Best Food in the U.S. National Parks

These specialties will have you rethinking campfire dinners.

Some national parks are famous for more than their views, hikes, or wildlife—they have long-standing food traditions. Most of the time, park food isn't the highlight of your trip; rather, it’s something to keep you going. After a hundred years, some local specialties in or around these parks have been perfected.

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve

Copper River salmon have firm, brightly colored flesh with a high fat content needed for their long swim upstream to spawn in the glacial waters of south-central Alaska. Nearby is the largest of America’s national parks, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve.

The Copper River Princess Wilderness Lodge houses Two Rivers Restaurant, just four miles from the park's visitors center. Smoked Copper River salmon is always available, whether as the light, flaky shards in chowder or on top of salads. If you want your fish just out of the water—within 24 hours to your table—the season runs May through September, same as the hotel.

After carefully stepping your way across glaciers and exploring the old Kennecott mines in the park, the sweetness of Copper River salmon will restore your energy for a long night in the still lit open expanse.

Death Valley National Park

High tea doesn’t exactly match up with the rugged, dusty survival picture Death Valley usually conjures up. But the Inn at Furnace Creek inside the park is a doorway to the past, when extreme conditions were no excuse for poor manners. Afternoon tea service pays homage to Teakettle Junction, the intersection of roads through the barren landscape.

Enjoy your traditional tea in the late afternoon in the 1920s dining room with spectacular views. Date bread is a standard, as world-class dates are grown throughout desert California. Savory finger sandwiches and dessert pastries, which change seasonally, accompany the tea selection.

<p><a href="http://www.nps.gov/gaar/index.htm">Gates of the Arctic</a> is one of several national parks in remote, roadless areas of Alaska. This northernmost national park in the U.S. is visited by only a few thousand people a year, making for great wildlife viewing.</p>

Gates of the Arctic is one of several national parks in remote, roadless areas of Alaska. This northernmost national park in the U.S. is visited by only a few thousand people a year, making for great wildlife viewing.

Photograph by Alaska Stock Images, National Geographic

Acadia National Park

Popovers are one of those things you would rather have someone else make. Light, warm, flaky—the perfection required to bring a great eggy popover to the table can be a bit tricky. Acadia National Park’s Jordan Pond House has served so many millions of these pastries that you don’t have to worry. Even kids’ meals come with a fresh popover and Maine strawberry jam.

The wait can be lengthy, as Jordan Pond House is the only restaurant in the park, but you can sit outside on the expansive lawn and take your time once you get a table. If you don’t need a meal but want to try the specialty, order one with ice cream or hit afternoon teatime.

Glacier National Park

Glaciers, mountain peaks, and spectacular flora may distract you from one of Glacier National Park’s most abundant resources: fungi. While you shouldn’t collect mushrooms from the park, you can count on wild mushrooms in a number of local dishes. Chanterelles and morels are some of the most familiar varieties.

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The Swiss Lounge, inside Ptarmigan Dining Room at Many Glacier Hotel, offers a vegan wild mushroom linguine. And Russell’s Fireside Dining Room in the Lake McDonald Lodge features a flatbread with fresh tomato, local goat cheese, and wild mushrooms. The earthy softness of the mushrooms pairs well with other strong flavors.

Independence National Historical Park

The Philly cheesesteak wasn’t really a thing back in the 18th century, but Independence Hall visitors don’t have to stay completely authentic. The visitors center is your central location to see the Liberty Bell, get maps to other park sites around the city, and start your day off right with the local twist on a breakfast burrito.

At the Independence Mall Café, they won’t ask you whether you want Cheez Whiz (unlike many lunch or dinner joints). Instead, the Philly breakfast burrito comes with your classic thin-sliced steak, provolone cheese, caramelized onions, and scrambled eggs. The mix of salty and savory will gear you up for a warm day reading about our Founding Fathers and whet your appetite for more Philly fare.

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