Joe Wheeler State Park Resort

On a wide stretch of the Tennessee River, one hour from Huntsvilie and two from Birmingham and Nashville , these 2,550 wooded acres make up one of several wonderful state-park resorts in Alabama. Most facilities here, including the 75-room lodge and restaurant and the golf course, occupy a bluff overlooking a tributary of the Tennessee River, known as First Creek. On the south side of the river lies a more secluded patch of parkland, a peaceful and pine-shaded nature retreat with about two dozen brick or wood-frame cabins. The north and south shores of Wheeler Park are connected by Wheeler Dam, which divides two very broad swaths of the Tennessee River, known as Wilson Lake on the western side and Wheeler Lake on the east.

Made of wood with expansive glass windows, the lodge fits in with its environment. Inside, rooms look like those in a mid-price chain hotel; some have kitchenettes. Attached is a restaurant with a high-pitched timber ceiling and huge windows that give you unimpeded river and pine-forest views. Behind the lodge is a marina that rents pontoon boats, pedal boats, and motorized fishing boats. This is a family-oriented place, and the area around the pool can get a little noisy with the sounds of kids playing, family sing-alongs, and playful socializing.

Nonetheless, you’re never far from quiet nature trails that skirt the river and creeks, where it’s not uncommon to spot bald eagles in winter and deer and migrating waterfowl throughout the year. The golf course is one of the top courses in northern Alabama—-with nicely kept greens and fairways seeded with Bermuda grass (an especially lush type of grass, used at better courses). Rolling but not steep, the course has tight fairways lined mostly with towering evergreens.

To reach the south-side cabins from the main lodge area, you have to drive out of and back into the park, a total distance of about 12 mi. The cabins are surrounded by hardwoods, conifers, and shrubs, and from most windows you see nothing but greenery and the river. Inside, they have dark-pine paneling and functional but graceful wooden furniture and cabinets, but no TVs or phones. The brick cabins have fireplaces, and all have easy access to a multi-use trail along the waterfront, popular among mountain bikers, hikers, and joggers.