The art of picnicking goes way back. Omar Khayyam waxed poetic on the perfect outdoor dining experience in the 12th century (“A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou / Beside me singing in the Wilderness”). Medieval nobleman paused in their hunts to dine en plein air, and hundreds of years later, Britain’s glum Lord Chesterfield acquainted picnicking with drinking, cards and conversation. But when once-exclusively-royal parks opened to the public after France’s 18th century revolution, picnicking became a sort of vive le revolution pastime (in 2000, the country celebrated a 600-mile-long picnic in honor of Bastille Day).
So in the United States, naturally, nothing says le picque-nique like the Fourth of July — never mind that June 18 was International Picnic Day.
But the real question du jour: Where to gather, spread out and dine?
Asheville picnic sites
To picnic within the city limits of Asheville, consider the public sites provided by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. There are about 70 of them, including Pritchard Park and Triangle Park right downtown. A list and map is available on the department website (avl.mx/0c3).
Some privately owned green areas are also open to the public – most notably some parts of the Biltmore Estate’s 8,000 acres, where any adult with a yearly pass or a daily ticket may picnic (and children less than 16 years may accompany them free). Biltmore has two outdoor pavilions specially designed for picnics; ask directions at the entrance gate near Biltmore Village.
A few other non-city parks frequent picnic spots: Lake Julian, south of the city; and Craggy Gardens, 24 miles north of town on the Blue Ridge Parkway at milepost 367.5; and the picnic grounds near Mt. Pisgah at milepost 364. With rhododendrons blooming now (or soon, at the higher elevations), almost anywhere along the parkway is a good spot.
Lake Julian, meanwhile, offers boating opportunities, with kayaks, canoes and pedal-pushers for rent, or bring your own floater (but no motorboats). Lake Tomahawk in Black Mountain is also a convenient, accessible, free, public picnic spot.
One important thing to know about Asheville city parks is that you may not bring your own grill to cook on. Most of the designated picnic shelters provide grills, and some offer electricity for cooking or warming food. The nine Asheville park shelters, listed below, may be reserved for outdoor eating, but a fee of $40 is required for a reservation, which is posted on the morning desired. Reservations guarantee your spot for the entire day. To reserve a city picnic shelter, go to ashevillenc.gov and click on “online services.”
If a shelter has not been reserved, it’s available free on a first-come, first-served basis.
Many other city sites provide wooden tables with bench-type seating without a reservation, and of course, anyone may picnic on a spot on the grass. Two of the picnic parks have dog runs — not next to the shelters — but otherwise pets must be on a leash and under human control, (yes, that includes cats too).
A list of rules is posted at each park and are what you would expect of civilized people in a public venue: No alcohol, no drugs, no smoking and no weapons are allowed in city parks. There are other rules; be sure to read them on site.
The following City parks have reservable picnic shelters:
Aston Park – 336 Hilliard St.
Carrier Park – 220 Amboy
E. Asheville Center – 906 Tunnel Road
French Broad River Park – 508 Riverview Dr.
Malvern Hills Park – 75 Rumbough Pl.
Murphy/Oakley Park – 715 Fairview Rd.
Recreation Park – 69 Gashes Creek Road
Riverbend Park – along Swannanoa River
Weaver Park – 200 Murdock Ave.
West Asheville Park – 11 Vermont Ave. Ext.