Last updated on July 12th, 2019 at 09:07 am

The Desert Inn at Yeehaw Junction
The Desert Inn at Yeehaw Junction

As of August 2018, the Desert Inn is closed.

We will update this story when there is information on the fate of this historic property.

This article was first published on Nov. 15, 2010.

Once upon a time, many moons past, a chain of Turnpike billboards would beckon you to get off Florida’s Turnpike at Yeehaw Junction to buy gas and get your discount coupons for Orlando’s attractions.

“We Pay Your Toll” was the standing offer repeated on sign after sign along the Turnpike.

Times have changed.

The billboards are gone, and the coupons can now be found on the internet or at the Turnpike’s Fort Drum Rest Area (Turnpike MM 184)..

But nostalgia still holds court at the legendary Desert Inn, which dominates the busy corner of State Road 60 and U.S. 441, just west of the Turnpike.

Cowboys once herded cattle to greener pastures through this crossroad, and Florida Crackers snapped whips on mule-drawn freight wagons loaded with lumber. Today, 18-wheelers packed with oranges and grapefruit scream through the intersection.

The Desert Inn dates to the 1880s as a trading post. No roads, just trails. The current building was built in 1898. The 1930s brought paved roads, and the intersection earned the nickname “Jackass Crossing,” a nod to the cowboys and lumbermen who relied on mules for working cattle and hauling timber.

Easy travel brought a bordello to the Desert Inn, and a few cabins were built out back to accommodate the occasional tourist trickling west toward the Gulf Coast.

When Florida’s Turnpike cut through in the 1950s, state legislators changed  the name from Jackass Crossing to a less-offensive Yeehaw Junction.

The 1898 Desert Inn still stands, still serving travelers and cowboys as a restaurant and a bar, and you’ll find a ramshackle 11-unit motel out back: “Clean rooms with showers – $45. No reservations, no refunds.”

hamburger plate desert inn yeehaw junction
The hamburger and fresh-cut fries are the best anywhere. Photo by Bob Rountree
desert inn menu yeehaw junction
Desert Inn menu. Photo by Bob Rountree

I’ve been stopping at the Desert Inn for years to grab a bite to eat on my way to Tampa Bay.  The menu has changed a little under new management, but you wouldn’t really notice — unless you were hankering for a turtle burger.

But you can’t go wrong with the juiciest, tastiest beefburgers on the planet, and the fries are freshly cut, not frozen. (One change: Burgers now served on ciabatta rolls.)

The complete menu is “raht behind ya on the board, honey.” Crunchy fish sandwich; Fried Green Tomato, Fish & Chips…

The horseshoe-shaped bar, wooden booths, witty signs and oddball knick-knacks are classic Old Florida, including the carved Indian couple with their papoose.

Cowboys who work nearby ranches continue to be regulars, as are truckers and tourists. It’s a must-stop for bikers cruising across the state through cow country.

One minute the bar is full, empty the next.

Even without the coupons, Turnpike travelers would be well-served by skipping the Fort Drum Service Plaza for a taste of Old Florida at the Desert Inn.

More about the Desert Inn

The Desert Inn

Reviews on Yelp

If you’ve visited the Desert Inn and would like to comment on this article, feel free to leave a comment below.

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7 Comments

  1. Avatar

    I have stayed at the Desert Inn during the course of two bicycle tours, in which the first stay took place when I traveled from Okeechobee to Orlando in December 2010 and the second stay took place when I traveled from St. Cloud to Lake Wales in December 2011. Considering that it has an in-house restaurant (in which I enjoyed their food during my visits) and that it is within walking distance to two gas stations/convenience stores, the Desert Inn is an extremely strategic hotel because without it, it would have made a long bicycle ride even longer.

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  3. Avatar

    sad just yesterday 11/11/2018 i was on my way back from the A1A and it looks like its closed but thee were construction vehicles in front so im thinking they are going to restore it. Got to walk around it though there was a door left open it was a laundry room the size of a square closet it looked like someone was living there by the looks of a duffel bag looked pretty new i got lots f nice pics of the place you can climb up some stairs to get to the top of the restaurant and get a view of the intersection. I also crossed the do not cross tape to get a look at some stairs that lead inside the main building to gat a pic of the stair case im a photographer we shoot first and apologize later lol

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    We had a pretty good burger there…the cowboy in the Ladies’ restroom did freak me out a bit!