My husband Travis and I have a tradition where we plan a weekday picnic lunch date once our kids are back in school, then again in early May before the kids get out for summer break. It’s our way to relax, reconnect, and secretly gloat that we get recess while our kids are busy learning.
There are some perks to being a grown-up.
Our favorite spot.
Last week, we finally had the chance to have our back-to-school picnic, and while we were resting on our blanket looking up at the blue September sky at our favorite picnic spot, I began to wonder where else in Joplin other magical picnic spots might exist – ones where we might even bring the children to on a nice weekend day.
So, I hopped in my car to do some field research. For a picnic spot to be ideal, it had to be naturally shaded – in other words, not in a shelter or pavilion. If I’m going to be eating outside, I want to be able to see the sky above me. (If you’re a pavilion-seeking picnic person, don’t worry; I’ve included some options for you, too.)
I found five outstanding picnic spots, which I’ve detailed below. At the end of each description, I’ve listed a summary of amenities, including nearby restaurants where you can pick up food for your picnic instead of having to make it yourself.
THE TOP 5 PICNIC SPOTS IN JOPLIN
- McIndoe Park (Glendale Road and Jackson Avenue)
When I told my friend where Travis and I had our back-to-school picnic, she said, “McIndoe Park? Never heard of it.” Not many people know the name of this park, which is perched on the banks of sparkling Shoal Creek. Most people assume that this park is an extension of Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Center just to the south, but it’s a Joplin city park.
Travis and I found a spot just to the south of the historic one-lane low-water bridge, built in 1919. Driving over this bridge is a mind-bending experience; since you can’t see the pavement next to you, it feels like you’re gliding across the creek in a boat.
McIndoe Park is our favorite Joplin picnic spot because here we can eat at a shaded picnic table while enjoying a creekside view, then rest on a blanket in the nearby grass.
So sorry the kids couldn’t be here. Hee, hee.
Sometimes we play cards, and sometimes we watch the wildlife. Last week, we saw a stealthy blue heron perched on a log across the creek, scanning the water for his lunch, as well as several vibrant bluebirds singing their cheerful songs.
Natural shade: Yes
Nearby restaurants: Eagle Drive-In (1.5 miles)
- McClelland Park (4568 McClelland Park Road)
This large, wooded park is located on a hilltop on Joplin’s southwest side. There are parking lots near the entrance, which is where I found this cute green picnic table. It’s located right next to the playground, making it a great spot for a family picnic.
If you’re seeking solitude and tranquility away from the busy playground and shelter area, follow McClelland Park Road along the eastern edge of the park.
Here you’ll find several pull-off areas leading to secluded picnic tables surrounded by trees on one side and the 18-hole disc golf course on the other.
Natural shade: Yes
- Leonard Park (4th Street and Turk Avenue)
This is my go-to park if I’m shopping on North Range Line Road and need a quick nature fix. Located just west of North Point Shopping Center (the one with Toys ‘R’ Us), Leonard Park was one of my favorite parks to take my kids when they were little. In addition to a playground, there’s a little creek that runs through the park, making it a magical place for kids to explore.
While there are a few picnic tables outside of the pavilion here, none are shaded, so my favorite place to picnic here is on the grass right next to the creek.
Looks like a scene from a fairy tale, doesn’t it?
Natural shade: Yes
- Cunningham Park (26th Street and Maiden Lane)
Our family has known this park through its two incarnations: as a shaded park where my little ones pointed excitedly when they spied the medical helicopter taking off from the hospital across the street (pre-tornado), and as a spacious, open park with areas for quiet reflection (post-tornado).
Cunningham Park’s landscape may have changed since May 22, 2001, but its popularity hasn’t. It’s beautiful in a new way now, and the colorful blooming plants and tranquil water features in the Butterfly Garden exemplify this.
That’s the bench under a pergola in the background.
While there are picnic tables in other areas of Cunningham Park, there aren’t any in the garden. However, there are a couple of benches (one is partially shaded by a pergola) that are situated on either side of the “Hope” water feature which traces the path of the Joplin tornado. Either one provides a peaceful for enjoying a meal.
Natural shade: No (but the tranquility of the Butterfly Garden makes it worth visiting)
- Bluff Trail (see below for the slightly complicated directions, but I promise it’s totally worth visiting)
To enjoy a picnic with the best view in Joplin, be prepared to take a short hike through the woods (by short, I mean all of two minutes; the trail is somewhat rocky and steep so don’t wear stilettos).
There are two picnic tables just off Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Center’s Bluff Trail (see map here), which runs along the bluff above the west side of Shoal Creek and offers breathtaking views. While hiking up from creek level is an option (a strenuous one), so is parking your car on Castle Drive and walking down to the tables (much easier).
However, the easier option is also the trickier one, as the trail from Castle Drive to the tables is not marked. In fact, after looking around for 15 minutes by myself, I had Travis come help me (he found it right away, of course, which was a bit infuriating). So, we decided to drive from each direction and record the distance, so that we (okay, I) could find it easily next time.
Here’s what we found. If you’re coming from Main Street (Highway 86), turn west on Castle Drive and follow it for one mile. If you’re coming from McIndoe Park, take the low-water bridge across to the south side of Shoal Creek and turn east on Murphy Boulevard (which becomes Castle Drive) and drive for .7 miles.
At this point you will be on top of a hill and there will be gravel parking areas on either side of the road. Park here and walk on the east side of the road (just south of the gravel parking area – confused yet?) and you will see this trail head.
This will take you to the closest picnic table (the other one is farther south), and to this amazing view.
See that dark thing in the sky? That’s actually a leaf falling from a tree on the first day of autumn. So poetic.
Please, please, please do me a favor and bring a bag for trash, as there are no trash cans nearby and you’ll need to carry it out with you. This is probably also a good time to mention using the restroom before your picnic, too.
Natural shade: Yes
Nearby restaurants: All Aboard Ice Cream (and burgers!) (1 mile).
Honorable Mention: Garvin Park (28th Street & Virginia Avenue)
This tiny park may not offer any natural shade, but its location is fundamental to its appeal. It’s situated right next to McDonald’s, causing me to often wonder why people would eat inside the restaurant (or even in their cars, for that matter) when this pretty outdoor space is literally just a few feet away.
The building in the background on the right (behind the lion) is McDonald’s.
Having a picnic at this park offers a double win: kids can eat their Happy Meals and then run around the playground, giving parents a good 30-60 minutes of quiet time.
Bonus: The lion water fountain. It’s one of the coolest things I’ve seen in Joplin. I guess it doesn’t take much to impress me.
Natural shade: No, but letting mommy have some quiet time is worth the sacrifice.
Restrooms: No, but use the restrooms in McDonald’s when you’re buying the Happy Meals.
So, now that you know where the best picnic spots are in Joplin, grab your lunch and head outdoors.
To read more about my adventures in the area, visit JoplinMOLife.com.