Food represents the most commonly fantasised about subject that occupies a long distance hiker’s mind. Yep, even more than that other one. That being the case, it stands to reason that no matter whether you are a gourmet, spartan or somewhere in between, thru-hikers are always on the look out for eating opportunities while out on trail.
What follows is my completely subjective 20 Best Places to Eat on America’s Long Distance Trails. Since 2002, I have had the pleasure of eating at all of these establishments (sometimes more than once), and there are 13 trails and 14 different states represented. The compilation includes storied pubs, remote bakeries, and a seafood cafe on the country’s biggest lake:
1. Stehekin Pastry Company, Stehekin, WA (Pacific Crest Trail) – 2007 & 2012
Not only the finest trail bakery, but arguably one of the best bakeries in the United States period. Each and every year, PCT hikers fill their packs to the brim and beyond with delicious snacks from this gem of a spot. A few hours chowing down at the bakery combined with a refreshing dip in Lake Chelan (best go for the swim beforehand), makes for an ideal final town stop before reaching Canada.
2. The Homeplace, Catawba, VA (Appalachian Trail) – 2015
During my late fall/early winter thru-hike of the AT in 2012, I’m ashamed to say I missed eating at the Homeplace. I received so much shit about it from mates in the US long distance hiking community, that I made sure to rectify my error during a subsequent east coast visit in 2015. I’ve got to say, they weren’t wrong in their assessment. Hearty southern-style food, great service, and the friendly staff will refill your plate if you happen to want more. The best fried chicken I have ever had. (Note: Only open for dinner Thursday to Sunday. Plan accordingly).
3. Pie-O-Neer, Pie Town, NM (Continental Divide Trail) – 2012
How can you not like a place called Pie Town? It would be like having something against waterfalls or Labrador puppies. Great pies, friendly people, and the fact that it’s situated in the middle of Bumscratch, New Mexico, somehow makes it even better.
4. Timberline Lodge, OR (Pacific Crest Trail) – 2007 & 2012
The Daddy of AYCE trail buffets. Whether it be for breakfast or lunch, this place is not to be missed. Indeed, hiking the PCT and not stopping into Timberline for a bite to eat, would be the culinary equivalent of a beer drinker visiting Ireland and not having a pint of Guinness.
5. Caffé Rel, Franklin, NC (Bartram Trail) – 2011
A French cafe next to a busy gas station. I’ve got to admit I was more than a bit skeptical. Nonetheless, a mate of mine that was familiar with Franklin swore by this place so I decided to give it a try. Turned out he was 100% on the money. Great ambiance, friendly staff, and the food was to die for. If memory serves I had a Caprese salad, the crawfish and some chocolate cake.
6. Wildberry Restaurant , WA (Wonderland Trail) – 2014
Situated just down the road from Longmire Visitors Center is the Wildberry restaurant. Good food, reasonable prices and big portions (i.e. the thru-hiking culinary “Big Three”). Who would have thought there would be a Nepalese/Burger fusion restaurant so close to Mount Rainier?!
7. Angry Trout Cafe, Grand Marais, MN (Superior Hiking Trail) – 2011
Beautiful location overlooking Lake Superior. Excellent spot for a sunset beer and a great feed of fish and chips. I ate here a couple of times; once during the hike, and again for a post-trip celebratory feast.
8. Morning Glory, Ashland, OR (Pacific Crest Trail) – 2007
I stopped by for breakfast during my 2007 PCT hike. A step up in quality from the normal hiker fare, but worth every penny. Great selection of pancakes and omelettes.
9. Bob’s Chowder Bar, Anacortes, WA (Pacific Northwest Trail) – 2011
New England style chowder. Filling, reasonably priced and most importantly tastes fantastic. Friendly staff and laid back setting. A big thanks to former mapping guru and long distance hiker extraordinaire, Li Brannfors, for putting me on to this place.
10. Smoky Mountain Diner, Hot Springs, NC (Appalachian Trail) – 2012
The AT in 2012 represented the culmination of the 12 Long Walks. By the time I sat down in the Smoky Mountain Diner in Hot Springs in December, 2012, I had been hiking for more than 14000 miles (22,530 km) over the previous 17.5 months. I was burning up to 7000 calories a day, and suffice to say I was hungrier than a cannibal in a mosh pit. I ate double servings at dinner and breakfast at the Smoky Mountain Diner, and the staff were kind enough to prepare me half a dozen boiled eggs for the road; a common take-away item during my longer hikes.
11. Polebridge Mercantile, MT (Pacific Northwest Trail) – 2011
Spectacularly set on the doorstep of Glacier National Park. Kick back on the front porch as you enjoy your fill of pastries and other baked goods. Polebridge Mercantile is to east bound PNT hikers what Stehekin is to north bound PCTers – one final irresistible opportunity to stuff your face before finishing up your thru hike a few days later.
12. Anong’s Thai Cuisine, Rawlins, WY (Continental Divide Trail) – 2012
The chances of finding a great Thai restaurant in Rawlins, Wyoming (affectionately known by its own residents as the “armpit of Wyoming“), is roughly the equivalent of spotting a reindeer in the Sudan. Despite the odds, Anong’s is the real deal. Try to time your arrival for the lunch buffet.
13. New Ming Garden, Waynesboro, VA (Appalachian Trail) – 2012
Excellent Chinese restaurant. For $8.99 (2019), this legendary AYCE buffet has abundant options and unlike most of its ilk, all of the items seem to be fresh and tasty.
14. Paradise Valley Cafe, CA (Pacific Crest Trail) – 2007 & 2012
I stopped here in both 2007 and 2012. On each occasion I ordered the excellent Jose Burger. The second time around I ordered two. Plus some ice cream and a salad just to mix things up. Well worth the one mile off-trail deviation. The waddle back may have been the slowest mile I hiked on the entire PCT.
15. Bluebell Country Store, Story, AR (Ouachita Trail) – 2012
Dropped in during my winter thru hike of the OT in 2012. Situated about half way along the OT, the Blue Bell is equal parts restaurant, grocery store, gas station, live music venue and de facto community center all rolled into one. The cafe’s meals are well priced, the servings are large, and if there is any place that encapsulates the South’s legendary hospitality along the OT, it is the Bluebell. They will even shuttle you back to the trail for a small fee if you ask nicely!
16. Quincy’s Tavern , Leadville, CO (Colorado Trail) – 2015
Excellent steakhouse. Very affordable prices, big servings and a cool atmosphere. Easy hitch in from either the Colorado or Continental Divide Trails.
17. Inn at The Long Trail , Killington, VT (Long Trail) – 2002 & 2012
Good pub food at McGrath’s. I overnighted here during my Long Trail thru-hike in 2002, and remembering washing down dinner with a Guinness or three at the lively bar. In 2012, I stopped in for lunch while heading southbound on the AT.
18. THAT Brewery Pine, AZ, (Arizona Trail) – 2012
I overnighted in Pine during the AZT section of the Southwestern Horseshoe in 2012. I knew nothing about the town except I had to pick up a package at the post office before it closed. THAT Brewery was an unexpected surprise. Good burgers and beer. I ended up staying until closing time chatting and drinking with a couple from Portland, Maine, who were travelling cross country. They had hiked the AT in the early 2000’s. Quite often its the folks you meet as much as the food, which help to make a dining experience memorable.
19. Milt’s Stop N Eat, Moab, UT (Hayduke Trail / SWHorseshoe) – 2012
Moab’s oldest restaurant. Stopped here for lunch on third day of the Southwestern Horseshoe in 2012. Excellent burgers and milkshakes.
20. Alabama Hills Cafe, Lone Pine, CA (Lowest to Highest Route) – 2014
Big servings and well priced. The cakes, breads and pastries are homemade. Excellent choice for a post-Mt.Whitney breakfast and/or lunch.