Being outside doesn’t have to involve fancy gear or be a weekend-long getaway. Packing up a quick picnic and heading to a park to have lunch gets us the benefits of fresh air and sunshine without the stress of planning a full excursion.

Planning your outing

When it comes to packing your picnic lunch, keep it simple. Also consider letting everyone pack their own! Kids get more excited about activities they can help plan, so choosing what they want to take is the perfect chance to include them. If the spring weather is still a little chilly when your family wants to go out, consider a warm meal like chicken noodle soup in a thermos. You can also precook a grilled cheese sandwich or burrito and wrap it in foil to keep warm between your home and the park. 

Parks and picnic shelters within city limits are free for use, but some shelters may be reserved for larger parties. Feel free to use them if they’re unoccupied, many have tables, bathrooms, even grills, and fireplaces! Laying out a blanket or setting up your own chairs is also allowed in grassy areas if you prefer. No matter where you picnic, make sure you take any food waste home with you or find an appropriate place to dispose of it. Many of our parks have wildlife, especially ones near water. Keep in mind our food can be harmful to animals, so tempting as it may be to share your lunch, please don’t! Enjoy watching wildlife from a distance and teach your kids to do the same.

Ask the expert

Dillon Julius is the Camping Specialty Shop Leader for Scheels, and when it comes to eating outdoors, he enjoys the finer things in life; like French press coffee. His favorite part of the Black Hills? The fact that all you need to get started is “really just a good pair of shoes and a water bottle.”

When it comes to taking food outside, he has a few tips to make sure families are ready to go: “A great starting point for families who want to get out for a picnic is to look into camp chairs to get them up off the ground, and the basics like a cooler for food and water bottles or a thermos for drinks.” Coolers especially come in a large variety of styles and sizes, and it’s wise to consider what your family plans to do long term. If you’re simply headed to the local park, a small soft shell cooler may fit the bill. If you plan to drive into the hills to a picnic area or camp for a weekend, a larger hard cooler will give you space for ice, and the insulation to keep things chilled longer.

Maddox Mueller enjoys being outside with his dad, Ben Mueller, an Assistant Store Leader at Scheels.
Photo courtesy of Scheels.

If you want to picnic without being tied to your car, Dillon says, “Backpacks are also a versatile item for getting out, whether it’s for a picnic or a hike. You can keep the family first aid kit in there for easy access, but also your water bottle, snacks, or a blanket to sit on while you eat.” Scheels carries a great range of options, from affordable packs for going down the street to a picnic shelter, to more durable ones made for camping or a weekend trip. They include options like water bladders and kid-carriers as well, so you can take lunch anywhere you like!

Tried-and-true local favorites

If you want to break out of the backyard, we asked local parents their favorite place to lay out a spread and enjoy nature. Here are their suggestions:

  • In Rapid City, head up Skyline Drive to enjoy looking out over the valley, or check out Canyon Lake Park’s picnic shelters for a spot with a little more cover.
  • City Park in Spearfish has picnic shelters and playgrounds that will keep you busy all day long. You can also sit along the creek and watch for fish that have escaped from the hatchery.
  • French Creek Park in Custer offers picnic shelters, a playground, and creek access. When you’re done with lunch, you can walk a couple of blocks to finish your outing with ice cream.
  • In Deadwood, go just outside of town and check out the Mount Roosevelt Picnic Area. There are five picnic sites, and after lunch, if you feel like a short hike you can check out the Friendship Tower dedicated to President Theodore Roosevelt.

WORDS: ASHLEY JOHNSON
PHOTO: JESSE BROWN NELSON