For those who choose the richness of nature over luxurious linens and decadent in-room indulgences, and natural hot springs over the latest spa fads, there is a breathtaking abundance of natural amenities in national parks across the United States.
Distinctive accommodation options abound, from stunnin New Deal-era lodges, reminiscent of days gone by, to wilderness gravel-bar campsites. With so many marvels on our doorstep, head outside and go hiking, biking, swimming, kayaking, climbing, canyoneering and soaking up some of the sensational scenery in the United States' national parks and forests.
For our favorite overnight parking possibilities, the Grand Canyon in Arizona; Zion National Park in Utah; Olympic National Park in Washington; Mount Hood in Oregon and the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina, read on and discover the rooms with the best views in the land.
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona (www.nps.gov/grca/)
The gaping chasm carved through the rocks of the Colorado Plateau attracts 5 million people. Most visitors peer the mile down to the canyon floor below from the South Rim, but the truly determined can make their way to the North Rim, where the drop is even more spectacular.
Of the seven lodges, the guest ranch and the historic hotel in the park, our favorite is the South Rim's El Tovar (928-638-2631; www.grandcanyonlodges.com; from $137), the recipient of a $100 million renovation in 2005. Only 100 yards from the rim, the 1905 hunting lodge with its moose heads and stately old-style luxury will make you feel as if you've just stepped off a stagecoach.
If you're feeling hardy, head down into the Inner Canyon and hike, take a mule ride to Phantom Ranch or, if you've got a few days or more to spare, take a river trip on the Colorado River.
Zion National Park, Utah (www.nps.gov/zion)
Utah's first national park comprises more than 146,000 acres of cliffs and canyons. Soaring canyon walls, brilliant blue skies, and sandstone that glows in colors from cream to pink to red prove irresistible lures to visitors.
Restored to its classic 1920s appearance, Zion Lodge (888-297-2757; www.zionlodge.com; from $150) offers historic cabins and magnificent views from Red Rock Grill. Camping is available at three developed sites in the park.
Tackle the challenge of big-wall climbing, or bring binoculars and be amazed at those making their way up the rock walls. Hike through narrow canyons and under amazing red rock formations. Visit Zion Human History Museum. Bike the Pa'rus Trail.
Olympic National Park, Washington (www.nps.gov/olym)
Just one of Washington's three national parks, Olympic National Park juts into the Pacific: a marvelous contrast of beaches, rainforest valleys and glacier-capped peaks, with an amazing wealth of wildlife.
Kalaloch Lodge (157151 Highway 101, Forks, Wash., 360-962-2271; www.visitkalaloch.com; from $92) is a gay-marketed national park lodge within four hours' drive of Portland and Seattle. With windswept beaches, rainforest, glacial mountain backdrop and alpine meadows, it's the perfect spot from which to appreciate Olympic National Park's untamed beauty. Cozy wood-paneled cabins (running 400-800 sq. ft.) line the creek, windows giving thrilling views of waves crashing on the log and driftwood-strewn beach. Most accommodations have fireplaces and kitchenettes, and all rooms come with beach guide, tide tables and his 'n' his or hers 'n' hers walking sticks. Want to bring the other member of the family? Pet-friendly cabins are available, too.
Prospect in teeming tide pools. Watch the sea mist drift past the sea stacks. Clamber up Mount Olympus. Hike through forest and rainforest.
Mount Hood National Forest, Oregon (www.mthoodterritory.com)
Okay, so it's not a national park, but the perfect peak of Oregon's Mount Hood, with its permanently snowy upper slopes, is too good to miss out just because it's lacking full park status. Stretching south from the stunning Columbia River Gorge and only 20 minutes from Portland, summer trails are strewn with wildflowers in alpine meadows, and year-round skiing attracts Olympic hopefuls including the hunky U.S. ski team.
Timberline Lodge (27500 E. Timberline Road, Timberline, Ore.; 503-622-7979; www.timberlinelodge.com; from $105) is an underappreciated American historical treasure. Built in a miraculously brisk 18 months at the height of the Depression, the lodge is a masterpiece of American folkloric and Deco craftsmanship. Most everything -- from chairs to artwork to andirons to fabrics -- was created on the spot by local artists and craftsmen grateful for the wages provided through the progressive federal Works Progress Administration.
Hike a portion of the Timberline Trail or perhaps take a guided mountain bike trip from the SkiBowl Summer Action Park (87000 E. Hwy. 26, Government Camp; 800-754-2695; www.skibowl.com). Either way you'll be intoxicated by the lush growth, clean air and history of this area.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee and North Carolina
Ridges of endless forest straddle the border between North Carolina and Tennessee in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. America's most visited national park has half a million acres of misty mountains to explore.
At 6,593 feet elevation, Mount LeConte is one of Great Smoky Mountains National Park's highest peaks. Perched on its slopes, you really have to want to go to Le Conte Lodge (Gatlinburg; 865-429-5704; www.lecontelodge.com; from $186). The only way is up . . . and on foot. Once you've survived the four- to five-hour hike, cozy rough-hewn cabins and group sleeping lodges await. It's a world away from flashy Gatlinburg below. Kerosene lamps and propane heaters take you back in time, and icy showers and sponge baths are morning rituals.
With more than 800 miles of maintained trails, picnicking, stunning wildlife and wildflowers to view, the Smokies have plenty of natural wonders to keep you busy. At the extreme other end of the scale, Dolly Parton's theme park, Dollywood, is just a couple of miles away at Pigeon Forge.