July is National Picnic Month, so celebrate the warm weather and extra-long summer days by rounding up your friends and family, grabbing a Frisbee, and sharing some fresh fare at one of these scenic picnic spots. Plus, what you should pack for a truly standout meal, post-adventure.

Caribou Ranch: Located just off the Peak-to-Peak Highway east of Nederland, this Boulder County Open Space parcel is a great place to escape the heat and enjoy a stroll through quaking aspen to one of several petite picnic areas. My favorite is a secluded table next to a small waterfall on North Boulder Creek, just beyond the historic Blue Bird Mine complex. Another table is situated by the wetland near the historic barn that once served as a professional recording studio.

Castlewood Canyon State Park: Depending on how far you want to walk, this beautiful state park southeast of Castle Rock has half a dozen picnic areas to choose from. The closest to the park’s main entry point is at the Bridge Canyon Overlook. There’s also an isolated table tucked beneath tall trees about halfway along the moderate Inner Canyon Trail.

Chautauqua Park: Boulder’s Chautauqua Park is chock full of great picnic spots. The enormous, grassy lawn near the parking area is ideal for spreading out blankets, throwing Frisbees, and hauling in coolers. If you prefer a quieter experience, walk up Bluebell Road from the Ranger Cottage to the start of the Royal Arch Trail. Just past the Bluebell group picnic shelter are a couple of picnic tables nestled between clusters of ponderosa pines. One is large enough to seat 16 people.

A prime picnic spot along Echo Lake. Credit: Terri Cook and Lon Abbott

Echo Lake: About 14 miles south of Idaho Springs along Highway 103, Echo Lake Park offers several fun picnic options, including a large area adjacent to the main road near a historic stone shelter. If you have a small group, follow the short access road along the lake’s northwest edge to a few tables perched along the shore of the glistening, 24-acre lake.

Eldorado Canyon State Park: One of Colorado’s best places to picnic is in Eldorado Canyon State Park, southwest of Boulder. In the park’s western half, more than two dozen tables are spread along the bank of gurgling South Boulder Creek. With stunning canyon scenery and several great trails, it’s easy to while away a very pleasant day. Be sure to arrive early if you’re visiting on the weekend; the park often fills to capacity in the summer.

Lookout Mountain: The name says it all—this park features gorgeous panoramic views from peaks to plains, plus a nature center, kid-friendly trails, Buffalo Bill’s grave, plentiful wildlife, and pleasant, ponderosa-dotted picnic areas located close to the main parking lot.

High-Altitude Picnic Fare

It’s easy to pull together a great meal for a picnic in the park, but it’s much more challenging to pack a satisfying meal to enjoy along a grueling hike or atop a fourteener summit. For convenience, it’s hard to beat nutrition bars, but what can you bring if you crave a proper picnic?

For a quick and pleasing meal, bring along a slab of your favorite cheese and a crusty loaf of bread, which satisfies cravings for both protein and salt. Hummus with pre-sliced veggies or pita chips carried in a hard-sided container travels well and tastes great after you’ve worked up a sweat (we love local favorites Hope Hummus and Blue Moose), as do flavorful, grain- or noodle-based salads with non-dairy dressings.

For dessert, I usually bring chocolate chip cookies or brownies, which don’t tend to melt and taste just as good crumbled as whole. If you really want to celebrate and don’t mind the extra weight, buy some plastic “glasses” and a portable wine bag at Carboy or another local winery and fill it with your favorite vino for a true top-of-the-world treat.

Terri Cook
Terri Cook
Terri Cook is an award-winning freelance writer based in Boulder. More of her work can be found at down2earthscience.com.