
Frederick Law Olmsted, the groundbreaking landscape architect behind Central Park and the Emerald Necklace, would have been 200 this year. But his sons carried on the family business during the early 20th Century and one of their unsung gems is Worcester’s Elm Park, where tranquil ponds and enormous evergreen trees are paired with ornate footbridges, rotating exhibits from New England artists, and innumerable plots of grass where an elaborate dinner could be paired with the sounds of city life and crickets at sundown. Also, the park is less than two miles from the MBTA’s Worcester commuter rail station by foot.
Each April, the herring undertake their inland journey from Massachusetts Bay to their freshwater spawning venues, and Pembroke’s Herring Run Park offers the lustful fish a crucial expressway. A chuckling brook winds through the verdant park, no deeper than six inches in some places, and the herring use this waterway to access nearby Furnace Pond. But even if the spawning is several months down the road, the lush landscape of Herring Run Park makes for dreamy picnicking ground. The soothing ripple of the brook—lined with stones and flanked by leafy shade trees—makes the cacophony of 2022 feel miles away.