5 great restaurants near national parks

Mt. Rainier, Redwoods, Rocky Mountain, Yellowstone and Acadia

Have you ever planned a vacation around eating a slice of pie? We have.

My wife and I have visited our national parks for almost four decades. And a handful of restaurants stand out as special and iconic.

Copper Creek Inn Mount Rainier
Copper Creek Inn is a great restaurant near Mount Rainier.

Copper Creek Inn, near Mt. Rainier National Park

Several times a year we take turns saying to one another, out of the blue, “Is it time for vacation pie?” which is our code for visiting Mt. Rainier National Park and our most favorite restaurant of all – Copper Creek Inn. The restaurant is located just outside of the park’s west entrance. The eatery is small, unassuming with a to-die-for, locally-sourced menu and homemade flair.

And yes, we ate blackberry pie, more than once. As a matter of fact, during a three-day stay in Mt. Rainier, we ate at Copper Creek four times. We usually enjoy trying different places but, with food as superb as this, we made an exception. The cod and chips, the breads, seafood chowder, stew, sandwiches, everything was exceptional. And by the way, I normally don’t eat pie, but that’s how hypnotized I became with blackberry.

Mashed potato cone with "the works" from The Lighthouse, near Redwoods National Park.

Larrupin’s and The Lighthouse, near Redwoods National Park

Completely different restaurants, but both are incredible, so it’s a tie. At Larrupin’s, which is more upscale, I feasted on the best slab of fish that ever crossed my taste buds – a grilled steelhead, which they prepare differently on some days. The menu mentioned that every meal came with an appetizer board, which seemed odd to us, until it arrived. The contents were unique, local and better than any breadbasket, which is the more common free starter. Just a great upscale national park dining experience.

The Lighthouse, a small diner lower on atmosphere, made up for ambience with great service and very tasty menu items, including homemade soups, fish, sandwiches, homemade ice cream and one of my favorite items of all time – a mashed potato cone that I ordered with the works, including beef brisket, gravy, cheese and bacon in a waffle cone. I drooled again on my keyboard while typing this. We went back for seconds on consecutive days. Great burgers on homemade buns or bread and excellent craft soups.

Antonio’s Pizza, Rocky Mountain National Park

Located in Estes Park, Antonio’s Pizza serves up great salads and some of the best pizza we’ve devoured. And our family considers pizza its own food group, even though the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics disagrees.

Seating at Antonio’s was very limited and it’s so popular that I would only recommend takeout. We normally like to eat “outdoorsy” stuff after hiking the great outdoors, like bison, trout, beef and greens. But we ate Antonio’s pizza twice because we were afraid we’d never again taste Italian heaven.

The Garage Soup Shack & Mesquite Grill, near north Yellowstone National Park

One route to Yellowstone is through Bozeman, Montana. If you choose this way, stop at the Garage. It’s a converted corner gas station in downtown that delights patrons with unusual and traditional homemade soups and great bison burgers. Of course, there are other great menu items, not to mention sandwiches, a great spicy blue veggie platter and local craft beers.

We also liked the Garage because it was casual and modestly priced, with a lot of family patrons. And the young staff provided great service.

Galyn’s, Acadia National Park

 Near the park, the town of Bar Harbor is loaded with tourists. And gift shops. And restaurants. And lobster dishes.

Galyn’s topped our list here, starting with the warmest of greetings from a hostess who knows the value of first impressions. What followed was an incredible meal that included – you guessed it – lobster. We ate one of the best appetizers during a vacation, the lobster puff pastries. We followed those up with a fish sandwich, lobster roll and lobster enchiladas. And this restaurant served a great sloshing selection of local beers.

In closing, we chose restaurants for this article that we’ve patronized during the past five years, several within the past year. These places could have changed since we’ve eaten there, so be sure to check out your favorite food app for current reviews. And then start planning your own “pie” vacation, because life’s just too short to simply climb a mountain or comb a beach.