5 best Alabama state parks perfect for a classic winter getaway

Alabama is fortunate to have 21 beautiful state parks that protect over 48,000 acres of incredible scenery, ranging from stunning White Gulf beaches to breathtaking views from the peaks of the Southern Appalachians.

No matter what time of year you visit, Alabama State Parks offer something for everyone when it comes to activities and adventures, with each season giving the parks a new face: arches. rainbow of wild flowers in spring, wonderful swimming in mountain lakes and streams in summer, fiery leaves in fall.

As you would expect the parks are crowded during these three seasons, but in the winter most people are reluctant to visit which is a shame. During the frigid and cold (and possibly snowy) days of winter, the scenery and adventure offered at an Alabama state park change, transforming into a whole new experience of beauty and wonder. .

Here are five of the best Alabama state parks you should visit for the perfect winter getaway.

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1. DeSoto State Park – Fort Payne

While all of Alabama’s state parks are special places to visit in the winter, a few stand out like DeSoto State Park. One of 12 parks built or improved by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s, DeSoto has a nice and comfortable motel with warm and welcoming rooms.

The park has several short but easy hiking trails that lead to impressive waterfalls that are literally frozen in time in the dead of winter. With a light coating of snow on the ground, the woods become quiet and calming.

After a brisk walk or bike ride on one of its mountain biking trails, warm up with a hearty meal in the historic Mountain Inn restaurant. The restaurant is part of the sandstone lodge building which was hand built stone by stone by the CCC on the edge of the canyon formed by the West Fork of Little River. Make sure you have a seat by the window to take in the view. The restaurant is open all year round on weekends

Other accommodation options at DeSoto include its impressive and rustic log cabins with fully equipped kitchens, comfortable beds, cable TV, central heating and air conditioning, and stone fireplaces perfect for relaxing on a cold winter evening. . Four of the rustic cabins are located at the edge of the canyon, so you can step out onto the porch with a cup of hot coffee or tea and enjoy the view.

The best home seat in Cheaha State Park.
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2. Cheaha State Park – Delta

Another must-see is Cheaha State Park. The park takes its name from the mountain where it is located. Being atop the highest mountain in the state, at 2,413 feet, you can imagine there are spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and valleys in winter – and you’d be right.

The park has eight short hiking trails ranging from 0.3 to 1.4 miles in length. Two of the best are the moderately rugged 0.3 mile Pulpit Rock Trail and the 0.3 mile Bald Rock Trail (miles one way). Both trails take you to breathtaking views of the Southern Appalachians from rocky outcrops where bald eagles soar above you. The Bald Rock Trail can be walked on the ADA accessible boardwalk or on the dirt trail parallel to the boardwalk.

Throughout the winter, Cheaha offers guided hikes to spot the wildlife and sights just mentioned, as well as other special events.

A lot of people wouldn’t think that camping in the dead of winter would be fun, but it is, especially when you end the evening around a campfire with friends and family chatting about the day, and campsites around. Cheaha are perfect for this. All of the upgraded sites with water and electricity in the campgrounds are spacious, with plenty of space between each block for more privacy. Even tent camping is a joy in winter, with each loop having clean, heated public baths.

One of the best views can be found at the park’s Vista Cliffside Restaurant, where large windows overlook the surrounding mountains. The restaurant is open on weekends only until the end of November. As of this writing, the restaurant will be closed after November 28 due to a labor shortage, but visit its website for updates on the reopening.

Cheaha also has beautiful, clean hotel rooms and chalet-style chalets. Drop-in reservations for accommodation are permitted, but it is strongly recommended that you use the online reservation service.

The road to the park, Alabama 281, is a winding road along the ridges of the Talladega National Forest and may be closed due to weather conditions. Visit the Cheaha State Park Facebook page for updates.

Elevated panoramic view of Guntersville Lake State Park with blue sky and fluffy clouds.
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3. Guntersville Lake State Park – Guntersville

Another amazing state park can be found at Guntersville Lake. Within the park’s 6,000 acres, you’ll find so much to do that you’ll need a weekend – or more – to enjoy it all: 36 miles of hiking and biking trails, fishing on the banks of the largest state lake (a freshwater lake license is required), ziplines and an 18-hole championship golf course.

What makes Guntersville Lake State Park such a must-see winter destination is its eagle awareness weekends.

The event began as an Alabama Nongame Wildlife Program project in 1984 with the goal of helping bring bald eagles back from the brink of extinction in the state. The program was extraordinarily successful and is now celebrated every weekend from mid-January to mid-February.

Each weekend is filled with guided hikes to observe eagles in the wild, a sight you will never forget, as well as raptor demonstrations and presentations not only on eagles, but also on bird watching and other wild animals.

Weekends are extremely popular and the cabins, campsites and the incredible lodge overlooking the lake from the top of Taylor Mountain fill up quickly, so book early.

And you have to eat. I highly recommend dining at the park’s Pinecrest Dining Room, where it serves hearty breakfasts and delicious dinners, including the Friday night seafood buffet. Visit the Pinecrest website for its current hours.

The beaches at Gulf State Park are practically yours in the winter.
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4. Gulf State Park – Gulf Shores

Snow of a different kind – the snow-capped beaches of the Gulf of Mexico – make Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores arguably Alabama’s most popular state park. Even though winters are milder, you probably won’t want to swim in the Gulf, but winter is still a wonderful time to visit, mainly because the summer beach-goer crowds have left town.

That said, when beach goers leave, snowbirds (people who migrate to northern beaches to escape their freezing winters) flock, but it’s a more manageable size crowd.

Using Gulf State Park as your base camp, you’ll find plenty to explore during the winter months along the Gulf Coast of Alabama: kayaking Lake Shelby and the Middle River, spotting wildlife to the nearby Bon Secour National Refuge, and walk or bike the six distinct ecosystems found along the 15-mile trail on the Hugh Branyon Backcountry Trail. Bicycles can be rented from the camp store.

Cyclists get in the saddle for a ride on the Hugh Branyon Backcountry Trail in Gulf Shores.
Hugh Branyon Backcountry Trail (Photo credit: Joe Cuhaj)

An added bonus is that the park is centrally located in Gulf Shores, making it easy to visit the city’s eclectic shopping and many events.

There are many options to choose from for spending the night (or more) at Gulf State Park. The park includes 496 upgraded campsites with spacious and clean public baths and laundry facilities.

For something less of the outdoors, there’s the Eagle Cottages that line the shores of the sparkling waters of Lake Shelby. Each cottage has three bedrooms and bathrooms, a fully equipped kitchen and beautifully appointed living rooms.

Then there is the Lodge at Gulf State Park. Almost every guest room at this Hilton hotel has a magnificent view of the Gulf to the south or Lake Shelby to the north.

Monte Sano State Park in Alabama.
Just a girl with a camera / Shutterstock.com

5. Monte Sano State Park – Huntsville

While not a resort park, Monte Sano in Huntsville offers unpretentious weekend getaways with just enough to do in the park itself, with 22 miles of hiking trails. and cycling, the difficulty of which is from easy to difficult.

There is no high-class lodge here, but what Monte Sano offers is peace and quiet during the winter months in beautiful CCC cabins – 11 in all, many of which are on the waterfront. from a cliff for a magnificent view of the surrounding valleys. Each cabin has a kitchen with appliances, cooking and utensils, cable TV and a screened porch. All but three have a stone fireplace.

What makes Monte Sano a perfect weekend getaway is its location. After spending some time hiking or biking, you can explore other trails near the Land Trust of North Alabama, spend a Saturday night stargazing at the Von Braun Observatory, located next to the campsite. , or use the park as a base camp to explore the many shops, restaurants and entertainment venues in Rocket Town.

Professional advice

  • Spending time in an Alabama state park this winter sounds inviting, doesn’t it? As for the weather, Alabama’s winters are capricious. One day temperatures may drop to single digits, and the next day it could be a balmy 70 degree spring.
  • It is snowing in Alabama, with heavy snowfall from north Birmingham to Huntsville. Check with the park you are visiting for the latest road conditions, especially mountain driving.

Visit the AlaPark website regularly to find discounted winter accommodation rates and special winter events, including guided hikes organized by park rangers. While the number of visitors is low, unique events – like Eagle Awareness at Guntersville Lake – can draw decent-sized crowds. Make your reservations early.

To learn more about outdoor activities in Alabama, read on:

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