Clockwise: The Ahwahnee Dining Room, northwest fresh cuisine in the Cascade Dining Room at Timberline Lodge, and the El Tovar Hotel
Visiting Yellowstone or another national park? Dont forget to bring your appetite.
THE WESTS GREATEST lodges -- designed to entice travelers away from European destinations in favor of Yellowstone and other national parks -- have always promised comfort in the wilderness. Rustic but refined, lodges are oases of elegance, right down to their food. In its earliest days, the Grand Canyons El Tovar Hotel, which opened in 1905, boasted an Italian chef from New York City and steak more tender than a womans love.
Today, Americas great park lodges are enjoying a renaissance, one thats being boosted by their world-class chefs, who create mouthwatering dishes meant to be savored along with the stunning views. Increasingly, the chefs are relying on local producers, such as the Wolf Ridge Lamb and Wool Company in Montanas Paradise Valley and Mary Pitmans organic turkey farm in Fresno, California, to create meals that celebrate regional cuisine.
So, if youre heading to a national park anytime soon, forget hot dogs and factory food. Think fine dining with regional flair and local ingredients -- free-range chicken, wild-caught fish, organic lentils, or heirloom pears. But plan ahead: Historic lodges book early, and so do their tables. At some lodges, dinner reservations are made a year ahead of time, at the same time as a room reservation. As long as your taste for adventure is matched by adventurous taste buds, though, you could sleep in a tent but still dine in style with reservations made a few weeks in advance.
Yellowstone National Park
Wyoming, Montana, Idaho
Lake Hotel Dining Room: Executive chef Jim Chapman features bison, Montana Ranch beef, and lamb that was pasture raised 20 miles from the parks north entrance, but his superb fish selections are especially suited to the lakeside views. (Yellowstone Lake is North Americas largest lake at an elevation above 7,000 feet.)
Ive been able to get fresher fish here than anywhere else Ive worked, Chapman says. Specialties include an American-style cioppino created daily in the Lake Hotel kitchen, which boasts five Culinary Institute of America graduates and externs. Park information: Yellowstone National Park is a wonderland of geysers, hot springs, wildlife, and views.
Lodging: Though less familiar than the iconic Old Faithful Inn, Lake Yellowstone Hotel is an elegant alternative -- built in 1891 and later refurbished in a 1920s style -- located about 30 miles from the parks east entrance. The seasonal hotel has rooms and suites ($143 to $565); cabins ($128) are also available.