Deep within the pine-forested hills north of Leadville, Colorado, there’s a tiny restaurant with a peculiar requirement. If you want one of its coveted tables, you’ll have to get there under your own steam. In the summer, diners arrive for their reservations in hiking boots. In the winter, they ascend to the Tennessee Pass Cookhouse via snowshoes or skis.
While a snowmobile is available for guests unable to make the walk, diners are encouraged to travel the mile-long approach on foot whenever possible. The car-free perimeter preserves the quiet solitude that the Cookhouse has become known for and ensures an elegant, cabin-style backcountry dining experience. That said, the quirky restaurant owes its reputation to more than just its unique setting.
First built in 1994, the Cookhouse has been turning out gourmet mountain fare for nearly three decades. It specializes in seasonal, from-scratch grub that has included such delicacies as mezcal-rubbed tomahawk steak, smoked trout, and bison tenderloin with lobster tail. The atmosphere is calm and cozy. Wide windows let in the glow of the alpine sunset and leak candlelight out onto the snow.
When you’ve finished your fourth course and had your fill of fine wine, don’t be afraid to linger for a while. Accommodations are close at hand in the form of a tiny village of sleeping yurts surrounding the Tennessee Pass Nordic Center. Book in advance; once you’ve visited the Cookhouse, you’ll want to do everything you can to stay under its spell.
Know Before You Go
To access the Cookhouse, park at the Tennessee Pass Nordic Center. Ski and snowshoe rentals are included in the cost of dinner, a flat fee of $125. The fastest route to the hut is via the 1.1-mile Cooper Loop, a dirt road in summer and a wide groomed trail in winter. Lunches, dinners, and sleeping accommodations are available by reservation only. You can book a sleep yurt online, but meal reservations can only be made via phone.