The Best Restaurants Inside 20 Different National Parks (Slideshow)
April 14, 2016
Delightful dining can, in fact, be found inside many of America’s National Parks; here are the top picks for 20 parks
Acadia National Park, Maine — Jordan Pond House
The Jordan Pond House is the only restaurant located within the borders of Maine’s Acadia National Park, but lucky for us, it’s a fantastic one. Of course, given the state’s brutal colder months, Jordan Pond is only open from May to October, but that just makes us want it more. Plus, there’s some lovely outdoor seating, so you’ll want to be able to enjoy that. But enough about the setting, let’s get to the food. Seafood dominates here, naturally, so try the crab cakes, steamed mussels, house lobster stew, seafood chowder, pumpkin seed-crusted sea scallops, and boiled lobster — all coming from Maine, of course. Or, for carnivores, opt for the Maine cheese plate, farmers market stew, chicken breast, strip steak, or buffalo meatloaf. The popovers are famous here, so be sure to try one, or better yet: a popover sundae topped with ice cream and chocolate sauce.
Big Bend National Park, Texas — Chisos Mountains Lodge Restaurant
When a restaurant is situated in the middle of a national park, it’s safe to say it caters to hikers and other lovers of the outdoors — but Chisos Mountain Lodge Restaurant in Big Bend National Park takes the idea to new heights. The chefs know exactly what guests need, and start them off with a hearty breakfast buffet in the morning (from October to June), or à la carte dishes like huevos rancheros and omelettes. Lunch is served until 4 p.m. every day in order to give guests plenty of time outdoors, and they even offer a “hikers lunch” for those who want to dine on-the-go surrounded by nature. Need to refuel after the end of a long, active day? Head back for cream of potato soup, chicken-fried steak, the “Poco Caliente” burger, or a mango spinach salad, and watch the picturesque sunset through the restaurant’s large wall of windows.
Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah — The Lodge at Bryce Canyon
We absolutely adore the Grand Canyon, but it’s time some other beautiful canyons get a little love too — like Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah. Not only will the rock formations showcase breathtaking views to tourists all day long, but the park also has an outstanding restaurant at the lodge at Bryce Canyon, which is called — you guessed it — The Lodge at Bryce Canyon. Opening every spring (it’s closed during the winter months), the 180-seat dining room not only offers local, organic, and sustainable dishes, but vegetarian, low-fat, and gluten-free options as well. There’s thick-cut French toast, along with gluten-free griddle cakes, huevos rancheros, and breakfast burritos in the morning, and numerous salads and sandwiches (like pulled pork and BLTs), bison stew, Alaskan cod fish tacos, and short ribs cavatappi for lunch or dinner, with a larger menu in the evening. We’d recommend washing it all down with a local Wasatch beer or one of several Utah wines offered at the Lodge. Making things even easier, reservations are not required, and the attire is casual.
Crater Lake National Park, Oregon — Crater Lake Lodge Dining Room
When there’s a void in your stomach while visiting Oregon’s Crater Lake National Park, opt to eat locally-grown and gathered grub at the Crater Lake Lodge Dining Room. Start the day by stuffing yourself with sausage and scrambled egg-stuffed biscuits and gravy or eggs Benedict, and end the evening with Oregon mussels meunière, duck spring rolls, elk chops, bison meatloaf, pork tenderloin, or filet mignon and house-made crab cakes. Don’t neglect the Oregon wine selection or the desserts, like the triple berry cobbler or blueberry bread pudding. If you request a window seat for views of the lake and surrounding mountains, eating won’t be the only thing that makes your jaw drop.
Death Valley National Park, California — The Inn at Furnace Creek Dining Room
Death Valley National Park might sound like the perfect place to starve, but rest easy, there are actually several solid restaurant options within its borders — none better than The Inn at Furnace Creek Dining Room. Surrounded by stunning desert and mountain views, guest can even opt to sit (weather permitting) on the veranda for unobstructed splendor. Too chilly? Take shelter at a table near one of the fireplaces instead. Either way, the food — featuring classic American, continental, Southwestern, and Pacific Rim influences — will still impress. Whether it’s the salmon, free-range chicken, filet mignon, or even the signature prickly pear margarita, put your trust in The Inn — which has been doing business since 1927.
Glacier National Park, Montana — Russell’s Fireside Dining
Inside the great state of Montana, you’ll find Glacier National Park. Inside that park, you’ll find the Lake McDonald Lodge. Inside that lodge, you’ll find the best restaurant in the area at Russell’s Fireside Dining Room. Serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner from menus that change seasonally, the eatery offers a continental or full buffet in the mornings (along with à la carte items like eggs any style, flapjacks, quiche, and smoked salmon), and, later in the day, tomato and wild mushroom flatbreads, grilled bone-in pork chops, sautéed rainbow trout, crab and cornbread-stuffed pollock, braised lamb shank, meatloaf, burgers, and beef tenderloin. There are no reservations taken at the hunting lodge-inspired restaurant adorned with trophies and rough-hewn beams, and there’s no dress code.
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona — Grand Canyon Lodge
Skip the more touristy (and more crowded) parts of Grand Canyon National Park, and head to the North Rim instead. There, in addition to rim-side camping, you’ll find the 80-year-old Grand Canyon Lodge (a National Historic Landmark) and its beautiful woodwork. Order the elk chili, stuffed portobello, jumbo chicken wings, or grilled scallops to start, and follow that up with smoked duck breast, venison meatloaf, prime rib and mushroom roll, rock salmon, or shrimp pomodoro. The restaurant uses fresh, local, and healthy food as much as possible, and is a proud member of the Green Restaurant Association. The Lodge is open from May to October annually.
Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming — Jenny Lake Lodge
Apologies to the Jackson Lake Lodge dining room, another outstanding Grand Teton National Park eatery, but our pick of the park is the Jenny Lake Lodge. The dining room at this AAA four-diamond resort offers breakfast, brunch, and a five-course ever-changing dinner menu paired with an award-winning wine list (with selections from Italy to New Zealand to California) and includes dishes like seared diver scallops, Port-braised buffalo short ribs, and pheasant breast. For an elegant yet rustic fine dining experience in the middle of one of the most beautiful parts of the state, look no further.
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii — The Rim
How about a little love for our fiftieth state? In Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park on Hawaii’s Big Island you’ll find the Volcano House, the state’s oldest hotel, which was built back in 1846. Recently restored, the hotel has 33 guest rooms, 10 cabins, a number of campsites, and a newly-refurbished restaurant called The Rim. This fine dining eatery offers sprawling views of the Halema’uma’u Crater paired with dishes that include local meat, seafood, fruit, and vegetables. Choose from house-made pastries, smoothies, and made-to-order waffles in the morning, and Asian barbecue prawns, a sashimi sampler, ahi poke with crispy wontons, pineapple-wrapped island fish, aged Angus ribeye, coffee-rubbed lamb, and herb macadamia pesto cavatappi later in the day.
Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas — Superior Bathhouse Brewery and Distillery
Even the nation's smallest park, Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas (5,550 acres), has a solid restaurant — and a bonus: It’s also a brewery and distillery. Located on the famous Bathhouse Row, Superior Bathhouse Brewery and Distillery is housed in a building from 1916, but has only existed in its current incarnation since 2012. After sampling craft beers and spirits made from the park’s natural spring water, guests will be further satisfied by chef Angela Nardi's local meat and cheese plates, black-eyed pea hummus, beer cheese, Buffalo chicken dip, Cajun salmon cakes, and barbecue pork sliders. Looking for more? Tuck into a JF Farms beer bratwurst, beef and lamb gyro, beer braised pork ribs, or the house gumbo.
Isle Royale National Park, Michigan — Lighthouse
Considering the fact that Isle Royale National Park is on an island and only accessible by boat or seaplane, you might think there are no dining options within the park borders. However, Rock Harbor Lodge actually has two, and the best one is the casual and rustic Lighthouse (named after, but not housed in, the photo here), open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The first menu has the typical egg, French toast, and omelette options, lunch has solid and satisfying burgers, salads, and sandwiches, but dinner is where the Lighthouse really shows off its chops (not literally, as there are no chops on the menu). The menu includes a 12-ounce New York strip steak, roasted pork tenderloin, chicken stuffed with Boursin cheese, roasted Japanese eggplant, garlic-lime shrimp, and Lake Superior whitefish tacos.
Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky — Travertine Restaurant
Although it’s not located in the actual cavern, Mammoth Cave National Park does have a restaurant — and a fine dining one at that. The bad news? It’s currently closed. The good news? It will re-open in May 2016 with a new, freshly-renovated, Western-style look. Travertine Restaurant’s dining room has beautiful views and boasts signature dishes like Southern fried chicken, rainbow trout, biscuits and gravy, catfish, country-fried steak, ribeye, and pork chops. The desserts change seasonally, so don’t feel guilty about ordering some each and every time.
Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado — Metate Room Restaurant
Recipient of the “Award of Culinary Excellence” for sustainable cuisine from the American Culinary Federation Colorado Chefs Association, the Metate Room Restaurant in Mesa Verde National Park is a must-visit. It’s only open for breakfast and dinner, but since you’ll be out exploring all day, it shouldn’t be an issue. Wake up with a cup of coffee and steel cut oats, eggs Florentine, or gingerbread pancakes — and after a long day of outdoor activity, refuel with prosciutto-wrapped Caribe pepper, rattlesnake and pheasant sausage, seared salmon or trout, elk Wellington, crispy prickly pear pork belly, or a 14-ounce bone-in ribeye. All of this plus views that seem to stretch to the ends of the Earth? That’s all we need.
Olympic National Park, Washington — The Creekside at Kalaloch Lodge
You know those restaurants where it absolutely pays to wait for a table near a window or outside? The Creekside at Kalaloch Lodge is one of them.. Offering panoramic ocean views inside Washington State’s Olympic National Park, The Creekside also features fresh, local, and sustainable cuisine for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, including buckwheat or sourdough pancakes, smoked salmon hash, and biscuits and gravy in the morning, and Dungeness crab cakes, crab mac and cheese, steamed mussels, calamari, burgers, seared jumbo scallops, and roasted organic chicken breast in the evenings. And don’t forget about the Washington apple and cranberry crisp for dessert!
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado — Fawn Brook Inn
Originally built in 1927 as a general store that later became a hunting lodge, The Fawn Brook Inn (in its current incarnation) has been serving food for almost 40 years. The menu includes starters like escargots “chef’s style,” beefsteak tartare, and seafood maison (lobster medallions, jumbo sea scallops, and tiger shrimp), and entrées include roast duckling (a fan favorite), jaeger schnitzel, steak au poivre, rack of lamb, and curry of lobster or scallops (or both). The Fawn Brook Inn also offers gourmet dinners for two, with either beef Wellington or chateaubriand served with an appetizer, soup, or salad, as well as a dessert and glass of Port. Looking to heat up your date night (both literally and romantically)? Request a table by the large, roaring fireplace.
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia — Skyland’s Pollock Dining Room
From March to November, the place to go for good eats in Shenandoah National Park is the Skyland’s Pollock Dining Room, which serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner from a perch high above the surrounding landscape. Enjoy expansive views while dining on braised short ribs, roasted pork belly, a corn fritters and hush puppies basket, braised osso buco pork, catfish, Addie’s Pasta (sautéed linguini with snow peas, ham, white white, lemon, and shaved parmesan), shrimp and grits, beef and pork meatloaf, and the signature blackberry ice cream pie. Each and every dish has a unique name attached to it, and the menu tells a story or interesting fact about each one in order to fully understand the history and geography of the park.
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Alaska — McCarthy Lodge Bistro
McCarthy Lodge has an interesting geographic situation. It isn’t technically located inside Alaska’s Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Nature Preserve, but still falls within its borders. You see, the park and preserve actually form somewhat of a horribly misshapen donut on maps, with a hole in the middle, which is where the lodge is. If you were to leave McCarthy Lodge and drive north, south, east, or west, you would have to enter Wrangell-St. Elias in order to eventually leave it. Make sense? If all this thinking is making you hungry, then you’re in the right place, as the food is phenominal. You can thank lifelong Alaskan Jim Nyholm for that, as he’s the brain and hands behind the bistro’s offerings, such as the mushroom stew, roast duck, local yak, and signature Copper River red salmon. And for a restaurant in the middle of nowhere (except that a National Park technically is somewhere), the prices are surprisingly reasonable. Good thing, because after a hearty meal and some wine, you’ll likely need to spring for a room at the lodge — which includes free breakfast at the bistro!
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming — Lake Yellowstone Hotel Restaurant
The Lake Yellowstone Hotel Restaurant is only open from May until October, but that just makes us appreciate it more. (Kind of like the McRib — except, you know, fancier.) After taking a moment to admire the classic white columns and yellow exterior that accent the spectacular shores of Yellowstone Lake, head inside and dive into local and organic dishes like the duck and wild mushroom risotto, smoked salmon cheesecake, lamb sliders, roasted beet and goat cheese salad, bison tenderloin, salmon, grilled quail, and sun-dried tomato-encrusted chicken cutlet. You’ll definitely want to peruse the wine list as well, which is so long you’ll need a bookmark.
Yosemite National Park, California — The Mountain Room
Although some National Parks don’t offer a single restaurant within their borders (we’re looking at you, Great Smoky), Yosemite actually has quite the selection, including a handful of fine dining establishments. Our pick has got to be The Mountain Room, not just for the food, but the breathtaking views of Yosemite Falls through the large, floor-to-ceiling windows. However, the food is fantastic as well. Ordering the French onion soup (guests often refer to it as the best they’ve ever had) is a must, and the ever-changing menu also includes quinoa falafel, gnocchi, halibut, rainbow trout, roast duck, lamb shank, and a nice selection of steaks — using local and sustainable ingredients as much as possible.
Zion National Park, Utah — Red Rock Grill
When it comes to dining in Utah’s Zion National Park, the Red Rock Grill is the only game in town. Don’t think this means you’re settling by dining there though, as the restaurant offers some fantastic fare. Start with a Southwestern quinoa salad, salmon cakes, or “firecracker rolls” (chicken, pepper jack cheese, jalapeños, red peppers, and black beans wrapped in a crispy tortilla) before moving on to Kayenta (Arizona) beef tenderloin medallions, bison meatloaf or hamburger, pan-seared and pecan-encrusted trout, and the nightly chef’s creation. Do yourself a favor and pair your meal with one of several Utah beers available as you admire the outside view of the canyon floor and stone walls through the enormous windows, or better yet, hit the outdoor terrace when the weather is nice.