Adams Morgan’s Meridian Hill Park, a National Historic Landmark, is 12 acres tucked away in DC. Also known as Malcolm X Park—a name proposed after the 1968 riots—the two-level retreat is filled with fountains, statues (honoring Joan of Arc, among others), paths, a reflecting pool, and a multitiered waterfall. On the upper level, watch a pickup soccer game or the drumming circles that meet on Sundays. Entrances at 16th and Euclid sts. and 16th and W sts., NW; 202-619-7111. Open during daylight hours.
Rock Creek Park, DC’s largest, extends into Montgomery County and is one of the nation’s oldest national parks. For $7, you can reserve a picnic grove for a group—most are located in shady spots along the creek, and some have restrooms nearby. First-come, first-served picnic areas for 12 are also scattered throughout the park’s 1,750 acres. View a map of the DC portion of the park at nps.gov/rocr; 202-673-7646. Open during daylight hours.
More than 50 picnic tables and 17 grills are available throughout Great Falls Park. The 800 acres offer hiking trails and views of the Potomac River’s rapids and falls. The shady picnic areas, surrounded by tall trees, are first-come, first-served. 9200 Old Dominion Dr., McLean; 703-285-2965; nps.gov/grfa. Open 7 am to dark.
Pack a picnic and watch planes take off at Gravelly Point, a park 400 feet north of Reagan National Airport’s runways. It’s considered one of the best places in the country to plane-spot, and though the sound of low-flying aircraft is too loud for some, kids can’t get enough. George Washington Pkwy., Arlington (first right after National Airport); 703-289-2500.
Seneca Creek State Park is 6,300 acres along 14 miles of Seneca Creek. Many areas are available for picnicking, including Clopper Lake, surrounded by fields and shady forests. Pack a lunch and take advantage of boat rentals, hiking trails, and playgrounds. In May, don’t miss the peony gardens. 11950 Clopper Rd., Gaithersburg; 301-924-2127; dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/central/seneca.html. Open 8 am to sunset.
Part of Montgomery County’s Rock Creek Regional Park, the 75-acre Lake Needwood offers plenty of activities. Starting Saturday, May 3, you can rent rowboats, canoes, and paddleboats or ride on a flat-bottom pontoon boat called the Needwood Queen. Fishing is permitted on the lake, and the public 18-hole Needwood golf course is adjacent to the park. There are picnic areas for lunch and playgrounds for kids. 15700 Needwood Lake Cir., Rockville; 301-762-9500. Boathouse open weekends 6:30 am to 7 pm.