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Top 10 hotels for nature lovers

By J.C. Davis, Rich Ehisen, Peter Fish, Bonnie Henderson, Matthew Jaffe, Rachel Levin, Lori L. Midson, Caroline Patterson, Samantha Schoech, Amy Traverso, Sunset Magazine
Published On: May 16 2011 02:20:10 PM CDT
Updated On: Aug 16 2011 01:34:10 AM CDT
Glacier Bay National Park

Brian Adams

Bugaboo Lodge, Purcell Mountains, British Columbia

Say good morning to the glacier -- from your warm, cushy bed. Next, tackle the blueberry-banana pancakes. Then thwap, thwap; blades blur and grass ripples. Hang on to your sunhat as you're whisked high into the blue sky, up to the jagged peaks of the Purcells, and plopped -- peacefully -- in the middle of absolutely nowhere. It's called heli-hiking, and once you try it, you'll never hoof it uphill for a view again. The guided walk can be as leisurely, or as challenging, as you choose. And the beauty of the surroundings brings out the playfulness in all: Silver-haired siblings frolic in a wildflower-filled meadow; kids toss snow over steep rocks. At the end of the day, everyone reunites back at the lodge for a well-deserved dinner. After a soak in the rooftop tub, you're ready for tomorrow's adventure. INFO: Bugaboo Lodge is one of six wilderness lodges run by Canadian Mountain Holidays; 800-661-0252. –Rachel Levin

Loews Ventana Canyon Resort, Tucson, Arizona

Within minutes of leaving the resort's tony confines, you can hike into some genuine, 100 percent American wilderness. The monumental resort, edged by a golf course, sits at the head of its namesake canyon in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains. After a brief stretch through a private easement, you enter the pristine Sonoran Desert habitat of the Pusch Ridge Wilderness. Saguaros crowd the slopes and huge boulders fill the canyon bottom, where a seasonal stream runs. About 2½ miles of hiking offers a nice taste of the canyon's beauty and leads to shallow swimming holes (depending on rains) at Maiden Pools. But if you're really inspired, the trail continues for another few miles and climbs more than 3,000 feet into the heart of the Catalinas. INFO: 800-234-5117. –Matthew Jaffe

Olinda Country Cottages, Makawao, Hawaii

High above beach level in Maui's Upcountry, these cottages on a hill command a stunning view of the island's North Shore. About 15 minutes up the road from Makawao, the place is at 4000-foot elevation, meaning cool mornings and plenty of fresh air and making this spot a great getaway for hikers. Stay in Hidden Cottage (our favorite) and wander the property's 8.6 acres of grassy meadow and protea groves. Or walk to the nearby Waihou Spring Forest Reserve, part of the state's Na Ala Hele Trails System. Choose from two trails, with the more challenging route descending down through a eucalyptus-and-koa forest to Kailua Gulch. INFO: 800-932-3435. –Amy Traverso

Ventana Inn & Spa, Big Sur, California

It's a good thing the Ventana Inn & Spa is on more than 200 acres of pristine California coast, because something has to lure you out of your room. This low-key but luxurious resort is so plush and comfy -- with luxe beds, private decks, spa tubs, fireplaces, and flat-screen TVs -- it's tempting to spend your stay in a bathrobe with room service on speed dial. But that would be a shame, because Ventana's real strength is its location. As soon as you step outside, you're rewarded with heart-stopping views of the Pacific (or an equally beautiful sea of fog), the unmistakable smell of coyote brush and coastal sage, and access to 300 miles of hiking trails through the Ventana Wilderness. The inn also has a hiking concierge service to help find just the right route. INFO: 800-628-6500. –Samantha Schoech

Hacienda Hotel & Casino, Boulder City, Nevada

Hop straight from the casino floor to a railroad route turned trail when you stay at the Hacienda, 30 miles from the Strip. This is not the Bellagio -- rooms are motel-modest -- but they're comfortable and clean, and won't empty your bank account. From the east parking lot, descend the path and veer right to see the five tunnels on the Historic Railroad Trail, which once conveyed construction materials to Hoover Dam. The 2.7-mile (one-way) route offers views of Lake Mead, where you might spot a bighorn sheep or two. You can access 30 more miles of trails from here, with options like taking the ambitious 9-mile trek (with a strenuous climb) into Bootleg Canyon, a hot spot for mountain bikers, or walking the easier Lakeshore Trail, along the edge of Lake Mead. INFO: 800-245-6380. –J.C. Davis

Mt. Ashland Inn, Ashland, Oregon

You can drive to the Mt. Ashland Inn, or walk here from Mexico or Canada, if you're so inclined -- it's right on the Pacific Crest Trail, 5,500 feet up the mountain and 20 minutes from town. Handcrafted 20 years ago from incense cedars logged on-site, the inn has five roomy guest suites, each with a large spa tub and gas fireplace. Dine in Ashland or bring a picnic (mini fridge and microwave in each suite) to eat in your room or at the split-log picnic table outside, where long-distance backpackers often pause. The inn's generous breakfast will fuel your own hikes, to Mexico, Canada, or just along the mountain's forested slopes. INFO: 800-830-8707. –Bonnie Henderson

The Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch, Avon, Colorado

By all means, sleep in if you like, but when you open your curtains in the morning at the opulently rustic Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch -- at the base of beautiful Beaver Creek Mountain 20 miles from Vail -- the heart-shaking panoramas will compel you to grab your walking boots and get moving. You can stroll on your own or along with Bachelor, the resident yellow Labrador retriever whose infectious energy comes in handy while hiking the Village-to-Village Trail, a wooded 6-mile trek that begins directly outside your door and connects the villages of Bachelor Gulch, Arrowhead, and Beaver Creek. Breathe in the crisp high-altitude air, watch for roaming deer, and behold the bright-hued aspen leaves that whisper in the breeze. INFO: 970-748-6200. –Lori L. Midson

West Point Inn, Mill Valley, California

This is the perfect spot for a back-to-nature experience -- from the comfort of a rustic Craftsman-style lodge and surrounding cabins on the south slope of Mt. Tamalpais. There's no television; cell use and propane-generated power are limited; furnishings are austere; and getting there requires a nearly 2-mile hike along fire roads. But one look at the amazing views of San Francisco, the Marin Headlands, and the East Bay from the inn's massive wraparound deck and it will all be worthwhile. Plus in the morning, Mt. Tam's trails are at your feet, from the steep descent down to Stinson Beach to the climb up East Peak. Pack in supplies for cooking up meals in the large communal kitchen; a little extra for sharing is a good idea too. INFO: No overnight guests Sun–Tue; closed to day-hikers; 415-646-0702. –Rich Ehisen

Snowbird Ski & Summer Resort, Snowbird, Utah

We could go on about the beauties of the Wasatch Mountains in fall -- the quaking aspen shining against mountain granite, the cerulean skies. We could go on about the pleasures of staying at Snowbird -- their jolly Oktoberfests, the great Sunday brunches, even the angular '70s architecture that still looks remarkably at home here in Little Cottonwood Canyon. Still, passionate but lazy hikers that we are, here's what we like best: Snowbird is a ski resort. That means you can ride the aerial tram to the top of 11,000-foot Hidden Peak and then hike down. Stupendous scenery and no uphill! Snowbird has four different lodging options: the dramatic (and newly renovated) Cliff Lodge and Spa; condos at the Lodge at Snowbird and Iron Blosam; and the cozy Inn at Snowbird. INFO: 800-232-9542. –Peter Fish

Granite Park Chalet, Glacier National Park, Montana

You might be tempted to burst into song at the glacier-carved mountains, hanging valleys, and lush carpets of wildflowers in the "Crown of the Continent," as explorer George Bird Grinnell called this spot. The 1914 chalet is within the park, perched on a rocky outcropping at the nexus of four trails; the 7.6-mile, moderate Highline Trail is the most popular, with views of glacier peaks and the park's rocky Garden Wall along the Continental Divide. The 12-room backcountry shelter offers bunk beds and a kitchen where guests take turns cooking; you can order freeze-dried food and linens in advance. The view from the front porch is pure Bierstadt: rocky peaks, clouds, sky -- absolutely regal. INFO: Through Sept. 8; book ahead for next year starting in Oct (lodge opens in late June); 888-345-2649. –Caroline Patterson

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