A Guide to Drinking (Legally) In the National Parks

The best ways to raise a glass to and in the National Parks

A Guide to Drinking (Legally) In the National Parks

The post-adventure beer (and/or the shower beer) is a time-honored tradition for many in the outdoorsy set. There’s nothing like leaning back in a camp chair to survey a recently-conquered mountain, frosty brewski in hand.

It’s thanks to the National Parks Service (NPS) that many of those purple mountain majesties and wide-open spaces are still around to be explored. They may not release bourbon-bearing St. Bernards throughout the parks to revive weary tourists (yet), but there’s plenty of post-hike relief to be found in the famed lodges and less-famed convenience stores in and around the U.S. national parks.

There are more than 100 lodges associated with the NPS and they run the gamut from rustic elegance to purely rustic. These are are some of the best places to belly up to the bar.

For The Wine-Inclined
El Tovar Lodge, known for a bold wine list and even bolder views, is situated on the rim of the Grand Canyon. The iconic restaurant has an award-wining wine program that features over 100 domestic wines hailing from wine regions across the country. If your hiking accomplishments merit some celebration, the extensive and award-winning wine list at Cascades Restaurant and Lounge in the old Stanley Hotel just outside of Rocky Mountain National Park includes bubbles from California, France, Italy, and Spain.

The view from Kalaloch Lodge, Olympia National Park

The view from Kalaloch Lodge, Olympia National Park

Photo by Kelly Bastone

A Brew With A View
Microbreweries tend to pop up around National Parks like so many mushrooms. (Maybe because fresh air and physical exertion somehow make beer taste even better?) Because of this, it’s easy for most lodges to proudly tap local craft beer, like the local Utah microbrews on draft at The Main Lodge in Bryce Canyon, or the full selection of Oregon craft beers on offer at Kalaloch Lodge in Olympic National Park. Yellowstone National Park is smack-dab in the middle of microbrew country in three different states, and the Old Faithful Inn Dining room is the best place in the park to try local beers from all three states. But while all these places merely bring the beers to the park, there is one brewery actually located on National Parks property, and it’s where you’d least expect: Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas. The Superior Bathhouse Brewery is housed in a restored bathhouse (and no, they don’t make bathtub gin) and uses thermal spring water sourced from the park for its ales, hefeweizens, stouts, and even its nonalcoholic root beer.

If You Prefer Your Alcohol Spirited
While it’s easy to find good local beer and wine throughout the NPS, finding a cocktail list that goes beyond lackluster Manhattans or sugary takes on a Seabreeze is almost more daunting than facing Half Dome. Enter Russell’s. With one of the only serious cocktail programs in the National Parks lodges, Russell’s Fireside Dining Room in Glacier National Park’s Lake McDonald Lodge offers a refreshing departure from run-of-the-mill cocktail menus. The bar features hand-crafted cocktails made from locally sourced ingredients and spirits, and emphasizes flavors found in and around the park. The Huckleberry Smash, for example, is a relatively simple take on a Bourbon Smash, but the addition of local Montana huckleberries and Butte-distilled bourbon whiskey makes the drink ultra-local and extra delicious. If the housemade Bloody Mary mix doesn’t get you, the fireplace for those cold, off-season nights certainly will.

The elegance of the Majestic Yosemite Hotel

The elegance of the Majestic Yosemite Hotel

Photo by Jeremy Reding/Flickr

For the Classy Drunk
But really, why choose? If you’d rather have all of the above and a spectacularly elegant ambiance, head to the Majestic Yosemite Hotel (formerly known as the Ahwahnee Hotel). The crown jewel of the National Parks lodge ecosystem, the Grand Dining Room at the Majestic Yosemite is the only traditionally formal dining experience in any park (dress code enforced): part time-travel, part fine-dining. If you want to feel like a high-class swell circa 1916, toasting the foundation of the NPS in rustic luxury, then raise any glass—beer, wine, champagne, a martini—over dinner here. For the Second-Coming of Wyatt Earp
Sometimes a trip through the beautifully preserved space of a national park can feel like a trip back in time, harkening to the lawless days of the Wild West. But before you saddle your pony and ride off into the sunset, swing through the door of the Roughrider Saloon in Grand Canyon National Park. It’s not a kitschy recreation (no one but a tourist is going to make a joke about Miss Kitty), but it’s everything a saloon ought to be. It’s unpretentious and unassuming—the perfect place to sit and people-watch over a surprisingly decent and deliciously cold cocktail.

If the whole point of being in the great outdoors is to be, well, out of doors, then maybe knocking the mud off your boots to head indoors for a drink isn’t for you. But even if you’d rather indulge in a tasty beverage while sitting around a roaring campfire under the stars, you don’t have to forego the quality. Rules vary from park to park as to where alcohol is legal and where it isn’t, but in most parks, drinking is legal on campgrounds and in most public-use areas, and illegal in most parking lots, pull-outs, and park buildings.

Support the Parks Foundation By Packing A Brew
Rogue Brewing Company in Oregon released a new beer this month in honor of the National Park’s centennial. The popular brewery teamed up with Pendleton to release the Pendleton Pale Ale in honor of nearby Crater Lake National Park. A portion of the sales are donated to the National Parks Foundation. The cooler-ready can’s striped design is inspired by Pendleton’s Glacier Stripe which was featured on the first Pendleton national park blanket, released in 1916.

Or Mix Your Own
With plenty of local, park-adjacent craft spirit distilleries—and innumerable camp stores if you’ve forgotten a mixer or run out of beer—the best cocktail you have in a National Park just might be the one you make yourself. Here are a few of our favorite camping cocktails, easily made from a bottle of something good and local and some ingredients you probably already have in your camp kit.

Fancy glassware not required

Fancy glassware not required

The Moscow Mule
An ice-cold ginger beer is hands-down one of the most refreshing post-hike sodas, but spike that with a little local vodka and some lime, and you’ve got an after-hike cocktail worthy of the hike you just completed.

-1.5 oz Crater Lake Vodka from Bendistillery, Bend, Oregon
-1/2 oz lime juice
-Reed’s Ginger Brew

Mix vodka and lime juice in a copper mug—any sort of tin or enamelwear camping mug will also do in a pinch. Fill with ice and top with ginger brew. Sit back, relax, and enjoy.

Bourbon Old Fashioned
If bourbon is more your style, or if you’re exploring Mammoth Caves National Park—conveniently located next to Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail—throw a small bottle of bitters in with the rest of your kitchen gear and you’re on your way to the perfect campfire cocktail.

-2 oz Yellowstone Kentucky Bourbon, from Limestone Branch Distillery, Lebanon, Kentucky
-1 sugar cube OR 1 teaspoon sugar
-Angostura bitters
-2 strips orange zest (optional)

Place one strip of orange zest and sugar in the bottom of a sturdy glass. Add 2-3 dashes of Angostura bitters. Gently muddle the zest with muddler, knife handle, or flashlight. Add bourbon and ice and stir. Strain into a new glass over fresh ice. Garnish with remaining orange zest.

The Centennial
You can retain that National Park feeling and flavor even after you return home. St. George’s Terroir Gin is created using botanicals that evoke the pine and bay laurel smells of California’s Mount Tamalpias State Park. Whether mixed at home or parkside, this cocktail is celebration-worthy.

-2 oz St. George Terroir Gin
-1/3 oz lemon juice
-1/3 oz simple syrup
-1 egg white
-1 sprig rosemary
-Angostura bitters

Combine gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, eggwhite and rosemary in a shaker with ice. Shake and strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with more rosemary.

>>Next: How to Visit a National Park Without Actually Visiting a National Park

Maggie Fuller is a San Francisco–based but globally oriented writer driven to provoke multicultural worldviews as a multimedia journalist. She covers sustainability, responsible travel, and outdoor adventure.
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