How to picnic like a pro

Fish mn

Everything tastes better outside

Picnics and parks go hand in hand! Here are just a few of the benefits of sharing a special meal outdoors with friends and family:

  • Everything tastes better outside.
  • Supplement vitamin D naturally by picnicking in the sun.
  • Entertain without cleaning your house—before and after the party!
  • Cheap romantic date.
  • Unlike some restaurants, no dress codes.
  • Pick your own view and your own distractions.
  • Unplug from technology.
  • Play yard games before, during, or after your meal.
  • Being outdoors is a natural stress reliever.

When you live in Minnesota, picnicking isn't just for summer! Here are some helpful tips.

10 Tips to a Perfect Picnic

Picnicking in parks is a Minnesota tradition. Here are ten tips to help you pull off the perfect picnic, whether it's your first or you are an old pro!

  1. Where do you want to go? A formal state park picnic area with picnic tables, or a quiet spot on the beach? Shady spot under the trees, or scenic overlook? Your location will drive what you pack and how you carry it.
  2. Most state parks have picnic tables, but it can be nice to pack a blanket and just sit on the ground. Choose a blanket that rolls up easily and is water resistant, that you don't mind getting dirty. Or sit in style and pack your own lawn chair!
  3. A picnic doesn't have to be fancy. Crackers, cheese and fresh vegetables are a simple snack that you can enjoy on the go.
  4. Pack that picnic right! Always pack food—especially sandwiches—in hard reusable containers so your food doesn't squish. If you are packing your picnic in a bag or backpack, try putting a light cutting board between stacks of containers. This will create a shelf in your bag and keep your picnic from falling over and getting messy.
  5. Put aside a set of spoons, knives and forks for picnicking. Wrap them in a cloth napkin with a rubber band and you'll never have to eat with your fingers again!
  6. Freeze your drinks and use them to keep your food cool. Nothing ruins a picnic faster than food that has gone bad. As the day warms up your ice packs will thaw into refreshing cold drinks.
  7. While digging in the dirt for bugs can be fun, eating them is not. Pack a travel-sized hand sanitizer to clean up with before you eat, or pack wet wipes for a quick clean-up and an extra plastic bag to carry out any garbage.
  8. Don't forget about Fido! If your four-legged friend is coming along, make sure to bring an empty container and water so he is well hydrated too. A dog bone treat will keep your friend busy while you enjoy your picnic.
  9. Bringing children? Make your picnic family time by bringing a few easy games like penny toss (toss pennies into a container) or Frisbee.
  10. Invite your neighbors! A picnic is a perfect excuse to sit down and catch up with a friend under a blue summer sky. Afterwards, go for a hike or enjoy a swim. Who knows, maybe you'll create new tradition or lasting memories.

Take a deep breath, pack a snack, find a quiet spot and enjoy a picnic this summer.

"Dirty hands, iced tea, garden fragrances thick in the air and a blanket of color before me, who could ask for more?" - Bev Adams

Picnic tips by Kelsey Olson, Interpretive Naturalist.

10 Great Places for a Picnic

It's a beautiful day and you are looking to spend some quality time in nature. Does a day full of activity sound appealing or would a more relaxing experience fit the bill? One thing is for certain, you're going to get hungry. Use this list to match your activity level with an ideal picnic spot along the way.

On the Go...

Planning an active day, but want a relaxing picnic along the way? These are for you.

On a Hike

Few activities in Minnesota offer a wider variety of scenery than hiking. Hiking is a wonderful way to spend time at a beautiful backcountry vista. You've invested the time to hike to it, what's the rush? Spend a little extra time and savor the experience while enjoying a picnic.

Carrots and almonds are easily portable trail snacks that can be incorporated into your picnic.

On a Bike

It's hard to beat a day on the bike trail pedaling to your favorite spot or letting the wind take you to a newly discovered location to enjoy a picnic lunch.

Bring a variety of food that can be combined together in interesting ways. Use small containers to protect fragile foods like chips.

On a Winter's Day

When winter's chill has settled on the state and the snow covers the ground, there are few activities that will warm you faster than throwing on a pair of snowshoes and packing down the powder. The end of your snowshoeing adventure is a wonderful opportunity for an indoor picnic nestled next to the fire. Most parks that rent snowshoes also have a place to warm up. Your body will feel refreshed after a nice cup of cocoa and a snack.

New to snowshoes? Check out a Naturalist led snowshoe program to learn the ropes.


Take it Slow...

Not in a rush? Just want to relax and soak it in? These will fit the bill.

In the Grass

Color explodes onto the scene with great diversity as flowers sway in the breeze, birds chirp, and butterflies flutter to and fro. Sound amazing? Few places can provide the varied beauty of the prairie. This is a wonderful place to explore while enjoying a picnic.

Summers on the prairie can get warm, so a picnic brunch might be the perfect choice.

To the Point

Whether searching for an amazing view or a spot to get away from the crowd, scenic viewpoints offer an opportunity to reflect and enjoy the beauty of nature while you enjoy a picnic with someone special.

Breakfast picnic? Scenic viewpoints are amazing at sunrise.

Under the Stars

Few picnicking experiences have more potential to leave you with wonderful memories then a late dinner under the stars. The Perseid meteor shower in August is a grand display.

Create your own Sky Viewing Kit with a blanket, sweater, red cellophane flashlight and night sky app on your phone.

In the Past

Ever want to spend an afternoon going back in time? Few places offer an opportunity to experience the lives of those who came before us. The clang of that blacksmith's anvil and smell of freshly baking bread will transport you to another time. Enhance your experience with a picnic in the timelessness of nature.

Look for historical simplicity. Pack a picnic with the basics—a nice loaf of bread, hard cheese and cherry tomatoes.

Capturing the Color

With its explosion of color, autumn is a great time to get outside and snap some family photos. It's also a great time to pack a picnic featuring seasonal flavors like fresh apples and pumpkin pie.

If you capture a great shot, upload it to the DNR Fall Color Gallery and share it!


Not Sure?

Can't decide if you want an active day or just to relax? Consider these.

On the Beach

Beat the heat by heading to the beach. The sun, refreshing water, and a spread of tasty treats create the perfect picnic atmosphere. Most beaches have dedicated picnic areas nearby where you can grill, plug in a crockpot and enjoy a bonfire.

Scout it out. Look online or in person to learn what facilities are available for a fabulous day.

On an Island

For a relaxing and refreshing summer adventure, spending time on a river is a great choice. While you're out exploring, take a break on one of the many sandbars. Enjoy your picnic surrounded by nature and the calming effects of flowing water. Afterward, take time to comb the sandbar for shells and rocks. You might take home a unique souvenir.

Allow some extra time. These are great places to relax and swim. Enjoy a classic picnic fare in reusable, sealed containers.

Picnic tips by Jeremy Darst, Interpretive Naturalist.

Games to Play on Your Picnic

"Mom, I'm booored! Can I watch a movie?" This is NOT what you want to hear on a family picnic or camping trip. You know what else you don't want? A bunch of work making elaborate plans and props for team-building exercises. So what are we to do with our fickle kids and their short attention spans? Try out these ideas for fun and easy outdoor games.

Bobbing for Doughnuts

This combines two activities that are high priorities for kids: eating and playing. It's also a blast to watch.

  • Laundry line (you've got to hang those wet beach towels anyway!)
  • String (never leave home without it!)
  • Donuts (the kind with holes.)

After hanging your laundry line, estimate the distance from the rope to the height of your loved one's mouth.

Tie a string around each doughnut and hang them from the line at appropriate chomping heights.

Line up the participants, one facing each treat. With hands behind their backs, give the signal and witness the hilarity.

 

Image of donuts hanging from rope for game.  Image of stringing a rope between trees for game.  Image of people eating donuts in the game.


Picnic Blanket Checkers

It goes without saying that you love picnics. Fresh air, tasty food and quality time with the family is a recipe for happy summer memories. But let's say you have some down time, maybe while the brats are grilling. What to do? Play checkers, of course!

  • Checkered blanket or tablecloth
  • 12 Stones (or whatever)
  • 12 Pine Cones (or whatever)

Send the kids on a scavenger hunt. You will need checkers and you can use almost anything that will fit in the squares on your blanket. (Though we don't recommend turtles; they get impatient.)

To mark out the boundaries of the checker board on your blanket, you will need four sticks. Be sure to only take sticks that are dead and down, and tell the kids why we don't damage living trees. The checkerboard area is 8 X 8 squares.

Lay out a dozen of each game piece on the blanket and play! When you are done, scatter the game pieces back in the woods. Praise those kids for leaving no trace!

 

Image of a quilt used for a checkers game


Glow in the Dark Bowling

  • 10 Plastic Drink Bottles
  • 10 Glow Sticks
  • 1 Bowling Ball (whatever ball you have)

Collect your water or pop bottles as your family keeps hydrated. Peel off the labels and fill them with water. Crack glow sticks and drop them into the bottles, then screw on the caps.

Set up 5 pins on each end of your bowling lane. It should be flat enough for the bottles to stand up, but extra lumps and bumps will add to the challenge!

Grab whatever ball you brought camping and use it as a bowling ball. (You probably brought a soccer ball, right?) Play by the regular rules of bowling (3 rolls per turn) or make up your own! Did you bring necklace or bracelet glow sticks? Assign points to the bottles and play ring toss! Maybe each older player has to bowl with their eyes closed or backwards. Get creative!

When you are all "funned" out, remember to empty and recycle the bottles. Talk to your kids about the importance of reducing waste.

Image of drink bottles used in glow in the dark bowling.

Picnic tips by Megan Johnsen, Interpretive Naturalist.

Campfire Cooking

Feeling a little ambitious? Why not cook a hot meal over a cheery campfire? Choose one of three ways to cook over a fire that will satisfy your taste buds!

Campfire Cooking Safety Tips

  • Always build the smallest campfire, building just what you need.
  • Fire is hot! Please be careful when putting in, moving, stirring, or taking out food from a campfire.
  • Cook over the coals, not the direct flame. Food can burn quickly over the direct flame.
  • Put your fire completely out when done.

Aluminum foil is a Camp Cook's best friend! Use heavy duty foil or double the sheets when cooking over a fire.


Fantastic Foil Meatloaf Dinner

  • 1 1/2 lb. ground beef
  • 1 pkg. onion soup mix
  • 1 egg, 3/4 cup bread crumbs
  • 1/3 cup ketchup
  • Approx. 3 cups potatoes (frozen potatoes that has now thawed in your cooler work well)
  • Approx. 3 cups veggies (try peas and corn), cut into small 1/2 inch pieces for faster cooking,
  • Salt and pepper

Makes 6 servings.

Cut two pieces of foil for each patty. The foil pieces should be 2 times as wide as a hamburger patty and 2 1/2 times as long. Place two foil layers on the table so they form an "X"

In a bowl, mix the ground beef, onion soup mix, egg and bread crumbs. Form the meat mixture into 6 patties and place each meat patty on two pieces of foil.

Spoon a tablespoon of ketchup on top of each patty. Place 1/2 cup of potatoes and 1/2 cup of vegetables around the meatloaf. Season the vegetables with salt and pepper.

Bring up the long sides of the foil packet and fold over tightly. Leave a little room at the top of the foil for air circulation. Then fold the other two sides in tightly to form your foil packet. Place foil packet in the nice coals of your fire, cook for 15 minutes, rotate the packet, and cook for another 20 minutes. Make sure your meatloaf is fully cooked through with no pink in the center of the meat. When you fold back your foil, steam will escape and it will be hot. Please do so carefully! Enjoy!


Brownie Orange-licious

Oranges, brownie mix

Cut orange in half. If it won't sit flat on the table, shave off bottom until it does. Scoop out the orange pulp inside, and eat the orange pulp! Take two sheets of aluminum foil and wrap around orange, leaving the top open. Mix brownie mix according to directions. Look for the kind where you just add water. Fill two-thirds of the orange up with prepared brownie mix. Place on top of coals on grill or next to coals in campfire. Bake 20 minutes or until middle is done. Yum!


Belly-Busting Banana Boats

Bananas, chocolate chips, marshmallows

Do not take peel off of the banana. Make two rectangular slits in top of the banana. Then cut one end and peel back, making a flap. Scoop out banana just below the flap and eat it. Put chocolate chips and marshmallows into the rectangular hole. Fold flap back over the banana. Wrap in foil and set near warm coals for 5 minutes. Pull off of coals and let cool. Caution, Banana Boats will be hot! Unwrap aluminum foil and enjoy the chocolate, banana gooey goodness!


Pie Irons are a Camp Cook's tool for fabulous stuffed sandwiches and desserts, especially pies!


Pie Iron Pizza Pocket

  • Refrigerated pizza dough
  • Canned pizza sauce
  • Shredded mozzarella cheese
  • Toppings such as precooked sausage or bacon, pepperoni, veggies chopped into small pieces to cook faster
  • Butter

Butter the inside of your pie iron generously. Unroll pizza dough from container, cut a piece of dough and spread out pizza crust, lay the dough inside one half of the pie iron, with an equal portion hanging over. You'll fold the hanging portion back over the toppings before closing the pie iron. Spoon sauce onto pizza dough and spread evenly around dough. Spread sauce on the overhanging flap of dough, too. Add your toppings. I personally like sausage, mushroom and black olive! Yummy! Now fold the overhanging flap of dough on top of the toppings. Pinch around the edge of the dough so a pocket is formed. Close the iron tightly and bake on each side for 5 minutes. Cook longer for a crispier crust. The pie iron will be hot and the pizza pocket will be hot, so please use caution before biting in.


Pudgie Pies

Bread, butter, pie filling (try cherry, apple, or peach) or use any type of filling

Heat your pie iron over a coal bed until hot. Take two pieces of bread, buttering the outside, much like a grilled cheese sandwich. Place one piece of bread buttered-side down on the iron. Spread your fillings on the bread without getting too close to the edges.

WARNING: Overfilling the pie iron will not allow your edges to seal and there will be a big mess!

Place the second piece of bread on top of the filling, butter side up. Close the iron and cut any crusts off that stick out. Place the iron back into the coal bed and cook on both sides until medium brown.


Roasting stick: Nothing says camp cooking more than roasting a marshmallow over the fire with old faithful, the roasting stick. Please do not cut any live tree to make your roasting stick.


Eggs on a Stick

Large orange, egg, salt and pepper

Cut a large orange in half and scrape out the fruit from both pieces. With a sharp knife, cut a small "X" on one orange half about 1/4 inch below the rim. Cut another "X" just below the opposite rim. Thread a roasting stick through the cuts so that the orange half hangs like a basket. While someone holds the half peel steady, crack a small egg into it. Grasp the end of the stick and hold the orange shell over low flames or embers of a campfire for about 10 minutes. Let cool for a few minutes and remove the orange from the stick. Add salt and pepper and enjoy your egg!

Recipe from the Egg Farmers of Alberta.


Mummified Hotdogs

Hotdogs, American cheese slices, refrigerated biscuit dough

Spear hotdog onto roasting stick length-wise on stick. Roll biscuit dough into a long rope-like structure. Wrap cheese around hotdog and secure with biscuit rope, pinching together at top and bottom so it stays on the hot dog and secures the cheese. Cook over indirect heat until hotdog is done, cheese is melted, and biscuit is golden-brown.


Mallowy Goodness

Marshmallows, caramels

**No flaming mallows! (Unless you like charred marshmallows) 

When roasting your marshmallow, if your mallow catches fire, do not wave the marshmallow to put the flame out! No one wants to get hit with flying, flaming mallow! If it catches on fire, slowly move the mallow away from the fire and blow the flame out.

If you want a really awesome treat, put a caramel candy on the roasting stick above your marshmallow. When the marshmallow is golden brown and the caramel is soft, slide the marshmallow up and over the caramel. Slide them both off together for a fabulous marshmallow treat!

Picnic tips by Diane Hedin, Interpretive Naturalist.

Picnicking by Bike or Kayak

I can't think of a better use of a Saturday than a leisure bike ride coupled with a picnic break at the lakeside. While a car picnic allows you to bring everything including the kitchen sink, on a bike picnic you want to go lean and light. Plan to keep the food simple and the utensils few, but still not leave out any essentials and have no waste.

The essentials:

  • Small to medium backpack, handle bar basket or saddle bags.
  • Spork; this is a spoon, fork and knife combination.
  • Small reusable cup with lid; this cup is the perfect place to store a hardboiled egg.
  • 3-5 sturdy tight sealing storage containers filled with snack crackers, sliced cured meats, cubed fruit, cheese slices and a homemade oatmeal fruit bar. Size the containers to be easily stacked in your pack or basket. Containers work better than zip plastic bags which will allow the food to be smashed. If you need to keep some of the food cool a soft-sided insulated pack with frozen. If chosen properly the empty storage containers can be nested to decrease the bulk after the picnic.
  • Damp washcloths in zip bag to clean sticky hands.
  • Light thin table cloth or space blanket.
  • Sturdy tight screw sealing bottle for water, tea or fruit drinks. If it’s cool a thermos for hot coffee or chocolate.
  • Small first aid kit.
  • With a simple picnic and these few tips, you can spend your day outside on your bike and resting in the sun.

P.S. These tips work great for a paddling trip, too!

Picnic tips by John Fylpaa, Interpretive Naturalist.

Planning a Winter Picnic

Add special flair to your winter outdoor adventure by packing an energized picnic feast to fuel your family fun in the snow. Foods won't spoil, so the sky's the limit when it comes to creative snacks and meals that provide high energy for hard play. And remember—yard games aren't just for summer! Consider playing active, running games to warm up chilly children (and adults).

Food

  • Pre-made sandwiches
    Use a panini iron, indoor electric grill or fry pan at home to make pre-grilled sandwiches such as grilled cheese—or use a variety of salamis, cold cuts, cheeses and vegetables to create a delicious high energy meal. Individually wrap each sandwich in foil or plastic bags.
  • Ice cream
    For a calorie-rich ski break or picnic dessert, surprise your family and friends with the sheer absurdity of a pint of gourmet ice cream. Go ahead—it's winter, it won't melt! Serve it by slicing both the ice cream and the cardboard container with a knife just before you serve it. The carton sections make nice little bowls for each serving. Don't forget to pack some plastic spoons.
  • Soups
    Hot soup is a terrific way to warm tummies on a cold day. There are lots of sizes and styles of wide-mouthed, insulated Thermoses that will keep soup warm for hours. Combine a pre-grilled cheese sandwich with tomato soup or a squash red pepper soup for a hot, savory treat—or make your soup on site by combining instant soup packages with hot water heated over a lightweight backpacking stove or campfire.
  • Campfire kebabs
    At home, marinate one-inch square pieces of venison, beef, pork or chicken to thread onto a roasting stick at your picnic. Add your favorite veggies! Vegetarians, try roasting chunks of marinated tempeh over an open fire—it's amazing!

Hydration

It's easy to forget to drink enough water in the winter, but cold winter air is desert-dry and winter activities can dehydrate you quickly. Hydrate often with warm beverages such as cocoa, hot cider, tea or coffee. Alcoholic beverages are not recommended...that old image of a Swiss Saint Bernard with a cask of brandy around its neck is romantic, but not very helpful.

Comfort

Recreating in winter doesn't mean you have to be cold! Dress for the weather and your activity level, and plan ahead for a few creature comforts that will help keep your picnickers warm and happy.

  • Regardless of how warmly you are dressed, sitting directly on snow or frozen picnic benches will quickly cool you from the bottom up. A couple of camping pads or wool blankets will prevent your posterior from conducting your heat away from you. (Many Scandinavians keep reindeer or fluffy sheep hides around just for this purpose!)
  • If you have time to get fancy, construct comfortable snow benches and a table at your planned picnic site, and then class up your snow table with a checkered tablecloth. It's like building a snow fort without the mock battle.
  • Get people moving with active games such as tag or snowshoe races to keep the blood circulating.

Transportation

Winter travel can be a breeze—you don't even need a backpack! Just strap your picnic and extra layers onto a sled. Even a cheap little plastic boat sled will work fine to haul your goods through the woods. Put your kids to work pulling the sled! Even a growing child can haul a lot more stuff on a sled than an adult could comfortably carry in a backpack. A sled is also a great way to get a tired little skier home at the end of the day—just wrap them up in a nest of those wool blankets you packed, and start for home.

Picnic tips by Kurt Mead, Interpretive Naturalist.