Top 3: Wine Country Hikes

The fine fall colors and comfortable weather of harvest season will make you want to raise a glass.
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The fine fall colors and comfortable weather of harvest season will make you want to raise a glass.

Robert Louis Stevenson State Park, CA
Mt. St. Helena
Snag summit views of vine-latticed valleys.

Combine Napa Valley’s claims to fame—pastoral landscapes and premium wine—on this 10-mile out-and-back to a 4,343-foot summit just north of Calistoga. The dry Mediterranean climate, so amenable to viniculture, means that from May to October you’re all but guaranteed a sunny day. Begin on the Stevenson Memorial Trail, switchbacking up 700 feet in .8 mile through blue oak. Turn left on the Mt. St. Helena Trail (a fire road) for your next four miles. This section and the flat summit provide views of a tapestry of meticulously cultivated vines, which turn gold and crimson in October. Retrace your steps, then sip world-class Cabernet Sauvignon from Chateau Montelena’s century-old vineyards (montelena.com), 6.2 road-miles south. (707-942-4575; parks.ca.gov) Trip databackpacker.com/hikes/342167

The way From Calistoga, take CA 29 N 8.2 miles and turn right into a small parking area at the crest of a hill. The trailhead is across the road.

Shawnee National Forest, IL
Panther Den Loop

Escape into a craggy oasis.

Wine in Illinois? You betcha. The Shawnee Hills along the state’s southern border feature high ridges loaded with gnarled limestone and sandstone formations, plus summers that linger but don’t swelter. The result? Great hiking and a federally-recognized grape-growing region that’s more Loire Valley than Corn Belt. Start by exploring the state’s smallest wilderness, 839-acre Panther Den, on a 4.6-mile figure-eight through a maze of sandstone outcrops. Link Trails 371, 389, and 001 through pine forest to explore the passageways and caves created by 70-foot rock walls. Post-hike, drive 2.4 miles to Blue Sky Vineyards (blueskyvineyard.com) for a glass of velvety Cab Franc. The hard-to-grow varietal thrives in the area’s rocky soil. (618-833-8576; fs.usda.gov/shawneeTrip databackpacker.com/hikes/1732038

The way From Carbondale, link Giant City Rd., Grassy Rd., Rocky Comfort Rd., Panther Den Rd., and Panther Den Ln. for an 18-mile drive to the trailhead.

Watkins Glen State Park, NY
Gorge Trail

Revel in rocky cliffs and first-rate Riesling.

When glaciers retreated from this area, they left behind two gifts: deep lakes that moderate air temperatures, and topography that helped streams carve dramatic gorges through sandy soils and bedrock. Those conditions make for great hiking, and they also help produce the best wine in the East. Enjoy both in a day: Begin a 4.5-mile semi-loop by climbing the Gorge Trail’s 800 shale steps past (and behind) 19 waterfalls in a 400-foot-deep chasm. Turn left toward the South Rim Trail near mile 1.3; white blazes lead to beaver-inhabited Punchbowl Lake. Go .2 mile to tick off one last fall, then return via the Finger Lakes Trail. Next, drive the three miles to Lakewood Vineyards (lakewoodvineyards.com) to taste crisp, dry Riesling (the area’s specialty). (607-535-4511; nysparks.com/parksTrip databackpacker.com/hikes/1761655

The way From Ithaca, take NY 79 W for 21 miles to NY 414 S. Turn left into Watkins Glen Village; the park entrance is in the middle of the village.