Dig out your wicker basket and checkered blanket, slice the watermelon and pack the cold fried chicken. It’s picnic season.
Howard County is filled with scenic places to enjoy these casual open air meals that combine food and friends with nature. From lakes and reservoirs to parks and farms, the potential picnic spots are endless.
To help narrow your search, we’ve detailed eight of the county’s best picnic areas. Some are already well-known to residents while others are considered hidden gems. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and start picnicking!
1. Scott’s Cove Recreation Area, Laurel
Called a “hidden secret” by some Howard County residents, the Scott’s Cove Recreation Area is located along the Rocky Gorge Reservoir. The reservoir — owned and managed by Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission — provides water for residents in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, as well as scenic views for picnickers who gather along its shores.
Boating and fishing are allowed, but participants must pick up the appropriate permits beforehand, says Kimberly Knox, community outreach manager for the commission. Watershed permits are available at the Brighton Dam Visitor Center, 2 Brighton Dam Road in Brookeville, or the commission office at 14501 Sweitzer Lane in Laurel.
Scott’s Cove also has a playground and picnic tables within walking distance of its parking lot. The area is open for visitors through Nov. 15.
Address: 10972 Harding Road, Laurel, 20723. Phone: 301-206-8233. Web: www.wsscwater.com.
2. Schooley Mill Park, Highland
The wetlands, woodlands and meadows of Schooley Mill Park make it a favorite among picnickers. The park is home to minnows, frogs, turtles, several species of birds and even beavers. In addition, the park features an equestrian ring, more than four miles of trails, basketball courts, multi-purpose fields, baseball fields and tennis courts.
Picnic tables and grills are available. Personal grills are not permitted. Leashed pets are allowed in the park but not in picnic or sports areas. The park is open from 7 a.m. to dusk or as posted.
Address: 12975 Hall Shop Road, Highland 20777. Phone: 410-313-4700. Web: www.co.ho.md.us/rap.
3. Howard County Conservancy, Woodstock
If you’re looking for a natural, historical and educational picnic spot all rolled into one, venture to Mt. Pleasant Farm, headquarters of the Howard County Conservancy. This 300-year-old, 232-acre farm is home to more than 140 species of birds and other wildlife, as well as historic buildings like the farm’s original log cabin, a carriage house, a blacksmith shop and a smokehouse.
The property also has a nature center, four miles of trails, and resident animals like goats, chickens and Ranger, the conservancy’s Barred Owl. The conservancy hosts educational events year-round for adults and children, including free “Wonder Walks” to explore everything from signs of spring and butterflies to bouquet making and haiku. Most walks occur on Saturdays at 10 a.m., ending just in time for an outdoor meal.
Potential dining spots include a picnic area, benches along the trails and ample grassy hills.
“The conservancy is a beautiful property, no matter what time of year,” says Sarah Fahrendorf, an Ellicott City resident and frequent conservancy visitor. “Feeding the goats is actually one of my kids’ favorite things. It’s a popular place when there are programs going on; otherwise I often find we get the whole place to ourselves.”
The nature center is open Wednesday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Trails and picnic areas are open dawn to dusk.
Address: 10520 Old Frederick Road, Woodstock, 21163. Phone: 410-465-8877. Web: www.hcconservancy.org.
4. Centennial Park, Ellicott City
Howard County has 27 picnic pavilions located throughout its county parks. Centennial Park houses one-third of them.
This 337-acre park, which includes a 54-acre manmade lake, is a favorite among families looking for the impromptu picnic spot, as well as groups hosting company picnics or reunions. In addition to the picnic pavilions and tables, the park has a 2.6-mile paved pathway that surrounds the lake and more than seven miles of interconnecting paved pathways.
There are plenty of activities in the park to occupy picnickers’ time. On the north side, visitors will find baseball fields, a skateboarding spot, a playground, and tennis and racquetball courts. The south side has sand volleyball courts, a playground, an amphitheater and the lake, which is stocked by the State Department of Fisheries with bass, trout and sunfish. Picnickers can rent boats at the General Store, also located on the south side of the park. The east and west sides have baseball fields, basketball courts, playgrounds, and tennis and sand volleyball courts. Regardless of what park area you picnic in, don’t forget to watch for the wildlife, including beavers, foxes, turtles and heron.
If you prefer an evening picnic, check out the park’s popular Sunset Serenades concert series, held every Wednesday throughout the summer.
Picnic pavilions are available on a first-come, first-served basis, but visitors can reserve them ahead of time. Rental costs range from $150 to $900. Rentals begin at 10 a.m. and finish at sunset. The park is open from 7 a.m. to dusk or as posted. Leashed pets are permitted but not in picnic, playground or sports areas.
Addresses: 10000 Route 108 (Main/South), 4800 Woodland Road (East), 4651 Centennial Lane (West), 9801 Old Annapolis Road (North), Ellicott City, 21042. Phone: 410-313-7271. Pavilion Reservations: 410-313-4682. Web: www.co.ho.md.us/rap.
5. Lake Kittamaqundi, Columbia
For the midweek, workday picnic lunch, check out Lake Kittamaqundi, the 27-acre manmade lake in Columbia Town Center. Columbia Association sponsors free lunchtime concerts at the lakefront on Wednesdays in May and June from noon to 2 p.m.
Picnic blankets or camping chairs come in handy during these events, as early picnickers quickly nab available benches. And if dining alfresco doesn’t fit with your work schedule, Columbia Association also hosts free movies and concerts at the lakefront in late June during the Lake Front Festival.
Don’t forget to try the 1-mile pathway that surrounds the lake, especially if you want to burn off some of those calories from your rich brownie picnic dessert.
Address: The Town Center Lakefront, Wincopin Circle, Columbia. Web:
6. Patapsco State Park, Ellicott City
Patapsco State Park, one of Maryland’s first state parks, extends along 32 miles of the Patapsco River and reaches into Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll and Howard counties. Known nationally for its trails and scenery, the park has a slew of picnic pavilions and picnic tables for small and large groups alike.
In Howard County, the park’s Hollofield area is easily accessible off Route 40 and has 10 shelters available for rent. A series of trails surround the shelters, offering picnickers plenty of walking and hiking opportunities. The overlook provides scenic views of the river valley.
Parts of the park’s Avalon area also fall within Howard County. To access Avalon, visitors can enter off Route 1 and South Street in Arbutus. Picnic areas, large picnic shelters and a playground are available at this site. Farther up the Patapsco River, a swinging bridge connects visitors to even more picnic shelters and sites, as well as walking, hiking and biking trails. But be sure to wear sturdy shoes. If you plan to leave your picnic and attempt some of the steeper trails, you’ll need them.
Between April and October, entrance to both areas costs $2 per in-state vehicle.
Address: Hollofield Area/Park Headquarters – 8020 Baltimore National Pike, Ellicott City, 21043. Avalon Area – 5120 South St., Baltimore, 21227. Phone: 410-461-5005. Web: www.dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/central/patapsco.asp. Pet policy: ttp://www.dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/pets.asp.
7. Circle D Farm, Woodbine
This family-owned farm is known for its ability to host large-scale picnics, ranging from 50 to 1,000 people. One look around the grounds shows why: a picnic pavilion, tennis courts, horseshoe pits, miniature golf, swings, basketball and volleyball courts and a 1,200-square-foot swimming pool and pool house.
And you don’t even need to pack your own picnic. The farm has catering services to provide everything from hot dogs and hamburgers to barbecue chicken and crabs, says Kate Dowd, event coordinator. The picnic season runs from April through October, and prices depend on the party size.
Address: 15535 Carrs Mill Road, Woodbine, 21797. Phone: 301-854-6651. Web: www.circledfarm.com.
8. Guilford Park, Jessup
John Marshall, chief of the bureau of parks and program services in Howard County, calls Guilford Park a “hidden gem” when it comes to scenic picnic spots. The 11-acre park has two tennis courts, a basketball court, baseball diamond, playground and picnic pavilion. The park also has a half-acre pond with a fishing pier and gazebo.
The park is open from 7 a.m. to dusk or as posted. Leashed pets are permitted but not in picnic, playground or sports areas.
Address: 9900 Guilford Road, Jessup, 20794. Phone: 410-313-4700. Web: www.co.ho.md.us/rap.