Nothing says summer like picnics, whether it is a simple tabletop spread in your local neighborhood park, a gourmet basket in a romantic meadow, or a blanket by the seaside at sunset. Sumptuous or simple? It really doesn’t matter – outdoor meals of all types are wonderful because they pair two of some of the best things in life: food and nature. And now that we’re starting to be able to crawl out of our homes and make the first strides into emerging back into the world again, being able to safely see our friends and family outside sounds really good right about now.
Being prepared ahead of time will help ensure your picnic excursion goes as smoothly as possible. Whether you’re taking a trip to the park or setting up shop in the backyard, check out this list of the best things to pack for your upcoming summer picnic.
When you head out to a park you may be unsure if you will have access to a picnic table. So, bringing a big blanket to sit on will make your picnic much more comfortable. It helps you avoid scratchy grass and keep your clothes and food clean. Make sure to bring one big enough to fit the whole family. Otherwise, you can always set up multiple blankets right next to each other to make one giant blanketed area!
Stay protected while you enjoy your time in the sun. Try sunscreening the kiddos before you leave the house so you don’t need to apply some as soon as you get there. But be sure to bring extra sunscreen along in case you need to re-apply! Bringing sunglasses and a hat is also a great option. You may not think it’s that warm outside, but if you are in the full sun for several hours you will be thankful for the sunglasses and hat during your summer picnic!
You’ve packed your sunscreen, hat, and sunglasses – now don’t forget the water! Hydration is a must for any outdoor activity so make sure to bring plenty of water bottles to go around. Additional beverages are up to your discretion. Keep in mind though, that juice or carbonated beverages can get sticky. Sticky drinks can attract some not so welcome bugs to come onto your picnic blanket!
Speaking of those pesky little critters – throw a can of bug spray in your bag if you know you’ll be picnicking in a particularly buggy area. It is better to be safe then sorry.
Having lots of fruits and veggies make a classic, tasty, and healthy picnic snack. Try bringing a variety that is still good if they don’t stay 100% cold. Carrots, apples, or peppers are always good go-to’s! Keep in mind, that if you’re bringing something with removable skin or pits, like oranges or cherries, you may want to bring an empty bowl or trash bag to throw out the scraps. Check out this article for a full list of in-season summer produce for June, July, and August.
Whether you’re doing sandwiches, salads, or tacos, picnic time will go much smoother if everything is, for the most part, made or assembled before you set out on your picnic. The less you have to do there, the better! As with any meal with kiddos, things can get messy! Don’t forget your napkins or paper towels to clean up. Wet wipes are a great alternative if you’ll be munching on anything extra messy or sticky.
After your picnic lunch is over, hang around outside for a while longer and play some games! Bring along a frisbee, kite, or soccer ball to extend the fun. If there is a trail nearby, pack up the blanket and head on out for a nice walk. Take the time to enjoy nature and work off that delicious lunch!
There are dozens and dozens of places in the Waterloo Region to enjoy a pleasant meal outdoors. Some of them are well-known: centerpiece parks such as Kitchener’s Victoria Park or Rockway Gardens, Riverside Park in Cambridge, or Waterloo Park. These places are justifiably famous for their gorgeous landscaping and gracious settings.
But there are plenty of other spots around the region that are lesser-known but equally delightful. Hidden gems that offer a chance to explore a part of the region, discover a new favourite hiking spot, or a quiet refuge from the busyness of life.
1. Pilkington Overlook. This one’s a bit of a cheat since it’s in Wellington County, but it’s only a couple of kilometers past the regional border. The overlook offers breathtaking views of the Grand River Valley and the surrounding rolling hills. Take Regional Road 23 (Katherine Street) north out of Winterbourne; it becomes Wellington County Road 21. There are informal trails down to the river, and a single picnic table if you take the westerly trail, but a picnic blanket might be a good idea. You could take in the nearby West Montrose covered bridge on the way.
2. Floradale. This picnic spot offers a chance to visit a quiet Mennonite community. With no less than two shops selling home-baked goods, you’re sure to find something to add to the picnic! The picnic ground is grassy and shaded, with washrooms, tables, and a picnic shelter. There are walking trails on both sides of Woolwich Reservoir, beside farm fields and through pine woods. Take Regional Road 19 off Listowel Road in Elmira to Floradale. You can park on Ruggles Road or at Bonnie Lou’s Café. Then cross the main road and go down the embankment to find the start of the trail. The picnic spot is on the other side of the footbridge and also offers a playground for the kids to enjoy!
3. St. Jacobs Dam. This is a shady, peaceful spot beside the Conestogo River. Sit and enjoy the burble of water as it cascades over the dam. You can fish and canoe and there is an easy hiking trail across the road that leads into the quaint town of St. Jacobs.
All three of these picnic excursions offer great country drives, with the chance to pick up fresh produce, eggs, or cut flowers from Mennonite farms or local farm stores.
4. Laurel Creek Nature Centre. The nature center offers great trails through the woods and wetlands near Laurel Creek, as well as a top-notch bullrush-lined pond filled with frogs, offering hours of fun for the young at heart. There’s an observation tower to climb, a dock into the wetland, and lots of water birds to see along the way. The center is closed to the public on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. when it is used for day camps. Outside those hours, it’s open and free, with plenty of parking and picnic tables.
5. Lakeside Park is an oasis of calm in the city, with Shoemaker Pond and its many water birds and basking turtles. The pumping station, which dates to 1912, is a heritage property. The site is where the first municipal wells were drilled to supply what was then the Town of Berlin with clean, fresh water. The park features a grassy area with old willow trees, a playground, and benches. Walking paths connect to other nearby parks. Parking is available at 20 Greenbrook Dr., or at a small lot off Lakeside Drive.
6. Huron Natural Area. This haven in south Kitchener offers a variety of trails and boardwalks through wetlands, meadows, and forests. It’s a full-service park, with washrooms, plenty of parking, and wide paths suitable for strollers or bikes. The paved path is also wheelchair accessible. The park entrance is at 801 Trillium Dr. Kitchener.
7. Willow Lake Park is a peaceful spot on the site of what was once Adam Ferrie Jr.’s five-story grain mill, where Schneider Creek flows into the Grand River. The creek was dammed in the early 1800s to power the mill, creating a lake that was a popular swimming spot. The lake is gone, washed out by a 1968 storm, but there are traces of the mill that could serve as a romantic backdrop for photos. The park connects with walking trails along the Grand, but bring a blanket as there are no picnic tables. You can reach the park on Old Mill Road at Pinnacle Drive in Kitchener. There’s limited parking along Old Mill.
8. Moyer’s Landing in Cambridge is a shady spot by the banks of the Grand, where canoes can slip into the river. Interpretive signs explain the history of the spot, and you can see the footings of the 1913 Blair bridge. There’s plenty of parking and benches, but no picnic tables. If you want to combine a hike or cycle with your picnic, walk over the river on Fountain Street to reach the hiking trail into Cambridge. The well-marked entrance to the park is off Fountain, just east of the river.
9. Central Park in downtown Preston offers a more urban type of picnic site, with a formal square surrounded by historic buildings, a turn-of-the-century gazebo, and the chance to take in a concert on a summer evening, or a farmers’ market on Thursday mornings from June to October. The park is at King Street and Argyle Street in Cambridge.
10. Riverbluffs Park is a real find, a full-service park tucked beside the Grand River in Galt. You can dine under tall trees, admire Galt Collegiate looming like a medieval castle from the other side of the river, explore trails along the Grand, and enjoy the wildflower gardens. The entrance is at 251 George St. N., at James Street, in Cambridge.
If you think picnicking is a modern-day thing, just consult the history books. As it turns out, we’ve been enjoying picnics in one form or another for centuries, historians say. The leisure class in Medieval times, for example, staged elegant post-hunt fresh-air feasts featuring wild game, as portrayed in the ballads of Robin Hood and depicted on elaborate woven tapestries.
The written word “picnic” first surfaced in the 1600s. It comes from the French “pique-nique,” a term for the wealthy who brought along bottles of wine to restaurants and bistros when dining out.
If you haven’t already packed up your picnic baskets and prepared your summer picnic food – then do so now! Grab a friend or the kids and head outdoors to enjoy the sun, the fun, and some great picnic treats.