Alabama's state park system offers rustic cottages that make a great base for hiking, golfing, and bird-watching, even in winter.
Guntersville, Ala., from $99 per chalet per night
Lake Guntersville State Park has 20 chalets on Taylor Mountain, with views of the huge Guntersville Reservoir. Each two-bedroom chalet has a refrigerator, a microwave, and a wraparound porch; you might even see deer feeding in the nearby woods. There are also two-bedroom lakeside cabins with kitchens available. You can explore the lake by renting a canoe or a pontoon. The park has a restaurant, hiking trails, and a golf course. Guntersville is about an hour and 45 minutes from Birmingham. Rates start at $99 per night for a chalet or a cabin. There are also hotel rooms available from $90 per room per night and camping from $10 per night.
The fine print: Does not include taxes of 12 percent or a $1 per night surcharge. The chalet sleeps up to six people. Three-night stay required for holidays.
Contact: 800/548-4553, alapark.com/lakeguntersville.
Watch for: Our country's bird of prey. Eagles build their winter roosts in this park; visit in January for an "Eagle Awareness" weekend, and you might spot two dozen in one outing. Depending on the season, you could also spy yellow-billed cuckoos, gray herons, red-bellied woodpeckers, and kingfishers along the water.
Rogersville, Ala., from $175 per cottage per night
Joe Wheeler State Park has 10 lakeside cottages available for overnight stays. Each cottage has a full kitchen and a fireplace, and a DVD player in the large living area. The park has a restaurant and plenty of things to do, such as fishing, golf, picnicking, and hiking. Rogersville is in the northern part of the state, about 50 miles west of Huntsville. Rates start at $175 per night for a two-bedroom cottage; you can upgrade to a three-bedroom cottage for $15 more per night. There are also cabins available from $65 per night, a lodge from $62 per night, and camping from $12 per night.
The fine print: Does not include taxes of 11 percent. The cottage sleeps up to four people. Two-night stay required on weekends; three-night stay required for holidays.
Contact: 800/544-5639, alapark.com/joewheeler.
Watch for: Loons, cormorants, herons, and rare gulls that congregate near Wilson Dam on the Tennessee River (about a 10-minute drive from the state park). On the south side of the dam, look for orioles' nests, or keep your eye out for the Eastern kingbird and prothonotary warbler.
Gulf Shores, Ala., from $189 per cottage per night
Gulf State Park has 11 cottages on Lake Shelby that each have three bedrooms, three bathrooms, a full kitchen, two screened-in porches, and a private fishing pier. The park has a new beach pavilion that's open year-round and offers terrific views of white-sand beaches and the Gulf of Mexico. Gulf Shores is located in southern Alabama, about an hour's drive from Mobile. Rates start at $189 per cottage per night. There are also cabins available from $75 per night and camping from $25 per night.
The fine print: Does not include taxes of 11 percent. The cottage sleeps up to six people.
Contact: 800/252-7275, alapark.com/gulfstate.
Watch for: Majestic great egrets, American wigeons, American white or brown pelicans, and sandpipers, which all make their home in the bay and gulf area.
Note that all of these cabin options are outfitted with cookware, tableware, and linens.
Alabama's weather remains mild throughout the winter months; expect temperatures to stay above freezing and get up to the mid-60s during the day in Gulf Shores. Central 'Bama is a bit cooler, but still pleasant; temperatures will range from the upper 30s to the low 50s. Even though some activities at the state parks, such as boating and fishing, close in mid-November, the weather will be nice enough for you to enjoy hiking, picnicking—and bird-watching, of course.
Read these guidelines before you book any Real Deal.