We travel from Southern Indiana and try to make it to Athens as well. Last year we went about an hour further. Makes for an easier drive on Saturday with the kids.
Agree that Athens (exit 351) is a good option. It would be a little more than half way to GS. Next best would be Fultondale (exit 267), just north of Birmingham OR Pelham, just south of Birmingham. If you are traveling on a weekday, Pelham (exit 246) would be the best option to avoid rush hour traffic through Birmingham.
I love Nashville, but am not a fan of Birmingham, though I live in Alabama. We have family in Illinois so I'm familiar with your route, and if we didnt drive straight through, we always stopped in Huntsville. The kids loved the Space Station, I felt safer than I did in B'ham or even Nashville, and it has plenty of hotels & dining close to the interstate.
We also stayed in Lynchburg, TN, visited the Jack Daniels place...GORGEOUS ... and the family still says it was one of the best trips. But it's about 30 minutes from I65.
I do recommend booking ahead if picking a place in AL. Couple of years ago every hotel off the main exits around Huntsville were full. We stayed in a wayside for a few restless hours of sleep.
I am from central Indiana and the half way point for us is Huntsville. It is on I-65. It is a major metro, you are in AL, so you do not feel like you have that much further to travel. It does largely depend on the type of accommodation and price point you are looking for. If you do a Google search in that area and put in hotels and zoom in and out you will see different chains. For the low price, mid-price chains, yes Decatur and Athens would be fine. I have more than two kids, so I need places that accommodate us with asking us to pay for two rooms, so I look for chains that offer more space which is easier to find near the big cities like Huntsville, Nashville etc..
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