by Candace Nelson
From Arkansas to Ohio:
Explore these national parks with delicious restaurant detours
Few things are more all-American than the road trip.
Maybe apple pies, baseball, and bluegrass music.
But there’s something freeing about just sitting behind the wheel, Bill Monroe on the radio and an open highway ahead.
Many seem to agree; road trips have increased over the past few years, and there’s one destination on people’s minds: national parks.
National parks in America are preserved spaces, both natural and cultural, that are protected by the government. The Appalachian region is dotted with these unique places, whether designated as a national park, national historic park, national monument, national memorial, national historic site, national recreation area, national river, national parkway, or national trail.
Make the most of your adventure (and those gas dollars) by tacking on a delicious destination restaurant meal to your itinerary. Start crafting that “bluegrass road trip” Spotify playlist now. Here are some of the most notable parks in the region and a delicious detour to create a readymade road trip:
Park: New River Gorge National Park
Restaurant: Pies & Pints
The New River Gorge in West Virginia was named the 63rd national park in 2020, making it the newest addition to the park system. The natural playground is filled with twisting hiking trails that lead to sweeping vistas, some of the best rock climbing in the world, and crashing whitewater rapids that invite rafters to tackle.
After all that adventure, it’s easy to work up an appetite. Pies & Pints (219 West Maple Avenue, Fayetteville, WV 25840) is the original location of this growing chain that serves up creative pies and local beer. Don’t shy away from their award-winning “Grape & Gorgonzola” pizza topped with fresh rosemary and olive oil.
Park: Shenandoah National Park
Restaurant: The Fishin’ Pig
Shenandoah National Park sits just 75 miles away from Washington, D.C., but the scenery couldn’t be more different from the hustle and bustle of the city. Start your journey along Skyline Drive, where you can enjoy views of cascading waterfalls, ambling deer, fields of wildflowers, and more. When you want to stretch your legs, some hikes are family-friendly while others span for days.
Fill your belly in nearby Waynesboro at The Fishin’ Pig (117 Apple Tree Lane, Waynesboro, VA 22980), which has “the finest from land and sea: savory, smoked meats and flavorful, fresh seafood.” Check out “Grady’s Smoke Shack Sampler,” which features a quarter rack of ribs, beef brisket, pulled pork, smoked wings, and andouille sausage served with homemade slaw and hushpuppies.
Park: Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Restaurant: The Peddler Steakhouse
The Great Smoky Mountains are America’s most visited national park. The vast swath of forest is home to black bears, gorgeous wildflowers, and miles upon miles of hiking opportunities. If you visit before the spring trees begin blooming, there’s a good chance you might see stone walls, chimneys, and other remnants from past residents.
Nearby cities of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg are known for the tourists that flock to the area, but that doesn’t mean it’s all chain restaurants. The Peddler Steakhouse (820 River Road, Gatlinburg, TN 37738) has been around since the 1970s, dishing out classic cuts of steak and old-school entrees. Try the Mountain Cut (16 oz.) Prime Rib with sides of baked potato and fresh button mushrooms.
Park: Hot Springs National Park
Restaurant: Luna Bella
Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas preserves the rich cultural history of spas in the 20th century. Nine historic bathhouses display stunning architecture, and you have the opportunity to visit ancient thermal springs. It’s all right in the middle of town, so you can even spend some time shopping and getting a bite to eat without any dining detours.
Luna Bella (104 Grand Isle Way, Hot Springs, Arkansas, 71913) is an Italian restaurant known for its pasta and seafood dishes. Check out the Veal Scallopini & Shrimp: Thinly pounded scallopini of veal sauteed with shrimp, mushrooms, artichokes, and garlic in a white wine reduction with a touch of butter, served with creamy mashed potatoes and fresh vegetables.
Park: Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Restaurant: Sarah’s Vineyard
Located along the Cuyahoga River between the Ohio cities of Cleveland and Akron, Cuyahoga Valley National Park is 33,000 acres of lush forest, hiking trails, a historic train track, and historical, cultural artifacts. You can sit back and relax on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad as it rolls past deer, beavers, eagles, and more in their natural habitat.
If you’ve worked up an appetite, head to Sarah’s Vineyard, which serves fine wine, food, and art. Their wood-fired pizzas are well-known and come in varieties like plain cheese: red sauce, basil, mozzarella cheese, and oregano; and chicken alfredo: alfredo sauce, chicken, spinach, onion, parmesan, mozzarella, and oregano.
In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks. ~ John Muir
These parks and palate-pleasers are just the tip of the iceberg. There are many more incredible parks to visit and delicious restaurants to dine in. Which is your favorite?