In my opinion, early spring is the absolute best time for a picnic. The weather isn’t too hot, and it’s been cold all winter, so even slightly chillier days feel warm in comparison. The trees are just starting to bloom, and it’s still too early for your picnic to be completely overrun by bugs. If you’re like me (sick of winter and ready to get back outside) consider one of these five spots for a March or April picnic near Des Moines.
Backbone State Park
Backbone is Iowa's oldest state park (it’s about to turn 100 years old!) It’s a 2000 acre preserve that houses Devil’s Backbone, which is a steep, curving ridge cut out by the Maquoketa River over thousands of years. The views are breathtaking: serene foliage and wondrous geological formations make this a great place for a picnic that will turn into a day trip of exploring. They have both indoor and outdoor picnic areas, which means you can enjoy your visit even if it’s raining. There’s also restroom facilities and a playground. It might be a little chilly to swim in the early spring, but Strawberry Point offers a wonderful beach that can be enjoyed even on chillier days.
Pappajohn Sculpture Park
If you’re more of an urbanite that a romp-through-the woods type, Pappajohn Sculpture Park in the heart of Des Moines is your spot for a spring picnic. On display is Iowa’s most famous sculpture, Nomade by Jaume Plensa, as well as sculptures from 21 other world-renowned artists. There are also plenty of lovely paths that wind through the grassy expanse of the park, which is dotted with benches. You can bring a blanket and plop down anywhere you like! This little oasis in the middle of the city is a perfect mix of urban art and nature.
Eagle Point Park
Eagle Point Park in Dubuque is a 164 acre oasis overlooking the Mississippi River, right in the middle of town. It’s a great place to spend a day with the family, as there’s plenty of room to explore nature, as well as tennis, horseshoes, a fish pond, a rock garden, a band shell, and several picnic pavilions and playgrounds. There are also restroom facilities and garbage receptacles throughout the park. From the top of the bluffs, you can see three states at once: Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin. This is also a very popular place for families to bring the ashes of loved ones. If you decide to scatter your loved one’s ashes here, make sure you follow the laws and request permission first.
Pikes Peak State Park
Pikes Peak State Park overlooks the Mississippi River near McGregor. The views from the bluffs are delightful any time of year, and nature observers come from far and wide to examine the park’s plethora of plant, animal, and insect species. Several day hikes can take you into secluded areas of the park to have a nice, intimate picnic, or you can bring along a whole gang and enjoy one of the many open and covered picnic areas throughout the park. There are restroom facilities in the common areas of the park, and plenty of parking, as well.
The town of Pella, Iowa, is a lovely little spot not too far from the hustle and bustle of Des Moines. It’s not quite country, not quite suburban, but whatever it is, it’s just right. You can tell days are a little more relaxed and time goes by a little slower in Pella. There are also a number of delightful little parks all throughout town, including Central Park, Brinkhoff Park, and Brook Circle Park. Any number of these would be a perfect spot to plop down a blanket and enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells of early spring.
I hope that as technology advances and our world grows even more fast-paced, that people still remember the art of picnicking. Everyone needs to take a break some time and enjoy good food and good company. It’s early spring and the weather is nice! Grab some of your favorite people, make a picnic-perfect sandwich, and get outdoors for an afternoon! Maybe even bring along a bottle of wonderful Iowa wine?
-Image via Unsplash on Pexels