Romantic Mountain Getaways in North America

A reflection as seen in a valley basin atop Mount Evans in the Colorado Rockies. Courtesy Colorado Tourism Matt Inden/Weaver Multimedia Group
By Hillary Richard McNamara

Cabins in the woods and mountaintop lodges spell romance at any time of year. Whether it's skiing in the winter, watching the mountains bloom in the spring, hiking in the summer, or seeking out foliage in the fall, these mountain retreats provide every couple with a reason to get away.

Among the peaks and valleys of North America's most beautiful mountain ranges, here are five mountain getaways to consider for your next romantic vacation.

Photo Caption: A reflection as seen in a valley basin atop Mount Evans in the Colorado Rockies. Courtesy Colorado Tourism
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The summer greenery of the Smoky Mountain. Courtesy Gatlinburg Department of Tourism Gatlinburg Department of Tourism
What: Numerous country songs have been written in and about the Smoky Mountains. One of the most persistent ballads of all time ("I Will Always Love You") was penned by Dolly Parton, who grew up right outside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

It's little wonder, then, that Gatlinburg, Tennessee, is the second-most popular place to get married in the U.S. With more than 20 wedding chapels within its 10 square miles, this gateway to the national park also boasts the title of "the wedding capital of the south."

Where: The Smoky Mountains run along the border of North Carolina and Tennessee, as a division of Southern Appalachia. This area covers Sevier, Blount, and Cocke Counties in Tennessee and Swain and Haywood Counties in North Carolina. The 814-square-mile park (and a UNESCO World Heritage Site) is famous for its misty valleys, vibrant flora and fauna, and waterfalls.

How To Get There: The Smoky Mountains are primarily a driving destination. An estimated two-thirds of the U.S. population east of the Mississippi River lives within a one-day drive of Gatlinburg.

For those who need to fly, the airport options are: McGhee-Tyson Airport in Knoxville, Tennessee (45 miles from Gatlinburg), Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport in Greer, South Carolina (152 miles from Gatlinburg), and Nashville International Airport in Nashville, Tennessee (210 miles from Gatlinburg).

When: Any time of year is great to visit the Smoky Mountains, but July and October are peak tourism months. The area typically experiences a mild winter, so hiking on any of the 800 miles of trails is possible year-round.

Price: The Lodge at Buckberry Creek is a rustic chalet with modern amenities. All rooms have a classic log-cabin feel, complete with private balconies and fireplaces. Rates start at $180 per night per room.

More Info:
Great Smoky Mountains National Park (www.nps.gov/grsm); Gatlinburg Visitors and Convention Bureau (www.gatlinburg.com); The Lodge at Buckberry Creek (www.buckberrylodge.com)

Photo Caption: The summer greenery of the Smoky Mountains. Courtesy Gatlinburg Department of Tourism
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Dog sledding is one of the many outdoor activities available in Banff National Park. Courtesy Fairmont Hotels and Resorts Fairmont Hotels
What: With more than 69,500 square miles of the Canadian Rocky Mountains to explore, it's perfectly possible for a couple to feel like the last two people on Earth. For those more interested in interacting with the scenery than observing it, there's no end to the activities available. Visitors can soak up the great outdoors by kayaking around Banff and Lake Louise, driving along the Icefields Parkway, spotting wildlife in Jasper National Park, ice climbing through frozen waterfalls, or hiking just about anywhere.

Where:
The Canadian Rockies stretch through the western provinces of Alberta and British Columbia. There are five national parks within the area, four of which -- Banff, Jasper, Kootenay, and Yoho -- make up the UNESCO Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site. (Waterton does not.)

How To Get There:
Calgary International Airport is 72 miles from Canmore, 87 miles from Banff National Park, 123 miles from Lake Louise, 178 miles from Waterton National Park, and 264 miles from Jasper National Park.

The Banff Airporter Shuttle has multiple departures each day, and takes visitors directly to their lodgings. Sundog Tours provides shuttles between Calgary and Banff. Travelers should book in advance to ensure availability.

When: Although the Canadian Rockies are a true year-round destination, winter is particularly spectacular. This part of the world quickly transforms into a winter wonderland each year, boasting some of the best snow for outdoor activities. World-class skiing, dog sledding, snowshoeing, and horse-drawn sleigh rides encourage visitors take full advantage of the cold weather.

Price: The Fairmont Banff Springs is a unique castle-like hotel in Banff National Park, and frequently billed as one of the most romantic lodgings in Canada. Since its opening in 1888, it has served as a popular wedding destination. Rates begin at $299 per room per night, based on double occupancy.

More Info: Travel Alberta (www.travelalberta.com); Banff and Lake Louise Tourism (www.banfflakelouise.com); Fairmont Banff Springs (www.fairmont.com/banffsprings); Banff Airporter Shuttle (www.banffairporter.com); Sundog Tours (www.sundogtours.com)

Photo Caption: Dog sledding is one of the many outdoor activities available in Banff National Park. Courtesy Fairmont Hotels and Resorts
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Herds of elk are just some of the wildlife present throughout Rocky Mountains National Park. Courtesy Colorado Tourism Matt Inden/Weaver Multimedia Group
What: Whether it's hobnobbing in a resort town, relaxing in an outdoor spa surrounded by fresh snow, hot-air ballooning, horseback riding, or simply wandering through the great outdoors, there's something to entertain every couple in the Rocky Mountains.

The mountain range spans seven states from New Mexico to Alaska. Colorado is home to many of the mountain chain's most famous peaks as well as Rocky Mountain National Park. The Continental Divide splits the park almost equally, creating two landscapes on either side -- dry and glaciated to the east, and lush forest to the west.

Where: The Rockies cover roughly half of Colorado's land. Rocky Mountain National Park is confined to Larimer, Boulder, and Grand Counties. In total, the national park has about 265,770 acres of land, including 359 miles of trails, 450 miles of streams, and 150 lakes. Roosevelt, Arapaho, and Routt National Forests surround the national park.

How To Get There: Denver International Airport is about 87 miles from Rocky Mountain National Park, by way of Estes Park. There are four main entrance stations to the park: Beaver Meadows (3.5 miles west of Estes Park on US 36), Wild Basin (4 miles west of Estes Park on State Highway 7), Fall River (4 miles north of Estes Park on US 34), and Grand Lake (2 miles north of Grand Lake on US 34).

The entrance fee for Rocky Mountain National Park is $20 per car or $10 per individual, valid for seven days. Yearly passes are available for $40.

When: This is a year-round destination. Summer is the high season, which may be surprising in a place renowned for its ski resorts. The popular Trail Ridge Road (a section of US 34, and the highest road in the country) frequently closes in the winter due to snow, so visitors hoping to take in as much of the park as possible by car should visit between May and November.

Price: Estes Park, which borders Rocky Mountains National Park, is a charming mountain town full of romance and whimsy. One of the first homes built in the village is now the Black Dog Inn, which offers three private suites, a cottage, and two luxury cabins. Rates start at $170 per night, including a gourmet breakfast.

More Info: Colorado Tourism (www.colorado.com); National Park Service-Rocky Mountains (www.nps.gov/romo); Black Dog Inn Bed and Breakfast (www.blackdoginn.com)

Photo Caption: Herds of elk are just some of the wildlife present throughout Rocky Mountains National Park. Courtesy Colorado Tourism
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Canoes lined up along the lake at Promiseland State Park in the Poconos. Courtesy Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau
What: The long tradition of romance in the Pocono Mountains started in 1945, when the area's first honeymoon resort opened. It catered to GIs and their new wives, many of whom had previously taken military leave in the mountains during World War II.

In 1963, the now-iconic heart-shape hot tub first appeared (in Caesars Cove Haven), solidifying the Poconos' romantic reputation with a bit of kitsch. These days, the Poconos are experiencing a tourism renaissance. A number of world-class spas and couples-only resorts have helped the area redefine itself as a modern romantic getaway.

Where: The Pocono Mountains area is made up of 2,400 square miles of mountains, lakes, rivers, and woods in the northeastern corner of Pennsylvania. The area encompasses Carbon, Monroe, Pike, and Wayne Counties.

How To Get There: The Delaware Water Gap (on US Route 80) is generally considered the gateway to the Poconos. The towns of Jim Thorpe (just off the Northeast extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike) and Milford (just off US Route 84) in Pennsylvania are also major entry points.

The Delaware Water Gap is 40 miles from Lehigh Valley International Airport, 56 miles from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport, and 66 miles from Newark Liberty International Airport.

When: With nine state parks, two national parks, 150 lakes, 126 hiking trails, 35 golf courses, and eight major ski areas, the Poconos are a great year-round destination for outdoorsy pairs.

Price: Today's accommodations and amenities have surpassed the heart-shape hot tubs (although they are still around as part of Cove Haven Entertainment's properties).

The French Manor Inn and Spa is a luxurious chateaux-style B&B, situated atop Huckleberry Mountain. Almost every room boasts a fireplace and Jacuzzi. Rates start at $175 per night midweek and $210 per night on weekends. All bookings receive a welcome fruit and cheese plate, a decanter of sherry, a full country breakfast and afternoon tea service daily, and use of the spa facilities.

More Info: Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau (www.800poconos.com), The French Manor (www.frenchmanor.com)

Photo Caption: Canoes lined up along the lake at Promiseland State Park in the Poconos. Courtesy Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau
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The greens, reds, and purples of the Northern Lights glow against Alaska's night sky. Courtesy Alaska Travel Industry Association Chris McLennan
What: Experience the romance and intrigue of stargazing in the most extreme way while viewing the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) in Alaska's White Mountains. Streaks of greens, purples, and reds swirl through the Northern Sky, forming a mysterious curtain of color against a nighttime backdrop. The city of Fairbanks and the White Mountains are within a ring-shape region around the North Pole, making them an ideal place to see this phenomenon. Couples looking for an unusual mountain getaway will appreciate the special viewing cabins and night tours.

Where:
The White Mountains are located within the one million-acre White Mountains National Recreation Area, which starts about 20 miles north of Fairbanks.

There are three access points to the Recreation Area in winter: Wickersham Dome Trail Head, McKay Creeks Trail Head, and Colorado Creek Trail Head. All three entrances have parking and amenities. Note: Only the first 73 miles of the Elliott Highway and the first 60 miles of the Steese Highway are paved.

Within the White Mountains National Recreation Area, the easiest access points for viewing the Northern Lights on Wickersham Dome Trail Head are Lees Cabin (seven miles from Mile 28) and Moose Creek Cabin (16 miles from Mile 28). Mile 28 on Elliott Highway has a foot and snowshoe path for those who prefer to view the lights outdoors.

How To Get There: Direct flights from the continental U.S. arrive at Fairbanks International Airport daily. Fairbanks is a 45-minute flight from Anchorage on Era Aviation or Alaska Airlines.

When: The Northern Lights tend to be most visible between October and March, when nights are longest and darkest. Technically, the colorful lights are always present (much like the moon), but their intensity and clarity varies from night to night.

Price: The Aurora Borealis Lodge was designed specifically for viewing the Northern Lights. The lodge sits on the top of Cleary Summit, above the fog and far enough away from the city lights. The lodge is 20 miles North of Fairbanks along the Steese Highway at the Southern border of the White Mountains. Note: Aurora Borealis Lodge cannot be accessed via Elliott Highway.

Rooms are apartment-style, with full kitchens and two beds. Rates start at $199 per room, with discounts available for multiple-night stays.

More Info: Fairbanks Convention and Visitors Bureau (www.explorefairbanks.com); Alaska Travel Industry Association (www.travelalaska.com); Aurora Borealis Lodge (www.auroracabin.com); Alaska Airlines (www.alaskaair.com); Era Aviation (www.flyera.com)

Photo Caption: The greens, reds, and purples of the Northern Lights glow against Alaska's night sky. Courtesy Alaska Travel Industry Association
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