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As the weather cools down, you may start dreaming about a getaway to someplace warmer. Luckily, the Southeast United States has a plethora of places for you to enjoy the outdoors while working on your tan in the winter months.
No matter which hotel loyalty program you use, you’re likely to find participating properties wherever you go in the Southeast. Whether you stay at a budget roadside hotel or a five-star resort, paying for your stay with points will help you hold on to your hard-earned cash.
Here’s a quick look at some of the best national parks in the Southeast, along with some hotels near each where you can pay with points.
Everglades National Park
You might think that the third largest park in the contiguous United States would be drivable, but you would be wrong. Basically a 2,400-square-mile swamp, the Florida Everglades has three different entrances, but no roads connecting them. So when planning your visit, choose your gate based on where you’re staying.
Everglades National Park is the place to see alligators and crocodiles, plus manatees, turtles, snakes and water birds feeding in mud flats. If you’re brave enough, you can see them up close when kayaking, biking, hiking and camping in the park.
Hotels convenient to the Gulf Coast entrance, near Everglades City, offer lots of places to redeem loyalty points. Here are a few good ones:
Hyatt Place Coconut Point
Hyatt Place Coconut Point is a great option, offering free breakfast and free parking, and is just about 60 miles from the park entrance. It is a pet-friendly property and has an outdoor pool area to enjoy year-round — after all, this is Florida. The nightly rate is 12,000 World of Hyatt points.
Located near downtown Naples, this Courtyard has a fresh, newly renovated feel, along with all the amenities and attributes you could hope for at this price point: spacious rooms, free parking and, like most self-respecting hotels in Florida, an outdoor pool. At this Marriott Category 5 hotel, each night will cost between 30,000 and 40,000 points.
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The rooms and suites at the Hilton Naples are spacious and bright, and the nicely laid-out pool area complete with hot tub offers a great place to unwind after a day of exploring the swamp. There’s free parking and a free shuttle to Clam Pass Beach, just 10 minutes away. A recent search turned up rooms for 35,000 Hilton Honors points per night, but check your exact dates, as rates vary.
Holiday Inn Express Naples South
The Holiday Inn Express Naples South is a bit outside of town, but it brings you closer to the park and keeps you away from Naples’ traffic. It offers free breakfast, free parking and, yes, an outdoor pool. The nightly rate is 12,500 IHG points for this hotel.
Another way into the Everglades: Biscayne National Park
All the above hotels are convenient to the northernmost entrance to the park. If that’s not the direction you’re coming from, the following hotels for Biscayne National Park also serve as a good base for accessing Everglades National Park from the Miami area, entering through the Shark Valley Visitor Center.
One of the U.S.'s most unusual national parks, Biscayne National Park is mostly water. It’s near Miami — in fact, within eyesight of Miami — in the northernmost of the Florida Keys. It was established to protect marine life, coral reefs, mangrove forests and small emerald islands.
Water activities here abound, including boating, fishing, kayaking, scuba diving and harvesting spiny lobsters. Wildlife sightings include sea turtles, manatees, plenty of fish, birds and dolphins.
Hyatt Regency Coral Gables
The Hyatt Regency Coral Gables is in a gem of a building just off the Miracle Mile, away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Miami and South Beach. The outdoor areas and pool are, frankly, to die for. So spend a few days relaxing and sunbathing before going back to reality. Typical of Miami hotels, the parking is pricey: $30 a night to self-park, $35 to valet. This Hyatt Regency goes for 12,000 points per night, which is a steal considering prices in other top-notch hotels in Miami.
Aloft Coral Gables
Also in Coral Gables, this Aloft offers modern rooms, common areas and amenities, along with a great outdoor pool. This is a pet-friendly hotel. Parking is $25 a day. A night at this Category 4 Marriott hotel will cost you between 20,000 and 30,000 Bonvoy points.
Hampton Inn Miami-Coconut Grove/Coral Gables
Don’t get thrown by the confusing name (Miami, Coconut Grove, Coral Gables). This Hampton Inn is in Coconut Grove, a laid-back area south of downtown. Accommodations here aren’t fancy, but you’ll get free breakfast and a clean, spacious room in a good location. Parking costs $15. For randomly selected dates, rooms cost 21,000 Hilton Honors points. But check your preferred dates for exact prices.
Holiday Inn Port of Miami-Downtown
Looking to blend your national park visit with some time in an urban jungle? The Holiday Inn Port of Miami is in a great location for exploring Miami’s vibrant downtown, the arts district of Wynwood and world-famous South Beach. Kids stay free, but parking will cost you $27 per night. You’ll need 20,000 IHG points to redeem an award night here.
Congaree National Park
Upgraded from a national monument in 2003, Congaree National Park in South Carolina protects the largest intact area of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest in the Southeast. Visitors can enjoy hiking, kayaking, fishing and camping amid an array of local fauna and flora including red maple, bald cypress and loblolly pine trees.
Hyatt Place Columbia/Downtown/The Vista
Less than a half-hour from the park, this Hyatt Place in Downtown Columbia offers free breakfast, is pet-friendly and has a pool. Self-parking costs $14 a day. You’ll need 12,000 World of Hyatt points per night for an award stay here.
Aloft Columbia Harbison
Conveniently located in the Harbison area of Columbia, this modern Aloft has good-size rooms and a pool where you can take a dip after a day of bird-watching or paddling the Congaree River Blue Trail. This pet-friendly property offers complimentary parking, including three electric vehicle charging stations. This is a Category 3 Marriott hotel, so the nightly rate ranges between 15,000 and 20,000 Bonvoy points.
» Learn more: The five best ways to rack up Marriott Bonvoy points
Hampton Inn Columbia-Downtown Historic District
Not the fanciest of hotels, but it certainly does the trick, and with an excellent location in the downtown historic district. The Hampton Inn Columbia-Downtown Historic District offers free hot breakfast and an outdoor pool. Parking is $14 per day, but this property is not pet-friendly. For some randomly selected dates, the nightly rate was 26,000 points, but given Hilton's dynamic pricing, you should check for your specific dates.
Holiday Inn Columbia – Downtown
A fresh addition to the brand, the Holiday Inn Columbia – Downtown is the perfect no-frills option when visiting the park, especially for families. No free breakfast for adults, but kids eat free if they’re 11 and under, and kids 18 and younger stay free. This hotel costs 17,500 IHG points per night.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Known for its beautiful mountain forests and diverse wildlife, this is the most visited park in the United States. Wedged between North Carolina and Tennessee, Great Smoky Mountains National Park has plenty of activities for every type of visitor. Horseback riding, hiking, fishing and biking are some of the most popular, but perhaps the best activity here is admiring the stunning fall colors.
Hyatt Place Knoxville / Downtown
With a superb location in a fully renovated historic building, the Hyatt Place Knoxville / Downtown is an excellent option. This stylish hotel offers free breakfast, but it also sits on top of a Starbucks. There is no pool, but the rooftop is the perfect place to enjoy views of the downtown area as well as the Smoky Mountains. Hyatt prices this hotel at 8,000 World of Hyatt points per night.
Aloft Knoxville West
Although not centrally located, this Aloft still makes for a great choice by virtue of being brand new. There’s an outdoor pool at this pet-friendly hotel, and you’ll also enjoy free parking. Being a Category 3 hotel, it’ll cost you between 15,000 and 20,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night.
The Park Vista DoubleTree by Hilton – Gatlinburg
Travelers looking to stay close to the park have a good option at the Park Vista DoubleTree Gatlinburg. The rooms and decor are a little aged, but the property offers great views of the Smoky Mountains from its perch 1,000 feet above Gatlinburg. The indoor pool, complete with waterslide, is like a mini water park. Plus, you get free parking at this pet-friendly property. This DoubleTree was available for randomly selected dates starting at 41,000 Hilton Honors points.
Holiday Inn Express & Suites Cherokee/Casino
This Holiday Inn Express is on the other side of the park, in Cherokee, North Carolina. It is a no-frills option with free parking, free breakfast and an outdoor pool. This hotel is not pet-friendly. Expect to pay 22,500 IHG points per night here.
See more sights on your trip
When you’re planning your visit to a national park, research other points of interest in the area that you can add to your itinerary. For example, you could combine an Everglades National Park visit with a trip to Biscayne National Park and spend time exploring Miami.
Heading to the Smoky Mountains? Consider spending some time at Dollywood or NASCAR SpeedPark Smoky Mountains. When visiting Congaree National Park, set aside some time to visit Columbia, the capital of South Carolina, where you can explore myriad museums.
Check the National Park Service website for coronavirus-related closures and changes to normal operations before your road trip. Operations and policies can change on short notice, so check for updates before you plan your trip and again right before you embark.
How to Maximize Your Rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2021, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card