This was published prior to COVID’s impact on the restaurant and tourism industry, therefore some of the info about the establishments may not currently be accurate. I’ll update “post Covid.”
So you’re a vegan and you’re planning a trip to a national park. Both are excellent concepts, but the two don’t always gracefully tango. At least not without some dance lessons.
And by lessons I mean strategic planning so you’re sure to have healthy food quicker than you can say the words “hungry grumps.”
Vegan traveling has gotten exponentially easier over the past few years, and will surely continue to trend that way as more people lean into a dairy-free lifestyle. But when you are trekking into the National Parks of it all, you have to do some leg work ahead of time. (Actually, this is true even if you aren’t vegan; just having some semblance of healthy eats – period – in and around the National Parks requires some planning.)
Hubby and I have been National Parkers for over a decade and understand the finding-food-drill forward and backward, but even we were pleasantly surprised on our most recent trip to Zion and Bryce. It was much easier than we anticipated.
If you’re thinking about vegan-ing your way through Zion and Bryce, here’s a head start on your planning. Try the below itinerary on for size:
Before you go
Bring a collapsable cooler. It’ll come in handy on your long car rides and inside the parks.
Fly into Salt Lake
Warning: This city has more plant-based digs than you’ll have time to visit!
We hit Zest upon arrival. We’d been there before so I knew it was a must-visit. The vegan menu is packed with fresh ingredients and raw & gluten-free features. Note, though, due to the weird laws in Utah this restaurant is a 21+ establishment.
If you’re looking for a place to catch a game and an adult beverage I’ve got two recommendations: Red Rock Brewery has a vegan burger and a superfood salad. Ask for one to be served over the other – sans cheese (duh) – and you’ve got yourself a winner. If you’re craving carbs, they also have spiral cut fries that pass this fry snob’s standards.
Squatters Pub also has a collection of veg or can-be-made-veg goodies. While I spotted some snappy salads and a quinoa veggie burger on the menu, we went specifically for cocktails and apps, of which the vegan offerings were enough.
On the way south…
Before you head out of town stop at Harmon’s Grocery to grab “just in case” items: almond milk and snacks (preferably snacks that double as good oatmeal toppings…I’ll explain later.) If you’re like me and need your coffee every day, non-dairy milk is not a guarantee everywhere, so it’s BYO. I usually go for the 8 oz cartons if they have them (as opposed to the 32 oz) for two reasons: 1.) you never know how long you’ll be without refrigeration and that way you won’t waste as much if you have to throw away an opened container, and 2.) they fit easier in your coolers and luggage.
Less than an hour out of Salt Lake you’ll go through Provo
We wanted to check out the BYU campus and hit a football game. Didn’t have a lot of time so we hit CHOM burger bar on our walk to the stadium. They have a vegan burger (with vegan bun and vegan aloi too) as well as a few half-decent salads. And if you’re heading to the stadium, you’ll want to eat ahead of time; the vegan options inside the stadium are dismal (at least as of 2017.)
The next morning we hit Ivie juice bar for a good Acai bowl, which was much needed after the burger & fries & stadium-roasted sugary coated nuts the night before.
About 1.5-2 hours out of Salt Lake you’ll pass Fillmore
Right off the exit sits Costa Vida. As a Pennsylvanian I’d never heard of this Mexican chain, but it was a happy accident we ran into it. Their beans and rice are all vegetarian so you can safely get a fresh ingredient cheese-less burrito.
Coffee alert! If you look out the window of Costa Vida across Highway 99 you’ll see the Maverick convenience store. This is the only place on the route from Provo to Zion that I could find bottled black cold brew coffee. And I stopped a lot of places looking! Every other store I went into had about 89 options of Dunkins or Starbucks but they all had dairy.
About 3 hours out of Salt Lake you’ll get to Cedar City
We stopped here thanks to yelp and a tip to try the Esther sandwich at Park Place Eatery. We weren’t hungry at the time but because we weren’t sure what vegan options lay ahead that evening, ordered it to go. I ended up eating it in our hotel that evening, and if I had to do it again, I would have eaten it fresh. It was meant to be served warm, and it also contained sauerkraut which made for a soggy bread experience hours later. I’m confident it would have been a good choice had I not waited so long.
This is also your last chance for decent coffee until Zion. Get an almond milk latte at Grind Coffeehouse.
About 4.5 hours from Salt Lake you’ll get to Springdale
This is where you’ll most likely stay if you’re visiting Zion. It’s packed with motels that offer breakfast, so you can fill up on some oatmeal and fruit (double check they don’t make it with milk.) This is where you’ll be happy to have purchased the “just in case” mixed nuts. Most of the fixin’s served with hotel oatmeal include sugar, sugar, and items coated with sugar. You’ll most likely tap into your almond milk here. We stayed at La Quinta, which only offered dairy milk for morning coffee.
If you’re up and out before the breakfast bell stop at Cafe Soliel. Here you can get a Tofu breakfast scramble that will fuel you through your first hike and order a sandwich to go. You’re going to want to bring lunch into the park with you – the hikes are several hours long and the park is big, so food is not quickly accessible. Don’t count on being able to get beverages easily in the park either. There are water bottle filling stations but nary a place to buy bottles of water. So BYO everything. (Enter: the collapsable cooler!)
In the evening after you’re hiked out, head over to the Whiptail Grill. Don’t be in a hurry (they’ll tell you upon arrival that they have a small kitchen and it’s gonna be a while.) Go for the stuffed avocado salad; with or without tofu it’s fabulous! They also have a few other vegan options.
Need a pick-me up? Stop at Deep Creek Coffee for a soy latte. If you’re heading toward Bryce next, this is your last place for good coffee for a few days.
About an hour from Springdale – heading toward Bryce – you’ll pass Kanab
I can’t vouch for the Rocking V Cafe because we drove through on a Tuesday, and they are closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. According to their website they have a handful of vegan dishes on the menu, and claim to happily modify certain other dishes to accommodate.
About 1.75 hours from Springdale you’ll get to Bryce UT
The landscape of healthy eating is a bit more sparse outside Bryce National Park. This is a time you’ll definitely utilize your in-room fridge & microwave. We got in to town late in the evening and made our first stop Ruby’s Inn General Store to pick up some grocery items. We planned to get to the park before the restaurants opened the next morning, so breakfast in the room it had to be. (And even if we had time, finding a place for a light, healthy & quick breakfast would have been a challenge.)
The most surprising meal of our trip was the Lodge at Bryce Canyon, which is inside the park! I expected this to be the typical everything-made-from-frozen,-we-have-to-eat-here-because-it’s-the-only-place-in-the-park kind of restaurant. But, hold your heartburn people, this was an actual real restaurant with fresh ingredients and many items made in-lodge! It also makes an effort to account for special dietary concerns (including gluten free!)
I’m pre-conditioned to assume restaurant veggie burgers are not vegan, but on a whim I asked..…and it was! Then, wouldn’t you know that in my excitement I pulled a rookie move and forgot to ask about the bread. Doh! I was able to avoid a sad ending to this good burger story, by finding the server and getting the ship rerouted before it hit shore. (It’s amazing how many restaurants go to the trouble of offering vegan burgers but then serve it on a brioche bun.) However, I’m not complaining. They switched out the bread and received bonus points by serving fresh cut fries with it.
BTW, if you’re hankering for something a little lighter than burger & fries, they have a roasted veg dish on both the lunch & dinner menus, as well as some and some good looking salads.
About 20 minutes outside Bryce UT you’ll drive through Panguitch
Coffee alert! This is your last chance for a non-dairy latte until you get to Salt Lake. Wanderlust Cowgirl Coffee is a little walk-up shack near the Hitch & Post Campground.
About 4 hours away from Bryce UT, you’ll return to Salt Lake
We checked out The Vertical Diner for dinner when we got back into the city. The good news is it’s a totally plant-based menu with lots of stuff….but if you have only one chance for slammin’ vegstuff before leaving the city or want something fresh and healthy, keep driving. There are paaaahlenty of top-notch spots waiting ahead.
Looking for something a little sweet? The Monkey Wrench is a plant-based (“anti-dairy” as they call it) ice cream shop, although you won’t know it from looking at the outside, the inside, talking to locals, or scouring the internet. Granted I was there a few months after it had opened but they definitely lead with the food and not the fact that it’s plant-based.
Bonus vegan points: Right next door is its sister joint – Boltcutter. Here you can get a mean jackfruit taco.
On your way to the airport
When I’m not sure about an airport’s food offerings I get a sandwich to bring with me. I have to believe that there will be a day when TSA might not understand this logic, but to date I’ve been lucky. Buds consists of a walk-up window, some picnic tables, and some kick ass sandwiches that are conveniently wrapped for travel.
Happy vegan travels! If you have any other veg tips for in and around the parks I’d love to know. Please share!