In an era of shrinking wilderness, it seems downright visionary that early U.S. presidents put pen to paper to protect diverse ecosystems for the public good.
Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Valley Grant Act in 1864. Ulysses S. Grant created Yellowstone National Park in 1872. And, at the turn of the 20th century, Theodore Roosevelt earned the moniker “The Conservation President” for his slew of protections.
Some of today’s most interesting and least-congested parks border wine country. And there’s no better way to see America than through its forests, dunes and mountains than with a glass of local wine.
Before you visit a park, check the National Parks Service website for Covid-19 modifications and closures.
White Sands National Park
Prefer a less crowded park experience? While four million people trek to Yosemite each year, White Sands National Park receives just 600,000 visitors across 275 square miles of desert. As its name implies, the park’s gypsum sand shimmers enough to mimic snowy dunes.
Bright and dry days help vines flourish in nearby Mesilla Valley, New Mexico’s smallest American Viticultural Area (AVA). Straddling the Rio Grande River, the climate supports the production of rich reds from varieties like Zinfandel, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, plus a bit of Tempranillo. The town of Las Cruces serves as a jumping-off point to explore local wineries like Lescombes Winery, Rio Grande Winery, La Viña Winery and Luna Rossa Winery.
Shenandoah National Park
Shenandoah, which teems with vistas, wildlife and waterfalls, attracts around 1.5 million visitors per year. About 75 miles from Washington D.C., the centerpiece of the 200,000-acre park is the 105-mile Skyline Drive that features dramatic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains around every turn. Well-marked trails offer hikes through woodland valleys and across streams. History buffs might want to stop at nearby Manassas National Battlefield Park, site of a devastating 1861 Civil War clash.
At the southern end of the park lies Charlottesville, in Albemarle County, the pastoral area that Thomas Jefferson called home. Though he failed to make fine wine, wineries like King Family Vineyards, Stinson Vineyards, Barboursville and Veritas produce Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Viognier and red blends in the Monticello AVA. At the northern end of the park, RdV Vineyards sets a benchmark for Virginia wine with its Cabernet blend, allocated only to members of its reserve list.
Pinnacles National Park
As throngs fight for reservations to Yosemite, in-the-know travelers go to Pinnacles National Park. Not only does it serve around 200,000 visitors a year, Pinnacles neighbors the beautiful coastal town of Carmel-by-the-Sea and Central Coast wine regions in Monterey County.
Much like the ancient soils that nurture nearby Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vines, the park’s landscape was born of geological upheaval. More than 23 million years ago, volcanos and shifting tectonic plates created the unique Talus caves and rock formations, or pinnacles. Hikers and cavers test their athleticism and nerve on challenging terrain, though there are also easier hikes for the less ambitious. All highlight diverse wildlife, from hummingbirds and condors to salamanders and mountain lions.
Wine lovers can tackle the 5.3-mile hike from Condor Gulch to High Peaks in the morning, followed by lunchtime sips in the Santa Lucia Highlands. There’s a clutch of wineries along River Road, with Hahn Family Wines near the south, and Wrath Wines further north.
Grand Canyon National Park
Grand Canyon National Park is a showstopper of the American Southwest. With upwards of six million visitors each year, reservations for the vast gorge’s lodges and cabins are booked up to a year in advance. However, a photo of the winding Colorado River from the South Rim is far easier to land. Lookout points at Navajo Point and Desert View Drive swell with crowds, but for good reason. The two-billion-year-old layered red sedimentary rock is peppered with pines, spruces and firs. It’s peerless in its beauty.
Two hours south, near Sedona, another hiking haven amidst sublime scenery, sits Verde Valley. Winemaking dates to the 1800s, but the modern industry was resurrected in the 1980s. Local vintners have proposed a 200-square-mile AVA. Vineyards offer mostly red grapes like Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Zinfandel and Mourvèdre. Taste along the Verde Valley trail or at the numerous tasting rooms in Cottonwood and Jerome. Maynard James Keenan, lead singer of Tool, and Eric Glomski are key players. Maynard owns Caduceus Cellars and Merkin Vineyards, and Glomski founded Page Springs Cellars.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
A terrestrial version of the ocean’s deepest trenches, Black Canyon of the Gunnison earned its name because sunlight reaches the gorge’s deepest fathom for just a few minutes each day. The park welcomes around 400,000 people every year. Climbers and hikers in search of steep terrain and scenic payoffs head to Devils Lookout and Pulpit Rock Overlook or the Inner Canyon. Trails for all abilities line the South and North rims, and easier paths like Cedar Point Nature Trail still offer stunning views of the 2,000-foot drop.
West Elks, named for the mountains seen beyond the park, is the closest wine region and Colorado’s second AVA. A bit further sits the state’s inaugural AVA, Grand Valley, near the town of Palisade. Elevation plays an important role, as some vineyards start at 4,500 feet above sea level and go as high as 7,000 feet.
In Grand Valley, hit Colorado Cellars, the area’s oldest and largest winery, as well as Two Rivers Winery, Varaison Vineyards and Red Fox Cellars, all which offer a range of red and white wines like Riesling, Chardonnay, Merlot and Nebbiolo.