A Wine Lover’s Guide to the US National Parks
There are more than 400 spaces within the United States National Park Service system. From north to south, and coast to coast these are spots that people put on their bucket lists or simply stumble upon while out and about across the country.
For wine enthusiasts, this is a bit like how we experience the best of wine country, by chipping away at it, and making memories in the process. And while these pastimes — wine and park roaming — may seem like an unlikely pair, they actually go quite well together. Here’s our mini-guide to making it happen.
Is alcohol allowed in national parks?
It depends. With hundreds of parks, each has its own set of rules. It’s best to assume that drinks probably aren't allowed while you are on trails, in park buildings, and in parking lots. If you are camping, check to see if you can bring booze to the site. Always get familiar with the rules first.
If you do discover that wine is welcome, there will also be guidelines about what to do with cans and bottles when you head home. The best approach is to leave no trace and gather up everything you brought in. Recycle it appropriately or pack it out and deal with it at home. If bulky glass is too much, consider alternative packaging like bagged wine, bag in box, or canned wine. Screw cap bottles make it easy to chill and pour after a long day hiking.
What national parks are in wine country?
Sometimes we don't have a ton of time off, but that doesn’t mean that the next trip can’t maximize a full experience. If you’ve wanted to squeeze in both park time and wine tasting time, choose a spot that has both.
One of our favorites is Shenandoah National Park, located in a gorgeous part of Virginia that is also home to the Charlottesville region and the Monticello AVA. This bucolic countryside has supported wine cultivation since Thomas Jefferson had a vision for vineyards as part of our young country’s agricultural prospects.
Another highlight is Pinnacles National Park in Monterey County, near the Santa Lucia Highlands, one of the central coast’s best spots for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The park is a stunning space of towering rock formations, old oaks, and abundant wildlife. It’s also a region with dedicated viticultural pioneers and welcoming tasting rooms.
Which national parks are busy right now?
According to reports from the National Park Service, three parks had more than 10 million visits in 2021: Blue Ridge Parkway, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
And while that is a lot of people, it’s actually just a fraction of the park system, and a great deal of parks will offer more personal space for relaxing. If you are one of those people that can’t stand a crowded tasting room, you might want to choose a quieter park. We’ve got our eye on Colorado’s Black Canyon of the Gunnison which is also an International Dark Sky Park and not far from the state’s wine producing appellations.
Are there urban national parks?
Don’t think you have to hit the open road to find a national park to visit. According to the National Park Service, over one-third of park sites are located in urban settings. And out of the country’s 50 most populated metros, 40 of them have their own national park units.
Plan an afternoon seeing spots such as Gateway Arch National Park in St. Louis, followed by a nice dinner with a glass of wine at one of the city's incredible restaurants. Or get a photo opp at Golden Gate National Recreation Area then head up to the North Coast for some wine tasting in Sonoma or Napa County.
It’s mind-boggling to consider that national parks were visited almost 300 million times in 2021 and the interest in these priceless zones is only showing signs of increasing. It’s not surprising that so many of us were inspired to sit back and reflect on the abundance of the park system. Why not do it with a glass of wine and a deep breath?