Where to Eat at Every National Park
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Yellowstone (Wyoming, Montana, Idaho)
Off-site: A person can eat only so many burgers and bison dishes. If the craving strikes for something with more spice, Chinatown Restaurant (110 Madison Ave.; 406-646-7088) in West Yellowstone offers an impressive array of Peking, Hunan, Szechuan and Cantonese cuisines for hungry tourists. Originally opened to appeal to Chinese tourists, the space really does feel like stepping into Chinatown. Try the one of the house recommendations — the shredded chicken with five-spice bean curd and the beef with string beans are fantastic.
Picnic: Pick up sandwiches at Degnan’s Deli (9015 Village Dr.; 209-372-8454) before hitting the trail. The space serves an interesting selection of breakfast and lunch sandwiches that are ideal for a day out and about. Try the Winfield, a protein-packed combination of Italian meats, bacon, provolone, mozzarella, greens, avocado, pesto and balsamic vinegar.
Grand Tetons (Wyoming)
Picnic: It’s hard to find better takeaway grub than Jackson Hole’s Persephone Bakery. The cafe offers inventive, made-to-order sandwiches on house-baked bread, made with Old World fermentation techniques. The BLT, for example, is an updated classic, made with bacon, sauteed kale, Gruyere, tomato jam and Dijon aioli on a grilled baguette.
Grand Canyon (Arizona)
Picnic: Stock up on grab-and-go sandwiches and salads from local vendors at the Cafe at Mather Point before jumping onto a bike or strolling the rim. Set inside Bright Angel Bicycles, the small storefront offers sustainable takeaway fare from a local cafe and bagel shop.
Picnic: Pick up a sandwich or wrap at Sweet Cravings Bakery + Bistro before entering the park. The place uses local and regional ingredients in its dishes and sells still-warm pastries. The Garden Fresh, with tomato, artichoke, provolone, lettuce, onion, pepperoncini and balsamic dressing on the side, is perfect for vegetarians. Every order comes with a sweet treat for dessert, which is ideal for hikers who’ll want an afternoon pick-me-up.
Petrified Forest (Arizona)
Off-site: Fill up on green chile nachos, margaritas and shredded beef tacos at Romo’s Restaurant, which offers a mix of Mexican, Southwest and American eats.
Joshua Tree (California)
Off-site: Arrive early for American breakfasts or take a break from the midday sun with Cambodian lunch fare at Country Kitchen in Joshua Tree. Mareine Uy, a native of Cambodia, has run the place for more than two decades, garnering some attention for the place, including an appearance on Travel Channel's No Reservations. In the morning the blueberry pancakes are a favorite for desert-bound hikers.
Picnic: Get on the opening line at Bar Harbor’s Morning Glory Bakery. Locals and tourists flock to the cafe for coffee, fresh scones and creative sandwiches. Grab a quick breakfast, then request the Rosa Lisa to enjoy for lunch later. The sandwich includes citrus-cumin chicken and avocado with cabbage-cilantro slaw on a choice of sourdough or honey-oat bread.
Picnic: Give your picnic a South Florida twist. Head to Soriano Brothers Cuban Cuisine in Homestead for Cubanas, pork sandwiches and cafeteria-style Caribbean takeaway.
Picnic: If there were one food item that could unite Floridian foes, it would be Publix subs. Bringing one to school lunch is pretty much a rite of passage in the state. Pick up a sub — with Boar’s Head, preferably — on the way to the park. No matter your direction and entrance, there’s sure to be a Publix on the way. Homestead, Miami and Naples stores are within 45 minutes of the three most heavily trafficked entrances.
Carlsbad Caverns (New Mexico)
Off-site: Park your car and take a seat on the picnic bench outside La Patrona, an excellent food truck parked 20 minutes down National Park Highway from Carlsbad’s visitor center. Everything on the menu is good, but the barbacoa tacos and the chile relleno burrito are as memorable as a visit to the park.
Badlands (South Dakota)
Off-site: There are several options in the towns surrounding the park, but world-class dining options lure many to Rapid City, about 45 minutes from the park. Independent Ale House is particularly good, with a gigantic selection of craft beers and excellent, inexpensive pizza. For $8 to $10, fill up on creative pies like the baked potato pizza with garlic red mashed potatoes, crumbled bacon, green onions and cheese, with a dollop of sour cream.
Big Bend (Texas)
Off-site: About a 40-minute drive outside the park, 12 Gage Restaurant, inside the Old West-chic Gage Hotel, offers Texas specialties with a high-end twist. The award-winning destination features a seasonally changing menu of game meat and Tex-Mex, relying on locally sourced ingredients. Anticipate creative dishes like confit duck flauta, Korean-style barbecued rabbit shank, and red deer tenderloin with peppercorn sauce and pommes frites.
Bryce Canyon (Utah)
Off-site: Stone Hearth Grille may not be inside the park, but the views from the deck are (almost) as spectacular. Located at the Stone Canyon Inn, the restaurant is one of the few fine-dining options in the area, and one of the best in the state, balancing vegetarian and meat dishes. Start with wild mushroom tartare before cutting into a hearty steak — or cauliflower steaks, for the meatless — offered with bearnaise, cilantro chimichurri or mushroom bordelaise. Save room for dessert: The creme brulee and orange mousse are excellent. The restaurant is open for dinner throughout the summer months.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison (Colorado)
Picnic: Serving breakfast and lunch in a casual farmhouse setting, Daily Bread Bakery & Cafe is a great stop on the way to the park. Fill up on oatmeal or a breakfast burrito and order a classic deli-style egg salad sandwich to go. Local ingredients are used in many dishes, and the bakery offers a nice selection of bread, including a gluten-free option.
Picnic: Serving breakfast and lunch, Love Muffin Cafe is an ideal place to stock up before reaching the park. The menu specializes in healthy dishes like warm quinoa and huevos rancheros, as well as sandwiches that are easy to pack. Options include a classic muffuletta, chipotle turkey and Vietnamese banh mi.
Congaree (South Carolina)
Picnic: Set inside a cute refurbished home, Whippoorwill Cafe & Bakery in Hopkins is a favorite stop for those visiting the park. Hunks of meat are cooked in-house and sliced to order, which makes the sandwiches stand out from the usual. Choose a whole sandwich or two halves from options like the Twisted Reuben with chipotle island sauce, or an avocado-turkey with applewood smoked bacon, spinach, Roma tomato, sliced red onion and Boursin cheese.
Crater Lake (Oregon)
Off-site: Since 1926, Beckie’s Cafe has served locals and visitors homestyle fare. On the property of Union Creek Resort, both the cafe and the hotel are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and serve food just as classic; indulge in country-fried steak for breakfast and sandwiches for lunch. Recover from a day of hiking with a juicy rib eye or pork chop. No matter when you visit, make sure to save room for dessert: The daily homemade pies are out of this world.
Cuyahoga Valley (Ohio)
Picnic: Get two meals in one fell swoop: Sit down for breakfast at Doug’s Dinner Bucket in Hudson, then order sandwiches to go. Open at 6 a.m., the diner offers hearty dishes to start the day, at a steal. Two breakfast sandwiches can ring in around $10, and omelets are also available. On your way out, order a BLT or egg salad sandwich to go.
Death Valley (California)
Picnic: The Timbisha Shoshone tribe are the native people of Death Valley, who once inhabited villages peppered throughout the region. Now their one village, Timbisha at Furnace Creek, is located inside the the national park. Head to Timbisha Tribal Office (621 W. Line St. #109; 760-872-3614) for some of the best food in the valley. In a rec-room-like space, the succinct menu offers fantastic Indian tacos — a fluffy fry-bread base piled high with beans, lettuce, tomato, red onion and cheese and loaded with ground beef. Eat there or take it to go, but make sure to order some shaved ice for dessert.
Picnic: Serving great coffee and “food with integrity,” The Black Bear has been a Denali stalwart since 1997. Dishes include salads, hearty barbecued pulled pork sandwiches and mac ‘n’ cheese loaded with smoked Gouda, cheddar, chipotle crumbs and meat. For those on the run, there’s a cold grab-and-go case offering snacks and sandwiches such as smoked chicken salad and ham and cheddar.
Channel Islands (California)
Off-site: A glass of wine is often the perfect finale to a long day in the sun. Have one (or more) at The CAVE in Ventura. Serving 32 different options by the ounce on the premises of Ventura Wine Company, the restaurant offers prime pairings with inexpensive small plates, including margherita pizza, a filet of beef, calamari risotto and a California tuna roll.
Dry Tortugas (Florida)
Picnic: Just a few blocks from the marina, Cole’s Peace bakes impressive loaves of bread from untreated flours, whole grains and live leavening cultures, using a hearthstone oven. Each one is fantastic as is, but even better with fillings. Options include Cordon Bleu Chicken with ham and Swiss cheese sauce on a baguette, and roast beef with arugula, cucumbers, peppers, horseradish and cheddar on sourdough bread.
Off-site: Rainbow trout, bison steaks, huckleberry pie: Two Sisters Cafe serves classic Montana fare a short drive from Glacier’s east entrance. This quirky place is decorated with bumper stickers, license plates, cute inflatables and other knickknacks, creating a fun, laid-back vibe. The menu is just as eclectic as the ambience, with an international selection that includes chicken-fried steak, chicken Parmesan and falafel.
Glacier Bay (Alaska)
On-site: Located in the Glacier Bay Lodge, the only indoor accommodations in the park, Fairweather Dining Room offers breathtaking views in weather fair and stormy. Enjoy the panoramas from inside or out on the deck while filling up on local seafood.
Great Basin (Nevada)
Off-site: One-stop meal and provisions shop T&D’s Country Store, Restaurant and Bar (1 Main St.; 775-234-7264) offers hiking supplies for the park paired with an impressive list of global fare, including Italian, Mexican and American dishes. Most guests go for the pizza, which has a thicker and almost Greek-style crust and is served scorching hot.
Great Sand Dunes (Colorado)
Off-site: No trip to the Southwest is complete without Mexican food, and the place to go for it in Alamosa is El Super Taco. Beef, pork and chicken tacos are made to order, hearty and full of flavor. Each dish is served with a plentiful selection of salsas, cabbage and pickled vegetables at the topping bar. There’s no going wrong, but the carne asada fries draw fans from all around.
Guadalupe Mountains (Texas)
Picnic/Off-site: Cornudas Cafe (180 US-62; 915-964-2508) is about 20 minutes from the park. It offers cold sandwiches — ham, turkey and roast beef — that are ideal for packing up for a hike. However, the place also serves hot dishes that are perfect for eating onsite. Fill up on omelets, pancakes, BBQ beef, a burrito plate and more.
Picnic: Fresh-baked pastries, great coffee and excellent crepes draw crowds to La Provence. Open for breakfast and lunch, the casual bistro is a top stop for guests traveling to and from the park. Sit down or take away fluffy quiche or French-inspired sandwiches such as the Poulet au Brie with roasted turkey, maple bacon, lettuce and tomato.
Hot Springs (Arkansas)
Off-site: Anyone who’s met a New York pizza fiend knows that good pizza starts with great water. DeLuca’s Pizzeria, a short drive from the visitor center, has some of the best pies in the country, made using high-quality ingredients and water from the springs. Try Frankie’s Classic Margherita Pie, which features a thin brick-oven-cooked crust topped with mozzarella, Parmigiano-Reggiano, extra virgin olive oil and homemade tomato sauce, then fresh basil.
Off-site: Zion Canyon Brewing Company is Southern Utah’s first microbrewery. It offers a range of craft-brew styles — from crisp lagers and hoppy IPAs to malty stouts — that are paired with elevated pub grub like sandwiches and burgers. Whatever your main, make sure to try the chimichurri fries on the side.
Off-site: The restaurant at Tutka Bay Lodge (907-274-2710) in Homer is highly acclaimed. Award-winning chefs Kirsten and Mandy Dixon create daily menus with organic, local Alaska ingredients, many of which are grown onsite or foraged nearby. The truffle gnocchi with wild mushrooms and reindeer tenderloin are perennial hits.
Gates of the Arctic (Alaska)
Off-site: Good food and Gold Rush history is what you’ll find at Pump House Restaurant and Saloon. This National Historic Site, established in 1933, is adorned with period relics, a vintage mahogany bar and open views of the Chena River. The menu features classics like prime aged beef and local seafood (king crab and grilled salmon are top-sellers), along with a list of wine and craft brews.
Kenai Fjords (Alaska)
Off-site: Resurrection Roadhouse is an award-winning favorite among locals in Seward, the gateway town to Kenai. The restaurant is located in the stunningly beautiful Seward Windsong Lodge, overlooking Resurrection River Valley, and the menu includes a mix of wild Alaskan seafood, burgers, and housemade and herb-crusted pizzas.
Kings Canyon (California)
Picnic: The Peaks Restaurant at Wuksachi Lodge has great views of the southern Sierra Nevada and impressive local cuisine, including pan-seared ruby-red trout and beef burgers made from grass-fed cattle. For those aiming to maximize time on the trails, the Lodge also sells boxed lunches with choices such as an albacore tuna salad croissant, a chicken Caesar wrap, and a sliced ham and aged cheddar sandwich on ciabatta. Selections come with a nonalcoholic beverage, kettle chips, fruit and homemade cookies.
Kobuk Valley (Alaska)
Lake Clark (Alaska)
On-site: Situated on privately owned land surrounded by 4.1 million acres of national park, Redoubt Mountain Lodge (866-733-3034) offers remote luxury on the shores of glacier-fed Crescent Lake. The dining room is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner; homemade baked goods and entrees, such as cedar-planked salmon, rib-eye steak and barbecue brisket, are on offer.
Lassen Volcanic (California)
On-site: To escape the crowds, head to Drakesbad Guest Ranch in the isolated eastern section of the park. The historical ranch offers an excellent lunch buffet and prix-fixe dinner of locally sourced meets. The highlight is the weekly outdoor barbecue on Wednesdays, with ribs, sausages, steak and burgers. Reservations are required.
Mammoth Cave (Kentucky)
Off-site: A Little Taste of Texas is exactly as advertised. The Western-themed Glasgow restaurant offers excellent fare from the Lone Star state, including hearty award-winning grilled and chicken-fried steaks, ranch-seasoned fried chicken, fried green tomatoes and juicy burgers.
Mesa Verde (Colorado)
On-site: Mesa Verde protects the cliff dwellings of ancient Pueblo people, dating back to the year 550. After exploring the impressively preserved structures, head for Metate Room, just off the lobby of the Far View Lodge, for upscale food paired with casual ambiance and beautiful Mesa Verde scenery. Unique, largely sustainable dishes such as elk Wellington and pan-seared trout, with three-bean-and-corn succotash and red chile jam, are available.
Off-site: Nosh on superb chile rellenos and enchiladas rancheras at La Casita de Cortez in Cortez. Since 2012 the restaurant has been a local favorite for its authentic Mexican cuisine and options of indoor and outdoor seating. Make sure to try the fried ice cream for dessert.
Mount Rainier (Washington)
Off-site: Accomplished Nepalese climber Lhakpa Gelu Sherpa — holder of the world speed record on Everest — and his wife, Fulamu, offer solid Sherpa-Himalayan cuisine right near Rainier at Wildberry Restaurant. They serve healthy and hearty fare, such as momo (Himalayan dumplings) and Sherpa Stew, suited for work on the mountains. American dishes are available, too, including a killer huckleberry pie.
North Cascades (Washington)
Picnic: Load up on baked goods at Stehekin Pastry Company, 2 miles up Stehekin Valley Road from the boat landing. Choose from homemade pastries and a short menu of breakfast and lunch items that are ideal for eating outside. Healthy salads and soups are on the menu, but it’s worth indulging in the treats, particularly the massive cinnamon rolls that are basically the size of a human head.
Off-site: Little Devil’s Lunchbox is a top lunch destination in Port Angeles. Mexican-inspired dishes include fresh tacos, salads, and burritos filled with shredded beer-can chicken, pulled pork, seasonal vegetables and housemade salsas. Word to the wise: The pineapple salsa is a crowd-pleaser.
Off-site: Stop at La Plaza Bakery for a quick meal after a morning hike. The bakery specializes in Mexican pastries — including fresh sweet breads — but also serves savory entrees with a speedy turnaround. Burritos and tortas are packed with carnitas, carne asada and fresh Mexican cheese.
Picnic: Fuel the car and your stomach at Shoreline Deli & Market (120025 US-101, Orick). This gas station operates a quick-serve cafe with well-portioned, customizable sandwiches and milkshakes, just minutes from the Lady Bird Johnson Grove trail.
Rocky Mountain (Colorado)
Off-site: Enjoy healthy, high-quality fare at Moon Kats Tea Shoppe in Estes Park. There are well-designed salads — including the Pacific Rim Salad with sesame-glazed chicken, buckwheat noodles, vegetables and sesame dressing — interesting sandwiches (PB&J on banana bread), from-scratch soups and wholesome snacks. High tea is available with 48-hour advance reservations.
Isle Royale (Michigan)
Off-site: Before boarding the ferry to the island park, stop by Suomi Home Bakery and Restaurant in Houghton. The place is a local favorite for its Finnish-inspired breakfasts and fresh-baked pastries. Sample rare dishes like Finnish-style French toast and pannukakku, a custardy oven-baked pancake served with sweet raspberry sauce. And make sure to pick up an extra treat to take for a midday snack.
Off-site: Indulge in upscale Italian, fresh from the on-site garden at Primo. James Beard Foundation Award winner Chef Melissa Kelly and her pastry chef husband, Price Kushner, serve new interpretations of rustic Italian cuisine that can be best enjoyed on the garden patio.
Picnic: From May 21 to September 25, dine alfresco at Wolverton BBQ (62805 Wolverton Rd.; 559-565-4070), an old-school cookout in Wolverton Meadow. Pig out on ribs, grilled chicken with mango salsa, bratwurst and sides like corn on the cob, lemony potato salad and slaw.
On-site: Skyland Resort within the park has multiple dining options. For fine dining, the Pollock Dining Room (540-999-2212) serves regional specialties with picturesque views of the Shenandoah Valley and a can’t-be-missed Mile-High Blackberry Ice Cream Pie. The Mountain Taproom serves lighter, more casual fare, and the appropriately titled Grab ‘N Go is the place to pick up picnic food.
Great Smoky Mountains (North Carolina and Tennessee)
Off-site: Cataloochee Guest Ranch sits right on the edge of Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Maggie Valley. Throughout the summer months, the ranch offers homestyle dinner options that change daily — family-style dinners with prime rib, baked ham or herb-baked chicken on some days, and barbecues and cookouts on other days.
Theodore Roosevelt (North Dakota)
Picnic: Pick up elevated deli classics from Siggy’s Sandwich. The Watford City shop stacks filling combinations, including lamb, chicken or veggie gyros, curry chicken, a turkey club and the creative Curious George (peanut butter, sliced banana and applewood-smoked bacon, served on sourdough with a drizzle of honey).
Off-site: Breakfast, lunch and dinner are all on the docket at Chocolate Moose Restaurant Company. The place serves uncomplicated American food done well: burgers, sandwiches, steaks and local walleye. The latter is a favorite, served both on a dinner plate and in sandwich form.
Wind Cave (South Dakota)
Picnic: Start the day right at Mornin’ Sunshine (509 N. River St.; 605-745-4226) in Hot Springs. With strong Wi-Fi and even stronger coffee, it’s a great place to prepare for a day of exploration, particularly over freshly baked pastries — the monkey bread is legendary — and breads. Bagel sandwiches and panini make for heartier picnic fare.
Off-site: Break a sweat at Thai Thai Restaurant. Situated just outside the park, at the Lava Lodge at Hale Kilauea, the elaborate dining room specializes in spicy Thai dishes. Look for Northern Thai-style larb, papaya salad and all the usual noodles and curry dishes. The mahi mahi curry and the spring rolls are two of the top sellers.