Stunning US Wine Regions to Combine Wine Tasting with Outdoor Adventures

By | Travel Journalist
Last Updated: May 20, 2024
Wine regions in the US great for outdoor activities and wine tasting

Wine thrives in rugged, picturesque areas where Mother Nature is in command. That’s also where fans of the great outdoors thrive, taking in awe-inspiring terrain through hikes, paddles, and weekend-long camping excursions. 

Most American appellations are easy on the eyes but some offer added appeal for adventure-seekers. From water sports on rivers in the vicinity of nearby state parks to natural areas with miles and miles of hiking trails, some wine-growing areas satisfy the wino and wildlife lover alike. 

Turns out, you can have your Merlot and your mountainside hike too. With so many stunning appellations stretching from coast to coast, it might be time to plan an adventure. Just remember that in addition to your tasting journal and camera, pack your favorite trail shoes, swim trunks and fishing gear.

As you piece together your summer plans, consider the following wine regions in the United States for great pours in and around wondrous wild places.

Rogue Valley, Oregon

drinking wine in Oregon's Rogue Valley wine region
Image courtesy Travel Southern Oregon.

One of Oregon’s prettiest AVA’s resides in the southern corner of the state, framing the namesake and scenic river. Here, you’ll find not only tremendous Grenache, Tempranillo and Viognier, but rafting, fly-fishing, hiking, and easy access to the state’s only National Park in Crater Lake.

The beautiful Rogue Valley region and vineyard landscape in Oregon
A glimpse of the views you can expect in Oregon’s Rogue Valley AVA. Image courtesy Marc Salvatore.

While there’s plenty of wine to try, the appellation itself is fairly undeveloped, with just about 1,100 acres under cultivation. That means much of the rest is reserved for nature itself, with peaks from the Cascades and Siskiyou ranges rising up from all directions and old-growth forest that feed the soul. Wineries of note include Irving & Roberts, Quady North and Foris Vineyards. For a trip back in time, head over to the gorgeously-restored and wine-friendly town of Jacksonville.

RELATED: Visit These Top Wineries in Southern Oregon Wine Country

Sta. Rita Hills, California

Set in Santa Barbara county and home to about 60 wineries, the Sta. Rita Hills was established in 2001. Nestled within the Santa Ynez Valley in one of few east-west stretches, the AVA sucks in cool air from the Pacific, creating a climate ideal for Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Syrah. It’s home to the iconic Sanford & Benedict Vineyard, planted in 1971, still turning out some of the best fruit in the state. The scene is thriving and showing no signs of slowing down, with labels like Alma Rosa, Brewer-Clifton and Tomi Cellars leading the way. Winos may recognize a few spots from Sideways (like The Hitching Post) and outdoors junkies will love the coastal bluffs at Gaviota State Park, tide pools at El Capitan State Beach and camping and water sports at Cachuma Lake Recreation Area—all a short drive from wine country.

Texas Hill Country

The landscape of Texas Hill Country will put you at ease, a landlocked sea of gently rolling hills, granite and limestone outcroppings and endless strands of oak. Tasting rooms dot the country roads, along with pecan stands, BBQ joints and more. Major metro areas like Austin and San Antonio are close, but you’d never know it in this sleepy enclave. A lot of the wine activity revolves around the historic town of Fredericksburg, very much worth a visit. What’s grown here is perhaps the most interesting feature, an expansive list including grape varieties like Aglianico, Colombard, Semillon and Trebbiano. Fans of more familiar types will be happy too, as the region is making some excellent and underrated Barbera, Sangiovese and Tempranillo (all great with BBQ, as luck would have it). The AVA is the third largest in the nation, so there’s plenty to explore, including Duchman Family Winery, Pedernales Cellars and William Chris Vineyards. Lake Travis is waiting to cool you off and Colorado Bend State Park offers idyllic tent camping along the Colorado River. It’s home to the state fish (Guadalupe bass), refreshing swimming holes and the seven story-high Gorman Falls.

Long Island, New York

Vineyard in North Fork Long Island
Image courtesy Discover Long Island.

New York has become synonymous with big city amenities but the Empire State has some great wine and outdoor recreational offerings too. The Long Island AVA is where it’s at, located on the south end of the island and formally established in 2001. It’s a pleasant mix of small farms, produce stands, cider houses and wineries specializing in Cab Franc, Malbec and Sauvignon Blanc. Many in the know think the wine industry is just scratching the surface, with potential abound. The maritime climate keeps the summer heat in check and there are tons of great beaches and parks along the shores. Take in some great bites and city flair at towns like East Hampton and Southampton and then flee to natural areas like the Elizabeth A. Morton Wildlife Refuge for spectacular birding and wooded trails.

RELATED: Best Long Island Wineries 2024: Complete Wine Tasting Guide

Grand Valley, Colorado

Vineyard and Book Cliffs in Grand Valley, Colorado
Image courtesy Tvir Bickis / Getty.

Mesa County, Colorado’s Grand Valley lives up to its name. Bookended by the charming small towns of Fruita and Palisade, the appellation is set on a raised valley some 4,000-5,000 feet above sea level. High-altitude wines are the name of the game here, with some of the highest-set vineyards in North America. Down low, farms and vineyards in and around the Colorado River. Up above, majestic mesas and poetic skylines. The Ordinary Fellow perhaps best sums up the buzzing local wine industry, a crafty producer making elegant, acid-driven wines that speak to their place. Think bright Chardonnay, clean Pinot Noir and Riesling that’s downright electric. In between tasting room stops, check out the Tilman Bishop State Recreation Area for an impromptu picnic. Better yet, venture out to the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests for out-of-this-world hikes, fly-fishing and the possibility of moose and bighorn sheep sightings.

The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater, Oregon

This dramatic AVA on the Oregon side of the Walla Walla Valley takes terroir to the max. The cobble here is incredible, deposited from ancient flows and creating some very rugged conditions for wine growing. And the vines love it, producing some of the most interesting takes on Cab Franc and Syrah we’ve ever tasted. Top producers include Delmas, Force Majeure, The Walls and Watermill Winery. If you’ve never tasted minerality and how the soil rubs off on a wine, go here and be forever changed. Pop over to Walla Walla for great eats at Passatempto Taverna or a steak and beer at Walla Walla Steak Company (they share a space with the esteemed Crossbuck Brewing). When nature calls, head out to the Umatilla National Forest for camping and trails or Mill Creek and Bennington Lake Recreation Area. And keep in mind that much of the valley resides on the Washington side, so be sure to scope out the many great tasting rooms there as well.

Crest of the Blue Ridge, North Carolina

View of the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina
Image courtesy JJ Neff / Getty.

Another aptly-named appellation, this one stares at the jaw-dropping Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina. The surrounding topography tempers the climate, making for some ideal conditions for making varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon, Gruner Veltliner, Merlot and Riesling, among others. There’s a peacefulness to the relatively new AVA, with just eight wineries at the moment (although that number will surely rise soon). Asheville is close, a great town with a food and drink scene that bunches well above its moderate size. Trails and waterfalls can be found in every direction and Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests are ever-so close. North Carolina is the tenth-largest producer of wine in the union, meaning there are plenty of options elsewhere. But for the right combo of fledging winemaking talent and wild lands, we’re going with the Crest of the Blue Ridge. You may even get to try some indigenous American varietals, something the East Coast winemaking states are increasingly playing around with.

RELATED: The Best North Carolina Wineries and Vineyards to Visit

Champlain Valley, New York

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This valley in New York offers a short and sweet growing season accented by cool temperatures. The topography is remarkable, with the Adirondacks and Green Mountains on either side of the appellation. Way up in the corner of upstate, this region is known for its unique hybrids like Frontenac, La Crescent and Marquette. Absorb the many charms of nearby Burlington and head over to Grand Isle State Park for ample camping opportunities, canoeing and paddling opportunities, rustic cabins and more. When autumn colors begin to flourish and local restaurants source impressive offerings from nearby farms and purveyors, there’s no better place to be. The Vermont side of the lake will soon get its own AVA worth exploring too, pending TTB approval.

Explore eagerly and sensibly. There are *269 American Viticultural Areas and counting in the US*, many with great access to places untainted by modern development. While we love the comforts of a good wine country town–the hotels, the restaurants, the tasting rooms–we also love to get away from the grid altogether. Just remember to pack out what you pack in and be prepared for access and day-use fees. Take advantage of drivers and touring companies where possible and chat up the locals about additional places worth exploring–ones that serve wine as well as public lands with all the views. Wine does a tremendous job of revealing a sense of place and you’ll appreciate it all the more after exploring the far reaches of these great appellations.

Featured Image courtesy Rogue Valley Wine Country.

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