Foodie Finds at National Parks
Story by Anne Quinn Corr
It’s easy to enjoy the great outdoors at any of our country’s 419 national park sites. While only 62 destinations may include the words “National Park” in their names, a multitude of lakeshores, seashores, battlefields, monuments, trails, and rivers are also part of the U.S. National Park Service. All of these treasured sites boast some combination of fresh air, picturesque settings, fascinating wildlife, historic significance, and compelling natural experiences. Of particular note to foodies, many national parks also provide delicious dining experiences.
Whether your idea of foodie fun under the sun is digging into a homemade feast splayed out across a picnic blanket or spooning up seasonal treats at a restaurant, options abound across the National Park Service. Some parks offer both on-site eateries and designated picnic areas, some offer one or the other, but all are intriguing destinations that Americans can call our own.
Here are just a few of the dining options currently available at some national parks.
Huntington House Tavern, Rocky Mountain National Park
Huntington House Tavern is located inside Rocky Mountain National Park at the historic Grand Lake Lodge, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. While some restrictions are in place for coronavirus, the retreat is ready to welcome visitors.
Huntington House Tavern is known for its locally-sourced dishes as well as its views. The sprawling dining room is flanked by an enormous bison mural on one side and sweeping views of Grand Lake on the other. The menu offers dishes like cedar plank salmon with creamed farro, grilled elk chops with blackberry demi glace, and wild mushroom cavatappi with peas and asparagus. There’s even a robust cocktail program and wine list. The extensive To-Go menu offers a varied array of tantalizing salads and sandwiches along with a smoked trout appetizer or grilled trout entree.
The restaurant reopened in May and is working within CDC guidelines. At press time, according to staff member Ricky Raffaele, breakfast is available only to guests at the Lodge on a take-out basis. Lunch is open to the public, for take-out only. Dinner service offers dine-in by reservation, with a 50 percent capacity limit to allow for social distancing.
Rocky Mountain National Park has a timed entry system to manage visitor flow in compliance with public health guidelines to keep the park safe for all visitors. Many drive-up visitors were turned back on Father’s Day while those who planned a fishing trip were able to access the pristine waters of Loch Vale and throw in a line to hook the Greenback Cutthroat Trout. This indigenous species was on the verge of extinction due to pollution and competition from non-native trout species, but has made a comeback and was named Colorado’s state fish in 1994.
While the main access to Rocky Mountain National Park is through the scenic town of Estes Park—which is a good place to pick up picnicking supplies or to have lunch at The Stanley Hotel—locals prefer to access the park from its lesser-visited West Portal through the village of Grand Lake.
Superior Bathhouse, Hot Springs National Park
Superior Bathhouse is the only brewery located within an official national park. What’s more, it makes beer with the park’s famed thermal waters—it’s the only brewpub in the world that uses hot spring water in the brewing process!
Hot Springs National Park in central Arkansas is adjacent to the city of Hot Springs, which has a population of about 40,000. The half-million gallons of water that flow from various springs at the base of Hot Springs Mountain average 143 degrees Fahrenheit. The flow is regulated to supply various bathhouses, including Superior Bathhouse, a brewery/gastropub located in one of the palatial buildings on Bathhouse Row (a street flanked with bathhouses, some of which still serve as spas and some that have been repurposed).
Rose Schweikhart was the visionary who saw the potential in the building that sat vacant for 30 years. Her dream to brew beer commercially using the hot springs water was realized in 2013. With 18 taps, there’s a wide variety of styles, from Madden’s No.1, a pale ale, to Foul Play, a dark oatmeal stout. Whimsical flavors in between include a honey basil Kolsch called The Beez Kneez and Space Force, a hazy blood orange IPA. More typical beer varieties include Hitchcock Spring, a Kolsch, and Northwoods, a West Coast-style IPA. The beer titles refer to elements in the history of the building or the town, so the more you sample the more you learn about the region. Flights feature four different beers.
The brewpub is family-friendly as well as vegan-friendly, with eclectic menu options that include typical pub-grub with an upscale twist. Options range from beer cheese dip and locally-sourced bratwursts to sweet potato and beet sandwiches. Shishito peppers with cilantro ranch dip and fried cheese curds star on the appetizer menu with assorted wings and dips. Sandwiches include pulled pork, various burgers, wraps, and paninis, as well as a roasted beet and sweet potato sandwich. Soups and salads are homemade as is the root beer in the floats.
Superior Bathhouse is open now and adhering to CDC guidelines; expect capacity limits in place and face masks required (except when eating and drinking). According to Katie Windham, general manager, “We have been met with some resistance to the required masks, but have remained diligent as a team to keep everyone safe. Even though we’re only operating at about 40 percent, with grumbling about the masks from some, we have seen a huge increase in business, which to me, means our product and the Superior experience is worth the inconvenience of masks.”
Sarah’s Vineyard & Winery, Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Sarah’s Vineyard Winery, the only vineyard in a national park, grows grapes on rolling hillsides that surround the tasting room and pavilion. After a day spent hiking or chasing some of the park’s more than 70 waterfalls, the restaurant and tasting room is a welcome respite.
Located inside a massive barn overlooking the serene vineyard, Sarah’s offers several Ohio-grown grape varietals (including Vidal, Niagara, and Riesling), along with a menu of comfort classics, including wood-fired pizza, nachos, and pulled pork sandwiches.
Opened in 2007, the winery produces wines from its own grapes as well as from juice purchased elsewhere. Sipping a chilled glass of Blue Heron Blush (an estate blend of Vidal, Seyval, Cayuga, Traminette, and Rubiana), while dipping some warm rosemary foccacia in olive oil dusted with parmesan cheese is a genuine treat. You could also opt for a glass of Zinfandel or Chardonnay made at the winery from California juice and pair it with wood-fired chicken alfredo pizza.
Sarah’s Vineyard Winery is limiting indoor seating for now but has extensive outdoor seating available. Guests are required to wear masks, like the servers, while moving through the dining room and common areas.
South of Cleveland, Ohio, I-80 South crosses over Cuyahoga Valley National Park at its mid-section. The park stretches 40 miles from south of Cleveland to Akron, winding along the scenic, infamous Cuyahoga River, waters that caught on fire in 1969 and sparked the environmental movement. Walking along the Ohio and Erie Canal towpath is peaceful and serene. Archival photos of a salvage yard filled with junk cars show what the landscape looked like at Beaver Marsh before the beavers reclaimed the site, now filled with waterlilies and wildlife. Seeing the results of the transformation and the vitality of nature is a reassuring experience.
There is no entrance fee and parking is free but the proximity to two large metro areas makes for crowded conditions on weekends. You can drive through the park on a scenic two-lane road, get out and walk the easy towpath trail, canoe or kayak certain portions of the Cuyahoga River, or buy a ticket for the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad that can shuttle you and your bike. Currently closed, the train is scheduled to reopen for fall foliage rides on October 1.
All that activity is sure to build an appetite and there are many picnic facilities in the park as well as a farm market that has been operated by the same family since 1931. Szalay’s Farm & Market specializes in growing corn but has other vegetables and home-baked goods for sale as well as three mobile food huts with lots of outdoor, safe-distance seating available on the weekends.
More Restaurants in National Parks
In addition to those already mentioned, Matt Kirouac, co-founder of Hello Ranger, shares some of his favorite restaurants in National Parks with Foodie Travel USA:
Creekside Restaurant, Olympic National Park
Perched on a bluff overlooking the craggy Pacific coast of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, Creekside Restaurant inside the Kalaloch Lodge reopens June 19 for take-out only at first (dine-in for dinner service commences June 26). I love this restaurant because the space is deeply cozy and rustic, with lots of dark wood. It feels like a charming little seaside cabin. And the food is amazing. The restaurant is rigorous about sourcing locally and supporting local fishermen, farms, and vintners. In addition to its surf & turf-y menu—salmon rillettes, Dungeness crab mac & cheese, elk burgers—the restaurant features a wine list that’s exclusively Washington wines.
Jordan Pond House, Acadia National Park
Reopened for the summer season in June, with ample outdoor seating on the lawn overlooking its namesake pond in the heart of Acadia National Park, Jordan Pond House is an historic, timeworn restaurant that offers the very best in New England cuisine. This means lobster in every form, including lobster cakes, lobster stew, lobster niçoise salad, and lobster rolls, along with seafood chowder, shepherd’s pie, plus crab and goat cheese dip. It is especially famed for its popovers, hot and fresh and buttery, served with strawberry jam.
The Handle Bar, Grand Teton National Park
The most idyllic lodge-style restaurant, located at the base of the soaring Teton mountain range in Teton Village, The Handle Bar is like a contemporary saloon, lined with polished timber and shelves of whiskey. The best spot to dine during the summer months is the expansive patio, outfitted with fire pits and unparalleled mountain views. The menus pay homage to traditional mountain ingredients and recipes, with modern pub grub like elk chili, wild game meatballs, and smoked trout salad.
Top 10 National Parks
The most popular National Parks, ranked by number of visitors welcomed each year, are:
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- Grand Canyon National Park
- Rocky Mountain National Park
- Zion National Park
- Yosemite National Park
- Yellowstone National Park
- Acadia National Park
- Grand Teton National Park
- Olympic National Park
- Glacier National Park
Plan A Trip
During the coronavirus pandemic, before visiting a park please check the park’s website to verify its operating status. Updates about the overall National Park Service response to coronavirus, including safety information and visitor guidelines are posted here.
Note that restaurant menus may be limited due to health considerations as well as supply issues.