Lacing up your hiking boots and tackling some fun national park trails is about as American as you can get. Actually, thinking about the food you’re going to eat with all the calories you’ve burned is about as American as you can get. I love hiking away in America’s holy trio of parks in the Rockies – Glacier, Yellowstone, and Rocky Mountain. And these are the places my demanding vegetarian tummy dreams of while I check my Fitbit to see the calorie deficit…
Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone is largely known as a great place to assume wild animals won’t act like wild animals while you take a selfie with them. (Spoiler alert: The animals have not been told about this. Keep a safe distance at all times, not just when a park ranger is close enough to yell at you.) There are also loads of amazing trails to check out. Some fun ones I’ve been on are the Beaver Ponds Loop, Mystic Falls, Wraith Falls, and the Artists’ Paint Pots Trails.
You may get tired of the tour buses when driving to your trail heads, but I’d head straight to another bus for meal time if I were you… Taqueria Las Palmitas in West Yellowstone, Montana. I may even use this as pre-hike and post-hike fuel. I would consider bringing it with me on the hike, but I think the ravenous park squirrels would stage a great taco caper and run off with it. Also, you shouldn’t bring strong-smelling food with you on a hike… unless you want a great pre-death bear selfie.
Bears might not even try to eat hikers if they knew this was around the corner...
The super burrito comes with rice and beans and costs ten bucks. You can choose meat or veggies as the filling. The flavors blend really well, and the memory of the deliciousness will inspire you to hike even farther tomorrow so you can fill yourself with more goodness wrapped in tortillas. It’s okay, though, you can eat more without hiking further. Vacation calories don’t count. It’s scientifically proven. The post-trip love handles are not really there.
There are a variety of other burrito options, tacos, fajitas, quesadillas and lots more to fill you with imaginary calories.
Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park is a site everyone should visit in their lifetime. Going to the Sun Road is the best place to enjoy beauty while being a little afraid for your life. You’ll probably see a mountain goat no matter how much hiking you do, but you should definitely hike if you can. I’d definitely recommend the Avalanche Lake Trail, the Highline Trail, the Hidden Lakes hike at Logan Pass, and the Baring, St. Mary, and Virginia Falls trek.
After conquering the mountains like the rugged Jeremiah Johnson you are on the inside, you’ll be ready to eat some food that can get stuck in your figurative mountain man beard. When I visit, I usually stay in Kalispell, which is 30-some odd miles from West Glacier. You’ve got to save money on lodging so you can partake of the real vacation pastime… stuffing one’s face. I really love Casa Mexico in Kalispell. I’ve gone there multiple times on trips over there, and I almost like seeing it more than seeing mountain goats. *Almost.* Nothing’s better than seeing mountain goats.
I really love their spinach and mushroom quesadilla, their spinach and mushroom enchiladas, and their vegetable enchiladas. The dishes cost around 12 dollars. They all come with rice and beans. Usually I’m not a fan of cooked spinach. I prefer to eat my Popeye steroids raw in a salad, but it’s just too tasty there. They can get away with cooking it. I’ll allow it and ask them to smother it with extra cheese. The mushrooms, their veggies, everything… just too tasty. If you need to sweeten the pot a bit when it comes to visiting Glacier, if you’re a monster who doesn’t think the Rocky Mountains are the actual happiest place on earth, Casa Mexico can be a great draw, too!
Rocky Mountain National Park
I’ve only visited Rocky Mountain National Park once, quite recently. It was in the middle of October, so it wasn’t insanely busy like parks are during the summer. There were also some pretty gorgeous fall leaf colors, but we did miss the peak of that. Oh, well. You’re in the Rockies. Like you really need extra beauty. Stop being greedy. We had enough time to get through a few hikes… Dream Lake, the Bear Lake area, and Alberta Falls. All lovely. All helped with some calorie burning.
That night, we actually drove back to Denver, where we were staying, and went to an Avalanche hockey game. We ate at the arena, which is just a terrible idea. The food is overpriced. If your heart had eyes, it would roll them at you for subjecting it to the artery-clogging nonsense. It’s still good, though, dangit. That’s how they get ya. They're on cardiologists' payroll.
The place I want to recommend is in Arvada, though. We went there the following day after a 10k race I did in the morning. As any vegetarian knows, an Indian restaurant is food heaven because we can eat so many things! It’s a strange feeling when eating out… Yak & Yeti is an amazing Indian buffet that I think was my real finishing medal for that 10k. They had some scrumptious saag paneer, perfectly-seasoned rice, several vegetable options, a varied dessert selection, including kheer, and some super yummy vegetable samosas. Hold on. I need a minute for the daydreams…
Sometimes it hurts me to know that this yummy buffet is 600 miles away from me. Oh, the separation anxiety...
People kept filling their plates, as did I. The price of 11 dollars for a lunch buffet and 15 for a dinner buffet is totally worth it. You can keep going back until you’re just small enough to fit through the door. Or keep eating and leave the restaurant while walking sideways. I vote for the latter.
The Rocky Mountains are incredibly difficult to top when it comes to beauty, even by Hugh Jackman. You can make them even better by visiting Taqueria Las Palmitas, Casa Mexico, and Yak & Yeti. Get to it!