Harford's best picnic spots

For Harford Magazine
8 perfect spots for a picnic in Harford County:

The dogwood trees are beginning to bloom, the air is warm and free of humidity, and residents everywhere are breaking out their long-dormant shorts and sandals. It’s spring and the start of picnic season.

From state and county parks to amphitheaters and nature centers, the county is filled with scenic places to enjoy an open-air meal that combines food and friends with nature.

To help narrow your search, we’ve listed nine of the county’s best picnic areas. Some are well-known spots while others might surprise you. So what are you waiting for? Dig out the wicker basket, pack the potato salad and start picnicking!

Rocks State Park
3318 Rocks Chrome Hill Road, Jarrettsville

With more than 850 acres of dense forests, massive boulders and waterfalls, Rocks State Park is often described as one of the most dramatic and scenic spots in Harford County. Residents flock to the park every year to go tubing, canoeing, fishing and hiking. Skilled rock climbers also love the park for its “royal” rock formations, The King and Queen Seat. These natural rock outcrops soar 190 feet above Deer Creek and were once believed to be a ceremonial gathering place of the Susquehannock Indians. Picnickers interested in exploring the outcrops should visit nearby Rock Ridge Picnic Area, which offers parking, restrooms, grills, playground equipment, picnic tables and pavilions. The Hills Grove and Wilson’s areas of the park offer the same amenities but are located northwest and north of the Rock Ridge area, respectively. Hills Grove and Wilson’s are handicapped accessible. Picnickers must have a permit to use any of the pavilions, which can accommodate between 120 and 150 people and cost about $150. Pets are permitted in all three picnic areas. Service charge to enter picnic areas: $3 per resident, $5 per out-of-state resident on weekends and holidays; $2 per vehicle, $4 per out-of-state vehicle on weekdays. Seniors with a Department of Natural Resources Golden Age Pass and children in car seats are free.

William A. Humbert Amphitheater
Corner of Hickory Avenue and Lee Street in Shamrock Park, Bel Air
410-638-4561 (park), 410-803-9784 (concerts)

Instead of a picnic lunch, how about a picnic dinner, accompanied by live entertainment? Each summer, hundreds of residents bring their lawn chairs, picnic blankets and stocked picnic baskets to the William A. Humbert Amphitheater for the Bel Air Summer Concert Series. Located at the corner of Hickory Avenue and Lee Street in Shamrock Park, the amphitheater is named in honor of the musician who worked with the Bel Air Recreation Council to form the concert series in 1967. Concert performers range from the U.S. Naval Academy Band to rock and jazz groups, says John Beilfuss, concert series coordinator. The lawn in front of the amphitheater is about 28,000 square feet, giving plenty of space for both small and large groups. In the past, some groups have even hosted crab feasts on the park’s picnic tables, Beilfuss says. The 9.9-acre Shamrock Park also has playground equipment for little picnickers who want a change of scenery. Concerts are on Sundays at 7 p.m. in June and on Sundays and Wednesdays at 7 p.m. in July and August. Parking is available along Lee Street.

Rockfield Creative Playground
Churchville Road, Bel Air

As part of the county’s 51-acre Rockfield Park, Rockfield Creative Playground has been a favorite picnic spot among Harford County families for more than a decade. The playground is surrounded by a fence and includes slides, swings, a rope walk, plank bridges and a sandbox. Restrooms, picnic tables and a pavilion sit nearby. “The pavilion and the playground itself are just so inviting for the family,” says Mike Stritzinger, recreation specialist for Harford County. “You can sit there and chat with other parents and watch the kids.” Both the Town of Bel Air and the Bel Air Recreation Committee oversee the playground, which is usually closed for one week in late April/early May for maintenance. In the future, both groups hope to expand the park’s paved pathways, which currently run from the parking area near Rockfield Manor down to the playground and around the athletic fields. To access the playground, use the park entrance near The John Carroll off Maryland Route 22.

Eden Mill Nature Center
1617 Eden Mill Road, Pylesville

With more than five miles of trails, Eden Mill Nature Center and park gives picnickers plenty of chances to see the beavers, birds, turtles, rabbits, foxes and deer that call the site home. This scenic spot, located in Deer Creek Valley, also is home to a 200-year-old gristmill, a nature center and a canoe and kayak launch. Visitors can set up their picnics at tables scattered throughout the park. Eden Mill also has a picnic pavilion that costs $75 and can accommodate up to 75 people. Many families incorporate their picnics into one of the center’s spring and summer programs, such as nature story times, critter feedings and family canoe trips, says Stacey Jump, office administrator.

Flying Point Park
511 Kennard Ave., Edgewood

Located along the Bush River, Flying Point Park gives picnickers scenic water views and an “open, beachy” feel, says Meghan Denhard, recreation specialist with Harford County. The 16.7-acre park has 10 different sections, each with five to 10 picnic tables. It also houses two pavilions. The smaller pavilion is available on weekends for $120 and accommodates up to 100 people, while the larger pavilion costs $230 and accommodates up to 200 people. During the week, pavilions are free and available on a first-come, first-served basis. Two playgrounds, volleyball courts and horseshoe pits sit near the pavilions, and a few charcoal grills are scattered throughout the park. But, Denhard says, the park does not provide charcoal or sports equipment like volleyballs. Boat launches are available. Fishing is also allowed, but fishing permits are not available on-site.

Mariner Point Park
100 Kearney Drive, Joppa

Picnickers from across Harford County travel to Mariner Point Park for its tree-lined trails and its views of the Gunpowder River. The 37.7-acre waterfront park is known for its picnic grove, which includes about 15 picnic tables and sits at the back of the park near the water. The park also houses two pavilions. Each pavilion costs $120 for a full-day weekend rental and can accommodate up to 100 people. Like Flying Point Park, pavilions at Mariner Point Park are free during the week and available on a first-come, first-served basis. And like Flying Point, the park also offers a volleyball court, a playground, boat launches and fishing. But the park’s biggest draw? The black squirrels, Denhard says. For years, this colony of squirrels with lustrous black fur has made Mariner Point Park their home, she says. Just keep an eye on your peanuts. It’s one of the black squirrels’ favorite snacks.

Annie’s Playground
864 Smith Lane, Fallston

Annie’s Playground opened on Nov. 13, 2005 and has been a magnet for children and their families ever since. The massive playground, which is part of Edgeley Grove Park, includes multiple swings, climbing structures and slides, as well as picnic tables and a pavilion that accommodates up to 60 people. The pavilion is free but requires reservations through Oct. 31. Grills and generators are not permitted. The playground is accessible for those with disabilities. Named for Annie Cumpston, who tragically died in 2003 after she was hit and killed by a drunken driver in Baltimore, the playground’s memorial garden honors Annie and others who have died. It’s a landscaped space filled with flowers, shrubs, benches and memorial bricks.

Tydings Park and Promenade
Commerce Street, Havre de Grace

Pack some history into your picnic with a trip to the Havre de Grace Promenade and Tydings Park. Tydings Park, a 22.2-acre park named after the late U.S. Sen. Millard E. Tydings, includes picnic tables, a playground, a fishing pier and a launching ramp. It also includes a half-mile waterfront promenade and a “great opportunity to take in some history,” says Karen Green, recreation specialist with Harford County. Before or after their picnics, visitors can stroll along the promenade, visiting the Concord Point Lighthouse — the longest continuously operating lighthouse in Maryland — and the Decoy Museum, home to more than 1,000 decoys and decorative carvings. On Friday evenings in June and July, the park also hosts summer concerts.

Anita C. Leight Estuary Center
700 Otter Point Road, Abingdon

To add some adventure to your picnic, check out the Anita C. Leight Estuary Center. The center is the research and education arm of the Otter Point Creek component of the Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve of Maryland. Throughout the spring and summer, it offers paddling events, where staff members and visitors hit the water via canoe, kayak or pontoon boat to explore the wooded marsh and its animals. Some events, like the Mother’s Day Paddle through Otter Point Creek, even incorporate picnics on the center’s pontoon pier. For a land-based visit, the center has two miles of hiking trails through black gum and maple trees, as well as a visitor’s center with Chesapeake Bay exhibits, a 300-gallon freshwater turtle pond and picnic tables.

Note: Most public parks and picnic spots prohibit glass containers and require pets to be on a leash. For a full list of rules and regulations, check out each location’s website.

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