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USA & Canada: National Parks | America's Top 5 Romantic Escapes

Ahh, the great outdoors. The mesmerizing violet glow of a desert sunset. The snuggle-inducing cuff of a bracing alpine breeze. The tangy scent of fresh ocean air. Mother Nature certainly knows how to set a romantic mood, and the settings for those idyllic scenic splendors are America's National Parks. Two hundred or so of these sylvan retreats lie scattered across the U.S., from tiny preserves dedicated to the wondrous works of humankind to expansive sanctuaries sheltering wild animals and wild sites. Honeymoon havens await the wild of heart. For information about any of these parks, go to the National Park Service website.

Take a Hike

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
No other park quite says Strut those gorgeous gams like Rocky Mountain National Park. Draped across Colorado's Front Range, 70 miles northwest of Denver, this 415-square-mile sanctuary unfurls high mountain terrain from alpine glacial vales to pine forests dotted with wildflower meadows. Exactly 346 miles of hiking trails lace through the crumpled vistas, serrated by dozens of peaks soaring more than 12,000 feet high. Trekking here is a breathless experience worth every pant.

Pitching a tent in "Rocky" is a good idea for hikers eager to tackle the park's signature trail: a 14- to 16-hour, strenuous (but doable by most) ascent of 14,255-foot Longs Peak. Hikes leave at 2 a.m. from Longs Peak Campground. By noon you're at the summit, and by 6 p.m. you're back at camp. Experienced hikers can make the go by themselves, while novices had best sign up with Colorado Mountain School for a guided excursion.

Don't fret if dizzying mountain climbs aren't your thing. "Rocky" has plenty of easy strolls and gentle heel-to-toe pursuits along blue lakes and frothy creeks. Hey, you can even just drive through the scenery on Trail Ridge Road, the highest paved road in the nation. From the Alpine Visitor Center there's a short trail through the alpine tundra up to an observation point with a good view of Longs Peak in the distance.

Rock 'N Roll

Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce, and Zion National Parks, Utah
Take handlebar in hand for rock-and-roll pedaling excursions through Utah's famed plateaus, scattered throughout the national parks of Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce, and Zion. This foursome of sandstone sanctuaries arc across the Beehive State's southwestern reaches, holding fantastic geological formations -- weird spires, stone pedestals, perilous pinnacles -- threaded with roadside vistas that make sprocket jocks swoon with adrenaline.

Bike touring outfits are just the ticket to explore these harsh lands. Mount up with Austin~Lehman Adventure for six-day spins through the delicate towers and awesome cone-shaped "hoodoos" of Bryce and Zion. The daily grind is anywhere from 30 to 50 miles, with overnight stays in B&Bs or lodges. Ditto for Backroads, with its six-day trek through the same parks.

In Arches and Canyonlands, The Devil's Garden, the White Rim Trail, the Sand Flats Trail, and stretches of the thrilling Kokopelli and Slickrock trails are the playgrounds for moderately difficult runs. Saddle-sore backsides find plenty of comfort at day's end, whether that's at the Pack Creek Inn in the La Sal Mountains or under tent flaps on a mesa.

Giddyap, Pardner

Saguaro National Park, Arizona
Horsing around is sort of a honeymoon thing. Saguaro National Park is the place to do it. Distributed over two districts in the Rincon and Tucson mountains west and east of Tucson, this Sonoran Desert park is quintessential American Southwest. Giant saguaro cacti stand like sentinels over the rocky landscape, smeared green here and there with stands of mesquite and plots of spiky agave. Horse trails snake through the rough terrain, home to coyotes, javelinas, mountain lions, mule deer, and, yes, a few rattlesnakes -- best encountered at the remarkable Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.

Wet and Wild

Virgin Islands National Park, St. John, USVI
Think paradise when you think of St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands. That's what millionaire Laurance Rockefeller did in 1956 when he purchased, then deeded, a good share of the Manhattan-sized island to the Federal government. Today, Virgin Islands National Park covers nearly 75% of the island, including 5,600 acres of offshore aquatic habitat.

Cruz Bay is hamlet central, 20 minutes by ferry from St. Thomas' Red Hook landing. The sleepy town holds most of the island's 3,500 residents. Cruz Bay is the place to check out the touring options at park headquarters, then slide in behind the wheel of a rented four-wheel-drive or hop atop a mountain bike for spins along roads crisscrossing the isle. Plan to take your hiking boots -- the park sports 20 miles of hiking trails. Reef Bay Trail is one of the best, with an easygoing three-mile descent through forest and cactus woodlands, past an old sugar mill and pre-Columbian petroglyphs. Don't forget your bathing suits! The trek peters out at Reef Bay, perfect for a refreshing dip. But if you happen to spot one of the island's 500 or so feral, white donkeys, give wide berth.

Cool as Ice

Glacier Bay National Park and Reserve, Alaska
From mid-May to mid-September, Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve becomes one of America's coolest love spots. This 3.3-million acre sanctuary, situated along Alaska's coast 65 miles northwest of Juneau, showcases 14 tidewater glaciers -- breathtakingly immense rivers of ice that snap, crackle, and pop as they calve ice hunks the size of buses into the cloudy, eerie emerald-hued fjords.

-- Dan Klinglesmith

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