What’s In Your Picnic Basket?


Exploring America’s public lands is hungry work. Whether you’re enjoying the southern California coast, the rolling mountains of North Carolina or the stunning sunrises in Maine, all that hiking, boating and biking and will surely boost your appetite. So when you finally stop moving, you’re going to need a snack.  Check out our list of public lands inspired dishes, because no one can enjoy nature’s beauty while hangry. 

A swimmingly good meal at Channel Islands National Park

Though close to the California mainland, Channel Islands National Park seems like a world away. Comprised of five islands, all teeming with unique animals and plants, a long day of hiking the trails and diving off the cliffs is sure to leave you hungry. We recommend taking a break to refuel with some delicious fish tacos. There is no better place to break out your camp stove and cook up some fresh sea bass or salmon. Toss in some lime and chili peppers for an added kick before you continue your adventure. It’s the perfect mix of scenery and savory.

Recipe includes:
Fresh fish (sea bass or salmon are best)
Taco seasoning
Tortillas (lightly warmed)
Sour Cream
A fresh touch of cilantro to garnish 

Mountains and ocean view with people picnicking
Channel Islands National Park. Photo by Elmer Atienza (www.sharetheexperience.org).

Breakfast at Acadia National Park

As the first place in the continental United States to see the sunrise, Acadia National Park in Maine is a great place for a morning meal. Try cooking up a healthy breakfast scramble with eggs, veggies, and a protein of your choice to start your day right. Grab a hot cup of coffee and watch nature paint a masterpiece in the sky. With a day of kayaking, hiking, climbing and fishing in front of you, you’re going to need the energy.

Recipe Includes
Scrambled eggs 
Bacon Bits
Garnish with salt, pepper, and some hot sauce if you like a kick to your morning

Mountains at sunrise with colored leaves
Sunrise at Acadia National Park. Photo by Roy Goldsberry (www.sharetheexperience.org). 

A sweet bite at Everglades National Park

Are you sick of the cold and in need of some sun? Head down to the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States at Everglades National Park in Florida. Be prepared for humid weather as you admire the wetlands and cypress groves spreading out to the horizon. Once you have seen the vast tall grasses, succulents, purple and pink flowers, and marine life, end your day with a slice of key lime pie. It’s the signature South Florida dish made from fresh-picked limes and a crumbly graham cracker crust. But remember, as you devour your dessert, keep an eye out for alligators on your travels. You want to enjoy a snack, not become one. 

Paved walkway among wetlands
Everglades National Park. Photo by Brad Ryan, National Park Service.

Enjoy a wild meal at Grand Tetons National Park

Do you love history? Learn about the park’s Native American heritage or the stories of the first “mountain men” as you navigate these iconic Wyoming mountains at Grand Tetons National Park. Thriving in this rugged landscape requires a hearty diet and the ability to improvise. Be sure to keep an eye out for big antlers in the distance, it's probably an elk. Embrace the culinary traditions of this region, and head into town for a tasty elk ragu or french fries topped with elk gravy.

Elk in the grass
A Bull Elk at Windy Point in Grand Teton National Park. Photo by John Tobiason, National Park Service.

Have a steamy time at Hot Springs National Park

Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas once served as “America’s Spa,” a place for rich and poor alike to get some rest and relaxation in the park’s namesake geothermal hot springs. Follow in their damp footsteps and explore this unique place that saw a rapid change from a rough frontier town to an elegant spa city.  The park’s historic Quapaw Bathhouse on Bathhouse Row is a great place to start, but if you ease into the soothing waters, you might not leave. While you’re splashing and simmering, enjoy a hot cup of natural green tea for “Tea Time.” Not only will this boost your metabolism, but it will help your stress disappear like steam in the air. For added flavor, add a drop of honey and a touch of lemon. To your health!

People meditating in the park
Park rangers practice meditation at Hot Springs National Park. Photo by Mary Hill, National Park Service.

Add something earthy at Glacier National Park

When people explore Glacier National Park, they often stare up at the majestic mountains. Those views are amazing and the trails provide the paths to adventure, but what’s a good hike without a snack? Toss together your own trail mix and keep it with you to refuel. Our favorite includes pretzels, almonds, peanuts, raisins and little chocolates. You can make your own trail mix sweet and salty, savory or cheesy. Whatever you decide, you will be thankful you have a snack on the go. Happy Hiking!

Hikers at base of mountain
Hikers at Glacier National Park. Photo by National Park Service.

A taste of the Southwest at Joshua Tree National Park

Serving as the melting point of two vastly different desert ecosystems,  the Mojave and Colorado, Joshua Tree National Park is a wonderful and unique place. Embrace the rich southwestern culture with some hot Chili con Queso, a rich mixture of meat, beans and cheese -- with a kick sure to leave you wanting more. A desert land filled with interesting geologic formations and covered with shrubs and cacti, Joshua Tree can near 100 degrees during the day. Yet, as the sun sets on the horizon, the temperatures fall, making for perfect campfire weather.  Fill your bowl with chili and let it keep you warm when you look up at the sky and the twinkling stars of the Milky Way. 

Cacti and dessert landscape
Joshua Tree National Park. Photo by Brad Sutton, National Park Service.

Dive into a Big Bowl of Gumbo at Bayou Sauvage Wildlife Refuge

Spreading out from the city limits of New Orleans, Bayou Sauvage encompasses nearly 23,000 acres of fresh and brackish marshes. The refuge is home to the largest population of urban wildlife in the United States and serves as a home to gulf-migratory songbirds, alligators, fish, crabs and shrimp alike. You will find the spanish moss and ponds covered in water lillies the perfect place to embrace the NOLA culture of music, art and history with a pot of fresh Gumbo. Whether you like it mild or spicy, fresh shrimp stew over a bed of warm rice is the perfect way to end the day. If you listen closely, you might hear the song birds chirping to some famous Jazz tunes.

Alligator eating a fish
This alligator has a big appetite. Photo by Regina Snow, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 

The classic American Burger at the classic National Park: Yosemite  

Nestled within the Sierra Nevada, the views at Yosemite National Park will make it feel like you have been transported into a beautiful landscape painting. Yosemite is known for its gorgeous granite mountains, breathtaking waterfalls, massive sequoia trees and wildlife that roams the park’s picturesque meadows. Once you have exhausted yourself repelling from cliffs or hiking to the waterfalls, dig your teeth into a juicy burger. Whether you top it with a slice of gooey cheese, now that is up to you.

Landscape of mountains and water
Yosemite National Park. Photo by National Park Service.

No matter which way you choose to experience our nation’s parks, wilderness and wildlife refuges, exploring these natural wonders is sure to leave you hungry. Be sure to immerse yourself in the culture of each place with a fun snack or tasty meal. We hope this list will entice even the pickiest explorer. Just remember, hunting, fishing and foraging for natural goods and renewable products, such as fruits, berries, nuts or greens is sometimes permitted, but conditions are set by each location or state office. Check out your destination’s website for the most up to date information. Otherwise, you’ll need to pack in your own supplies. Have a great picnic!