There’s the old saying that the journey is the destination. While I generally agree with that — y’all know I love a good road trip — there are exceptions to every rule.
Take, for example, these six off the beaten path restaurants that aren’t accessible by car. Getting to the unique dining experiences is certainly a journey, but the destinations themselves are pretty spectacular too. World-famous attractions like national parks are wonderful, but sometimes it’s nice to (literally) head out to the middle of nowhere.
America’s most unique off the beaten path restaurants
From eateries in the mountains of Montana to diners floating in the ocean, every one of these off the beaten path restaurants is worthy of a spot on your bucket list.
Disclaimer: As local COVID-19 restrictions continue to evolve, many businesses are operating limited hours and at reduced capacity. I highly recommend calling directly to confirm they’re open and making advanced reservations.
1. Montana Dinner Yurt – Big Sky, Montana
Nestled in a top-secret backcountry spot at Big Sky Resort, Montana Dinner Yurt is one of the country’s most unique restaurants in the mountains. It’s only open during ski season, typically early December to mid-April. Because of that, the only way to get to Montana Dinner Yurt is by Snowcat.
The Snowcat takes diners 15 minutes up spectacular Lone Peak, where a campfire, candlelit dinner, and live music await. Guests get refreshments and a hearty three-course dinner that’s served family-style at long community tables. Please note that alcohol isn’t provided, but you’re welcome to bring your own.
After dinner, guests gather around the campfire for stargazing and can even take a turn on the torch-lit sled run before heading back to the resort. Talk about unique dining experiences!
Montana Dinner Yurt can only accommodate 36 people, so reservations are a must. While it’s open daily during ski season, it sells out most nights well in advance. We stayed at the fabulous Big Sky Resort during the summer and the concierge recommended that we make reservations right then for next winter! Apparently this is one of the hottest off the beaten path restaurants.
2. The Saltry Restaurant – Halibut Cove, Alaska
Halibut Cove is a tiny island on the eastern side of Kachemak Bay, just across from Homer. When I say tiny, I mean tiny — according to Travel Alaska, only 23 people call Halibut Cove home.
There isn’t a single road in the village, which means that in order to get to The Saltry, you’ll have to take a boat. That’s the very definition of off the beaten path restaurants!
The island’s passenger ferry, Danny J, makes two roundtrips from Homer per day. Both Danny J and The Saltry are dog-friendly, so feel free to bring your well-behaved, leashed pup along. Kayakers and private boaters are also welcome at The Saltry.
Truly unique among even the most remote places in the US, The Saltry is well worth the trip. Aside from outstanding views, the food is excellent and you won’t find fresher seafood anywhere (locals say the pickled salmon and seafood chowder are musts!).
The restaurant is open seven days a week from Memorial Day through Labor Day and advance reservations are strongly recommended.
3. Phantom Ranch Canteen – Grand Canyon National Park
Dining at the Canteen is absolutely one of the most unique and memorable culinary experiences you will ever have. That is if you can get there.
That snippet from the Grand Canyon National Park Lodges website says it all: If you can get there. Phantom Ranch Canteen is at the very bottom of the enormous canyon, a minimum of 7.8 miles in — and keep in mind, that’s just one direction.
This is also the Arizona desert, some of the most rugged terrain in the world, where rattlesnakes live and it’s frequently 100 degrees before 10:00 AM. That’s setting the bar awfully high for other off the beaten path restaurants.
Although many people do, you don’t necessarily have to hike in. You can also take a mule ride or get to the Canteen on a whitewater raft. The Phantom Ranch Canteen is open year-round for breakfast and dinner by reservation. There’s also a walk-up window where visitors can purchase sack lunches and necessities like first-aid supplies.
If you’re fortunate enough to win the coveted Phantom Ranch Lottery, you’ll be able to spend the night, rest your weary feet, and enjoy a reserved-for-ranch-guests-only beer.
4. Tennessee Pass Cookhouse – Leadville, Colorado
Fun fact: Leadville, Colorado, is the highest incorporated city in North America, sitting at an elevation of 10,152 feet.
The region also has fascinating roots as a once-booming mining town and is home to the state’s two tallest peaks, Mount Elbert (14, 439′) and the aptly-named Mount Massive (14,429′).
Leadville also happens to home to one of the best off the beaten path restaurants in the country, Tennessee Pass Cookhouse.
The reservations-only cookhouse serves up elevated Old West Colorado classics like elk tenderloin with blueberry, sage, and port reduction. It’s a local favorite and that’s saying a lot because let’s face it, there are a lot of restaurants in the mountains in The Centennial State.
To get here, diners meet at the Tennessee Pass Nordic Center, then hike, cross-country ski, or snowshoe the one mile to the cookhouse. Hey, you were warned that these are off the beaten path restaurants. The trail is very well-maintained and the payoff is the indulgent four-course meal waiting for you.
Tennessee Pass Cookhouse is open most of the year with short breaks between seasons. Since you’re already here, reserve a sleep yurt and hit the slopes at nearby Ski Cooper. Just this year, they added Tennessee Creek Basin, 70 acres of Double Black Diamond terrain.
5. Cabbage Key Inn & Restaurant – Cabbage Key, Florida
It’s difficult to imagine any part of Florida that doesn’t have even one paved road, but it exists. That place is Cabbage Key, a 100-acre island just west of Fort Myers on the Gulf Coast.
In spite of its size, Cabbage Key has multiple claims to fame. Rock legend Jimmy Buffett wrote “Cheeseburger in Paradise” here, for starters. Then there’s the Cabbage Key Inn & Restaurant, an open-air establishment that’s open 365 days a year for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
The focal point inside the restaurant is the storied Dollar Bill Bar, where patrons have taped bills (over 70,000 of them, reportedly!) to every available surface for over 60 years. Some of the more famous dollars came from former President Jimmy Carter, John F. Kennedy, Jr., and — who else? — the man himself, Jimmy Buffett.
As you may have guessed, the only way to reach Cabbage Key is by boat. That’s why it earned a spot on our list of off the beaten path restaurants! It’s worthy of at least a day trip, one of the only places you can still experience “Old Florida.” Though you’re a short distance from Fort Myers, you’ll feel like you’re in one of the most remote places in the US.
6. The Deck @ Piste – Jackson Hole, Wyoming
I know what you’re thinking: not much of anything in Jackson Hole is a “hidden gem,” it’s far too popular. How on earth could there be any off the beaten path restaurants?
Admittedly, this one isn’t exactly a little-known secret. It is, however, legitimately off the beaten path, perched high above Jackson proper at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.
Hopefully you’re not afraid of heights, because the only way to the Deck at Piste is up. Fortunately, you have options. Choose a 12-minute ride on the Bridger Gondola or a moderate 5-mile hike on the Wildflower Trail.
Personally, I’d do both — hike up, then take the gondola down. You’ll feel less guilty about the 2-for-1 margs since you got some cardio in and you’ll be able to take a $5 bartender’s-choice cocktail to-go. Win-win.
The Deck sits at an elevation of 9,095 feet, enjoying sweeping views of the entire valley down below. This has got to be one of the world’s most scenic restaurants in the mountains, with its views of the mighty Snake River and clear over to the Gros Ventre Mountains. Note that The Deck is only open in the summer and the gondola is totally free after 5:00 PM.