Wilderness lovers know that protected public wildlands offer amazing opportunities for special connections with loved ones and with the majestic beauty of our world.
Many of our public lands from America’s national parks and forests and wildlife refuges and even BLM lands are wildly romantic - like Heart Rock in the San Bernardino National Forest and Cupid’s Cave in Yellowstone National Park.
Here’s our tribute to 14 wild places that capture that special Valentine’s spirit:
1. Heart Lake at Olympic National Park, Washington
This heart-shaped lake is a lovely destination in the seven lakes basin of Olympic National Park, where visitors can take long backcountry hikes while enjoying excellent views of Mount Olympus. Hikers are more likely to see fish, however, on the Lover's Lane trail - one of the only places where every year one can see salmon pairs laying their eggs. Visitors can find respite at the Heart O' Hills Campground .
photo credit: mnemophobe, flickr.
2. Heart Rock, San Bernardino National Forest, California
An easy climb in San Bernardino National Forest leads hikers to an overlook called Heart Rock. The name indicates that a 20-foot waterfall doesn’t overshadow the better treat to be found there: a unique heart-shaped hole carved into a boulder by nature’s loving touch. A romantic sight for a Wilderness lover indeed!
photo credit: USFS
3. Great Heart of Timpanogos, Timpanogos Cave National Monument, Utah
Timpanogos is one of three caves at this monument, named after the Ute tribe who once roamed the valleys nearby. Their Legend of Timpanogos describes the tale of a warrior and his princess, whose tragic death is marked by an outline of a woman seen on Mount Timpanogos. Their broken hearts, it is told, are joined in the "Great Heart," a two-ton stalactite inside the cave.
photo credit: randwill, flickr.
4. Cupid’s Cave, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Yellowstone’s hydrothermal area known as Mammoth Hot Springs contains features known as Cupid's Cave and Cupid Springs. A couple miles away from Heart Lake Geyser Basin is Heart Lake, named for both its shape and a historical person. The lake is drained by the Heart River, forming a circulatory system filled with trout at the base of Mount Sheridan.
photo credit: NPS via Wikimedia Commons.
5. Chocolate Mountains, Indian Pass Wilderness, California
Chocolate Mountain looks like a chocolate chip ice cream sundae plopped into the Californian desert. This area is rich with Valentine’s treats of other varieties too: not only is Quartz Peak the highest point in this wilderness, but there have been gold mines in this mountain range since the westward rush. Summers bring beautiful desert wildflowers to the region as well. You can take in the delicious view of Inyo National Forest’s Chocolate Mountains in Piper Mountain, Little Picacho and John Muir Wilderness Areas as well.
photo credit: justinjohnsen, flickr.
6. Beauty Mountain Wilderness, California
Beauty Mountain Wilderness’ plateaus and deep canyons are an apt metaphor for the experiences of the heart. Like a wellspring of love, its Million Dollar Spring is named for the vitality it brings to the region. The area also hosts the lovely Quino checkerspot butterfly, one of several endangered species happy to call this place home.
photo credit: Doug Steakley
7. Hearts Content National Scenic and Recreation Areas, Allegheny National Forest, Pennsylvania
This National Scenic Area has one of the few remaining northeastern old-growth forests with white pine trees. A recreation area with the same lovely name is located just west, with trails leading to flowery Hickory Creek Wilderness.
photo credit: Nicholas_T, flickr.
8. Theodore Roosevelt Wilderness, North Dakota
Did you know stuffed “Teddy” bears are named after the “conservation president”? Ironically, he was a bear hunter, but his consequent love for the outdoors led him to permanently protect many of America’s beloved wildlands. Because of his leadership, the places he loved most have since been enjoyed by wildlife and recreationists alike. Although you might not find bears in the wild area named for him, you will find plenty of other cuddly creatures, like desert cottontails, prairie dogs and least chipmunks.
photo credit: NPS
9. Virgin Islands National Park
This national park is one of the most popular as a wedding destination despite its remote location. Historically, there once was a large sugar plantation here, and the sugar factory and mills remain to tell the story of how sweet tooths once fueled a cross-continental industry.
photo credit: markbyzewski, flickr.
10. Death Valley National Park, California and Nevada
Evidence that you can find romance in the unlikeliest of places can be found in Death Valley. The hottest place on Earth offers unexpected true beauty. Its windswept rocky peaks look like chocolate and vanilla swirled ice cream, and in winter they are frosted with elegant snow. Rainfall is very rare here, but when it does come gorgeous flowers suddenly appear.
photo credit: string_bass_dave, flickr.
11. Kissing Couple rock formation, Colorado National Monument, Colorado
A romantic scenic drive transports visitors into Monument Canyon. The most popular rock formations here include the “Kissing Couple”, which looks like two figures with touching faces.
photo credit: daveynin, flickr.
12. Heart of Rocks trail, Chiricahua National Monument, Arizona
The trail known as Heart of Rocks Loop has many of Chiricahua’s most unusual rock formations, which form a seemingly endless wonderland in this one-of-a-kind landscape. Dreamers can also find lovely scenic drives, perfect picnic destinations and wide stargazing skies. There may just be a stone here for every reason we adore Wilderness.
photo credit: dennyforreal, flickr.
13. Mr. Misty Kiss Rock Climb, Joshua Tree National Park, California
Rock climbers consider this park to be a regional mecca. The steep surface known as “Dairy Queen Wall” is where a climb known as “Mr. Misty Kiss” leads to a panoramic view of this beautiful desert region. Some of the other climbs in the park sound like they could be messages on Valentine’s heart candies, such as “Walk On The Wild Side”, “I'm so Embarrassed for You”, “Loose Lady” and, the most scandalous, “I Can't Believe It's A Girdle.” This romantic park is also where U.S. Rep. Raul Ruiz proposed to his longtime girlfriend last December.
photo credit: nick.mealey, flickr.
14. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan
After a day full of love for wild places, you might want to curl up with your "Teddy" bear and dream of even more heavenly places. Sleeping Bear Dunes would be an ideal inspiration. Voted in 2011 as America’s most beautiful place on Good Morning America, Sleeping Bear Dunes is known for gorgeous sunsets over towering bluffs that rise over 400 feet from the coastline. Some hearty visitors climb the whole way to reach truly romantic heights. But a real dream come true would be wilderness designation so this lovely place remains indefinitely elegant.
photo credit: flickr, mic stolz