Where to Eat at Every National Park
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America has some pretty spectacular natural sites. On Aug. 25, 2016, the National Parks Service celebrates its centennial. In honor of its 100 years, we’ve gone from coast to coast, just as Woody Guthrie sang, “From California to the New York island; from the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters,” to find the best things to eat at the national parks, whether onsite, offsite or as a picnic.
Yellowstone (Wyoming, Montana, Idaho)
On-site: Celebrating its 125th anniversary in 2016 with a major renovation, the first national park’s premier restaurant, Lake Yellowstone Hotel, is better than ever. The updated Colonial revival dining room features the most-ambitious fare in the park, with locally sourced proteins such as Montana lamb and bison tenderloin from South Dakota.
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.
On-site: Formerly the Ahwahnee, The Majestic Yosemite Dining Room is still the best place to eat in stunning Yosemite Valley, offering classic American fare like rotisserie free-range chicken with cheddar polenta, as well as boysenberry pie, a fixture that’s been on the menu for more than 50 years. The dining room spectacular, with a 34-foot-high ceiling propped up by huge pine trestles and granite pillars. Though you’re within a national park, the restaurant maintains a dress code: no shorts, T-shirts, tank tops, flip-flops or baseball caps.
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)
Off-site: Housed in a historic 1915 cabin, Sweetwater Restaurant is just about as Old West as it gets. The menu offers a smorgasbord of Wyoming-inspired comfort classics like buffalo chili, elk osso buco and cowboy rib eye. Rachael Ray stopped by the time-honored pioneer home for lunch while filming $40 A Day, sampling the Cowboy sandwich with roast beef, bacon, cheddar, mushrooms and horseradish sauce on a hoagie.
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)
Off-site: The dining room of the 1905 El Tovar Hotel, set right above the canyon’s south rim, is one of the most celebrated of the Historic National Park Lodges and a favorite of visiting dignitaries and gourmands: President Theodore Roosevelt, President Bill Clinton and Sir Paul McCartney have sat in the chairs. The traditional menu integrates Continental and Southwestern influences; the salmon tostada is a longtime signature dish.
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.
Off-site: Like many of the parks, Arches has no onsite dining, so guests should explore nearby Moab’s many restaurants and bars. Right on Main Street, Bangkok House Too, the spinoff of the original Moab Thai bistro and sushi bar, offers bright fare that's ideal after a day hiking in the desert, including red curry, Thai basil stir-fry and drunken noodles as well as Japanese dishes. The crispy duck salad is filling yet refreshing with celery, red onion, cilantro and lime juice.
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)
On-site: Operated by Ortega National Parks, the Painted Desert Diner is the only restaurant within the confines of the park. The short menu tends toward healthy fare, and it includes breakfast and lunch sandwiches and burgers with Southwest and Native American influences. Lamb stew and cornbread are particularly appealing after a day of wandering the park.
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)
Picnic: Pack a basket with healthy vegetarian and vegan fare from The Natural Sisters Cafe. The Joshua Tree spot offers smoothies, juices, natural baked goods and organic food sure to sate even the most-active rock climbers and hikers. Pick up an eggless tofu sandwich or a warm curried rice wrap, then head off into the high desert sun. The cafe also offers a sit-down option.
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.
On-site: Between park excursions, stop by Acadia Jordan Pond House for popovers. Overlooking the water, the restaurant has served tea and baked goods since the late 1800s. For a heartier meal, add on a Maine-style lobster roll or lobster stew.
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.
Off-site: Covering Biscayne Bay and its offshore barrier reef, this national park requires a watercraft for those who want to explore. If you have your own, you can depart from nearly any coastal point in Miami. Those who don’t can enter the park through the visitor center in Homestead. While there, head to Shiver’s BBQ, a family-owned and -operated joint that’s served hickory-smoked barbecue for more than six decades. It can be tough to narrow the choices, but the place is hailed for its awesome pork and beef ribs, chicken, brisket, and pulled pork.
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.
Off-site: The River of Grass covers a huge swath of land, with numerous entrances leading to diverse, far-reaching sections of the park. A short drive from Miami, Shark Valley is one of the more accessible routes. After cycling, walking or riding the tram around, kick back with a cocktail and Latin gastropub fare at Finka Table & Tap. Owner Eileen Andrade fuses her Cuban heritage with Peruvian and Korean influences for creative dishes like oxtail mushroom risotto.
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)
On-site: Set beside the visitor center, Carlsbad Caverns Trading Company (727 Carlsbad Cavern Hwy.; 575-785-2281) features a short selection of dishes that nod to Southwestern and American traditions. Depending on your cravings, go for New Mexican pork adovada and quesadillas or an all-beef chili dog.
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)
On-site: Set among the towering buttes, pinnacles and spires of Badlands National Park, Cedar Pass Lodge offers stunning panoramas of the park along with locally inspired cuisine, including the famous Sioux Indian Tacos. Pillowy fry bread is topped with refried beans, buffalo meat, shredded lettuce, tomato, cheddar cheese and black olives, with a side of salsa and sour cream. It’s a meal as memorable as the views.
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)
On-site: The Mountain View Restaurant inside Chisos Mountains Lodge is the only full-service dining option in the park, which means it offers one of the most-magnificent backdrops in all of Texas. (Tip: Try for a window seat or a table on the patio.) The menu is filled with Lone Star State-inspired entrees, including chicken-fried steak. Make sure to try the salad bar, which includes crisp greens, fresh vegetables, hard-boiled egg, ham and three different kinds of dressing.
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)
On-site: Designed by Gilbert Stanley Underwood, Bryce Canyon Lodge is an impeccable example of National Park Service rustic design (aka Parkitecture) — the service’s attempt to create buildings that don’t compete with the parks’ natural beauty. A grand stone fireplace anchors the graceful rustic dining room, which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner on a first-come, first-served basis. Anticipate locally influenced dishes like Yovimpa Point huevos rancheros, Wasatch grilled buffalo flank steak and quinoa primavera.
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)
Off-site: There are no restaurants within the confines of Black Canyon of the Gunnison, the overwhelming two-million-year-old “Grand Canyon of Colorado”; however, there are some excellent options 14 miles away from the South Rim in Montrose. The Stone House is a perennial favorite and a local special-occasion destination. The extensive menu offers a wide array of choices, including seafood, pasta, burgers and plenty of meat. The prime rib is a must-try, smoke-roasted and served with ruby port jus and apple horseradish sauce.
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.
Off-site: Canyonlands is another park without dining or lodging options, unless you choose to camp and cook yourself. Many visitors stay nearby in Moab, which is a worthy vacation destination on its own. For those who do, Desert Bistro is excellent, serving elevated Southwestern dishes and legendary housemade bread. Expect to see flavorful items like grilled pork tenderloin with apple and chipotle pepper beurre blanc, served with a shredded-potato-and-herb galette and sauteed vegetables.
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)
Off-site: With the largest intact expanse of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest in the Southeast, Congaree National Park is a stunning sight that is very, very remote. Sate your hunger in advance with pit-cooked pork at Big T’s Bar-B-Que. The local chain offers all the regional mainstays: smoked meat, hash and rice, and Carolina gold barbecue sauce.
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)
On-site: With a magnificent old stone fireplace and killer views of the park’s namesake lake, Crater Lake Lodge Dining Room is unparalleled in ambience and cuisine. The only fine-dining option inside the park, the Lodge serves an array of Northwest cuisine made from regional ingredients. Anticipate wild Alaskan salmon and elk chops with a huckleberry-walnut glaze. Favorites include the Pacific Northwest clam chowder and a triple-berry cobbler made with blackberries, raspberries and marionberries.
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)
Off-site: When in Cuyahoga Valley, do as the locals do: Dine at Russo’s. The longtime favorite offers a mix of Italian and Cajun soul food with Southwestern flavors thrown in, for results like Louisiana crawfish Monica with gemelli pasta, corn-fried Gulf oysters, homemade ravioli and steak pizzaiola. The Navajo tacos and peanut butter pie are the stuff of local lore, and a reason that reservations are essential and tables are perpetually packed.
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)
On-site: Travel back to the Wild West at the Badwater Saloon, an old-timey-themed spot at Stovepipe Wells Village. Quench your thirst with a specialty cocktail or one of more than 20 beers on tap, including the house Death Valley brew. Menu items range from light wraps and pork quesadillas to Western-style cowboy steak salad and homemade chili.
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.
Off-site: 229 Parks’ chef-owner, Laura Cole, offers a daily changing menu that takes advantage of Alaska’s seasonal bounty. Alaskan seafood is a big draw, with the menu showcasing fresh wild halibut, king crab, king salmon and oysters from Halibut Cove. To foster a sense of community, Cole frequently hosts art shows and cooking classes, making this a great place to eat with and greet locals.
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)
Picnic: A do-it-yourself outdoor meal is often composed of sandwiches from the nearest deli. Channel Islands Provisioners (805-758-3375) is far more inspiring. Serving Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, the company sells tailored, farm-to-table picnics that are sensitive to dietary needs and preferences. They work with transportation concessionaire Island Packers for dockside meal drop-off. Packages include a light breakfast for the boat ride, as well as lunch and a snack, with picks like steel-cut oatmeal, a free-range-egg frittata, a spice-rubbed roast turkey sandwich and a chopped salad. Dinners are also available for campers.
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)
Off-site: Dry Tortugas National Park has no restaurants, so hungry visitors will have to fill up in Key West. Sail over to Half Shell Raw Bar for impeccable local seafood. Located in a former shrimp-packing plant, this casual fish house and seafood market serves great food in an open-air space overlooking the harbor. Sample local specialties, including stone crabs (during season), chilled Key West peel-and-eat shrimp and conch ceviche.
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.
On-site: More than a century ago, Lake McDonald Lodge was established as a hunting base and designed to resemble a Swiss chalet. Now it’s Glacier National Park’s premier hotel, and its fine-dining restaurant, Russell’s Fireside Dining Room, is the best in the park. With wooden walls, exposed beams and a stone fireplace, the space echoes the feel of the historic building. Breakfast, lunch and dinner menus are made up of locally inspired fare, like Columbia River steelhead trout and braised Snake River Farms Kurobuta pork shank.
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)
Off-site: With 3.3 million acres of mountains, forests, coastlines, fjords and the namesake glaciers, Glacier Bay has plenty for visitors to see, and the Gustavus Inn offers a great vantage point. A historical homestead set right in the Salmon River meadow with spectacular views of Icy Strait, the lodge has been run by the Lesh family since 1965. In 2010 the hotel’s restaurant was honored with a James Beard Foundation America’s Classics award. Nearly everything is made on the premises, including the beloved sourdough rolls and rhubarb jam. Ingredients are sourced from the onsite garden, local farms and area fishermen, meaning there's always fresh salmon, halibut, sablefish and Dungeness crab.
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)
On-site: After caving, climbing or camping, head over to Lehman Caves Cafe (5500 West Highway 488; 775-234-7331) in Great Basin’s visitor center. The casual grab-and-go spot serves a short list of breakfast and lunch items with some egg dishes, as well as sandwiches and soup. The real draw is the dessert menu, with baked pastries and a world-renowned homemade ice cream sandwich that’s perfect for cooling down after a hike.
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)
On-site: Located right at the main entrance, Oasis Restaurant and Store (5400 CO-150; 719-378-2222) is the only restaurant within 25 miles of the park. It serves simple fare done well, including pancakes and huevos rancheros at breakfast and a French dip sandwich and quesadillas at lunch and dinner.
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)
Off-site: Guadalupe Mountains National Park is the planet’s premier example of Permian Era fossil reef, dating back nearly 300 million years. It’s also very, very remote, which means there aren’t many places to dine nearby. About 40 minutes away, in Dell City, Texas, Spanish Angels Cafe (103 Main St., Dell City) serves Mexican and American cuisines for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The menu features hearty huevos rancheros, satiating enchiladas and simple classics, including a grilled cheese sandwich.
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.
Off-site: Watching the sunrise over Haleakala is one of the most-popular activities in the Hawaiian volcanic park, for good reason. Though many guests desire a nap afterward, those who’d rather fuel up should go for breakfast at Kula Bistro en route out of the park. The cafe offers a huge selection of dishes, including multiple Benedicts, frittatas, pancakes and local favorites. One favorite breakfast is the Loco Moco, high-quality beef, two eggs and steamed rice, covered in homemade brown gravy, and topped with sauteed mushrooms and Maui onions. Lunch and dinner options are fabulous as well.
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)
On-site: Located on Historic Bathhouse Row inside Hot Springs National Park, Superior Bathhouse Brewery and Distillery brews craft beer from the healing spring water. The old building has an onsite tasting room as well as a restaurant, offering a range of gastro-pub-type fare for lunch and dinner. Look for customizable panini, local brats and Southern black-eyed pea hummus, the house favorite and consistent top-seller.
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.
On-site: Designed in 1924 by famed “parkitecture” guru Gilbert Stanley Underwood, Zion Lodge is a member of Historic Hotels of America. Red Rock Grill (435-772-7700) is its premier restaurant, with large windows that look out over the canyon and the towering stone walls. The food is the most upscale in the park. Entrees include steaks, Alaskan salmon and a very good (but pricey) bison burger.
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.
On-site: Katmai National Park is an impressive sight to see, a dynamic landscape of smoke-filled valleys and holes spewing steam and gas. That’s why it’s nicknamed Valley of 10,000 Smokes. It’s another remote destination, accessed by air taxi from Homer, so dining options are limited. The only restaurant in the park is at Alaska’s Enchanted Lake Lodge (907-694-6447), housed on 54 acres of privately owned land within Katmai. It features a complimentary bar and window-lined dining room with remarkable views of the surrounding national park and an ever-changing menu of fresh, seasonal ingredients.
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)
Picnic: With no roads or trails throughout its 8.4 million acres of wild expanse, Gates of the Arctic National Park is not the easiest place to find a snack. Visitors who haven’t brought food should stock up in Fairbanks before entering. Sit down or take away sweet and savory crepes from the appropriately named Crepery. Popular fillings include Brie and pear, as well as smoked salmon. Gluten-free versions are available.
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)
On-site: Spanning 601,839 acres, abutting the Harding Icefield, Kenai Fjords National Park is a cold, isolated beauty. The only lodge and restaurant on the Kenai Fjords coast is the Kenai Fjords Wilderness Lodge (877-777-4053), an eco-hotel located in a native-owned wildlife sanctuary. The menu focuses on Pacific Northwest ingredients, with dishes such as Chardonnay-poached halibut with caper vinaigrette, salmon belly skewers, and baked spot prawns with Yukon potatoes and Meyer lemon aioli.
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)
On-site: Cedar Grove Snack Bar (108260 North Side Dr.; 866-807-3598) serves straightforward American fare for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and options include oatmeal, biscuits and gravy, burgers, quesadillas, ribs and grilled steak. Order at the counter, then grab seats indoors or outside overlooking Kings River. The kitchen is open seasonally, from May 6 to Oct. 23, to coincide with the road to Cedar Grove.
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)
Off-site: With no roads, campgrounds or trails, visitors to Kobuk — 25 miles north of the Arctic Circle — are more likely to run into a caribou than another human, as half a million caribou migrate through the park each year. The only way in is by plane, so all provisions need to be taken in and taken out. To put it lightly, it’s not really a picnic park, and most visitors dine in Kotzebue. For takeout, Little Louie’s (388 Third Ave; 907-442-4400) has everything one could possibly want, including fabulous fried chicken and fresh, hot pizza. Bayside Inn & Restaurant (303 Shore Ave.; 907-442-3600) is a favorite sit-down spot. The place serves a comprehensive menu of global fare, including American egg-based breakfasts and pork chops, Chinese stir-fries, Japanese sushi, and Italian pasta.
Lake Clark (Alaska)
Off-site: Since Lake Clark National Park is situated 100 miles southwest of Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city is the jumping-off point for most visitors. The Crow’s Nest, located at the top of the Hotel Captain Cook in downtown Anchorage, is a local special-occasion destination with unparalleled views, stellar French and New American food, and a 10,000-bottle wine cellar. Chef de Cuisine Reuben Gerber’s Resurrection Bay Black Cod with Tempranillo-braised oxtail, Parisian gnocchi, pea tendrils and romesco sauce is an ever-popular dish.
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)
Picnic: Pick up sandwiches, salads, panini, wraps, beer, wine and specialty coffee at Lassen Cafe and Gift in the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center (21820 Lassen Peak Hwy; 530-595-4480) at the south entrance of the park, known for its steam vents and massive plug-dome volcano. Once you’ve stocked up, journey on to dine among the gurgling fumaroles, jagged peaks and mountain lakes of the park.
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)
On-site: Mammoth Cave Hotel (1 Mammoth Cave Pkwy; 877-386-4383), above the longest-known cave system in the world, runs three restaurants in season. Travertine Restaurant, the higher-end concept, is open throughout the day, drawing large crowds during breakfast for eggs, bacon, sausage, and biscuits with toppings such as black cherry jelly.
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)
On-site: Sunrise Day Lodge (Sunrise Park Rd.; 360-663-2574), a cafeteria adjacent to the ranger station, offers simple and family-friendly dining options from July through late September, the high season when most of the park’s visitor centers are open. Cheeseburgers and beef hot dogs are cooked on the grill, and chili and soup are served piping hot to combat any mountain chills. The deli sandwiches are ideal for on-trail picnics, and for those coming off the trail, the first-rate soft serve is the perfect reward.
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)
On-site: Accessible by boat, plane or foot, North Cascades Lodge at Stehekin is a laid-back retreat on the shores of Lake Chelan. It offers a casual lunch (burgers and sandwiches) from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. year-round. During summer the restaurant also serves dinner — think bacon-wrapped meatloaf and rib eye — and nightly specials, such as carne asada tacos and risotto with vegetables from the chef’s garden, all ideal with prime vistas of the sun setting over the lake.
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.
On-site: The Green Restaurant Association-certified Creekside Restaurant, inside the Kalaloch Lodge highlights majestic ocean views complemented by a menu that reflects the Pacific Northwest. For dinner, expect Painted Hills New York strip and Dungeness crab mac and cheese featuring Beecher’s, an artisanal cheese made in Seattle. Breakfast is the preferred meal, with picks including buttermilk sourdough pancakes and smoked salmon hash.
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.
Picnic: With jagged hilltops and chaparral, Pinnacles offers spectacular hikes and vast wilderness, but no dining options. Pack a picnic at Bruno’s Market & Deli (Junipero St. & 6th Ave.; 831-624-3821) in Carmel-by-the Sea or Corral Market & Deli in Salinas. Owned by the same folks, both offer elevated deli sandwiches, wine and prepared dishes.
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.
Off-site: With nods from national culinary organizations and food publications, Restaurant 301 in Eureka’s Carter House Inns is considered a destination restaurant. Herbs, greens and vegetables from the on-site garden are matched with regional ingredients (think abalone and scallops, Dungeness crab cakes and Humboldt beef tenderloin) and wines from an impressive 3,400-selection list.
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)
Onsite/Picnic: Find made-to-order sandwiches on organic bread, as well as crisp salads and flavorful soups, at Café at Trail Ridge (970-586-2133). Located in the same building as the Trail Ridge store, the cafe is a one-stop shop for food and gear, with beautiful views as a bonus.
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)
On-site: The perfect culmination to a day out in the woods? Pizza, burgers, brats and beer. Find them all at Greenstone Grill (906-337-4993), the casual restaurant at Rock Harbor Lodge, on Isle Royale in the middle of Lake Superior. The log-cabin-style lodge offers a mix of regional brews and comfort food. Anticipate salads, burgers, wraps and 12-inch pies like the Superior Pizza, topped with marinara, mozzarella, slivered ham, sausage, mushroom, bell pepper and onion.
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.
Picnic: Southern breakfast-and-lunch joint Biscuits Country Cafe is one of East Tucson’s most-popular places to break the fast. Regulars love the lofty pancakes and crisp home fries. Later in the day, the cafe offers nearly 20 sandwiches, which can be packed to go. Some travel better than others — grilled cheese, for example, is better eaten on the premises. Pack up a tuna salad, BLT or pastrami on rye, and get ready to admire the cacti.
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.
On-site: Admire forest and mountain vistas through the floor-to-ceiling windows at The Peaks Restaurant, housed inside the Wuksachi Lodge. All three meals of the day are served inside the beautiful space. Specialties include pan-seared ruby red trout and grass-fed beef burger, and boxed lunches are available for those who’d rather get outside.
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.
Off-site: Food lovers from near and far are willing to drive to The Shack in Staunton for a taste of Chef-Owner Ian Boden’s Virginia cuisine: He’s earned a ton of national nods and awards. The menu features items like Wagyu oyster steak, rare seared escolar and foie gras torchon with miso banana bread, lemon verbena lime syrup and glazed cipollini.
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)
On-site: Eat quickly or take food to go from Cades Cove Campground Store & Bicycle Rental (10035 Campground Dr.; 865-448-9034), which sells all-American fare, including soups, pizza, hot dogs, sandwiches and renowned soft serve.
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)
Off-site: Set inside the historic Rough Riders Hotel in Medora, built in 1884, Theodore’s Dining Room is a unique experience: The elegant space, with an old fireplace and intricate stained-glass windows from a Wisconsin church, contrasts with its rugged surroundings. The menu features Western Plains fare like bison, venison and duck, as well as an acclaimed lobster bisque.
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).
Picnic: Locals love Sandy’s Place (1510 2nd Ave.; 218-285-9108) in International Falls for its hearty breakfasts and no-nonsense sandwiches. The kitchen concocts regional classics like buttermilk pancakes, steak and eggs, and walleye fish and eggs. Burgers and sandwiches make up the bulk of the lunch menu and can easily be ordered to go. Cold turkey, ham or roast beef sandwiches are the best choices to grab for the park.
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)
Off-site: The aroma of slowly cooked meat wafts through the air as you approach Smokin’ T/D BBQ (239 N. River St.; 605-745-5070) in Hot Springs. Open in the summer months, the pit-style outdoor joint offers a short, to-the-point menu of barbecue classics, including ribs, chicken and pulled pork. It’s all good, but the brisket sandwich is nearly the equal of the ones you’d find in Texas.
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.
On-site: The Rim, the newly renovated restaurant at Volcano House, offers one of the hottest views on the planet. The dining room, overlooking the rim of Kilauea caldera, commands a view of Halema‘uma‘u Crater (hence the name). Local ranchers and farmers supply the chefs with 95 percent of the ingredients for dishes like pork sliders and ahi poke.
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.