Sunrise over Lake Taneycomo in Branson, MO, photo by Dave Parfitt
Located in the Ozark Mountains, Branson, Missouri has long been a popular road trip destination for families looking for outdoor adventures. In the late 1960’s, Presley’s Country Jubilee opened as the first live music theater on Highway 76. Since that time, over 50 theaters have opened in the area making Branson a live entertainment hub. To balance the theaters and outdoors, a number of family friendly attractions and museums have also opened in Branson, Missouri, making it an all-in-one vacation destination.
Raiding the Country Vault at the Starlite Theatre, photo by Dave Parfitt
Where to Go
Branson is located in southwestern Missouri, 40 miles south of Springfield. The closest major airport is the Springfield-Branson National Airport (SGF) a 45-60 minute drive away (depending on traffic). A smaller, regional Branson Airport (BKG) is 10 miles away from the city’s entertainment district, but is only served by private aircraft and Via Airlines. Nearly 80% of visitors to Branson drive, and make their way to the entertainment district bordered by I-65 to the east, Route-465 to the north, and Lake Taneycomo & Table Rock Lake to the southwest. There are plenty of hotels, motels, cabins, condos, and campgrounds to accommodate the year-round influx of millions of visitors to Branson.
WildFire roller coaster at Silver Dollar City theme park, photo by Dave Parfitt
What to Do
Outdoors, live concerts & shows, theme parks, Branson, Missouri, has something to appeal to most members of the family. Branson is a year-round vacation destination with a wide-range of attractions, natural beauty, and even some surprises along the way (replica Titanic running into an iceberg on the Strip). Below are some highlights for family-friendly attractions in Branson, Missouri.
- Outdoors – the Ozarks existed long before any shows, go karts, or roller coasters, and it would be a disservice not to experience the outdoors during a visit. The area features hundreds of miles of hiking, biking, or horseback riding trails, and some of these natural recreation areas are steps away from the Highway 76 Strip. However, water is the key outdoor activity with three lakes in the region including Table Rock, Taneycomo, and Bull Shoals Lakes. These waterways lead to plenty of swimming, kayaking, boating, and fishing opportunities. Bass Pro Shops was founded in nearby Springfield, and they operate the Bass Pro Shops White River Outpost on Lake Taneycomo at the south end of the Branson Landing shopping area.
- Silver Dollar City – is an award-winning 1880’s themed amusement park with over 40 rides and attractions that opened in 1960. However, Silver Dollar City is so much more than a theme park; it’s part living history museum, part artisan community, part food festival, and part natural wonder. In addition to some impressive ground-breaking rides, Silver Dollar City houses authentic 1800’s buildings illustrating what life was like in the 19th Century Ozarks. The theme park also hosts nearly 100 resident craftsmen such as glass-blowers, potters, candy-makers, blacksmiths, furniture makers, and more. Silver Dollar City is home to the Midwest Living Culinary and Craft School where guests can learn (and taste) how their favorite Silver Dollar City dishes are created. Finally, one of the deepest geological caves in Missouri, Marvel Cave, is located inside the theme park. Silver Dollar City also operates a separate 13-acre water park called White Water and the Showboat Branson Belle dinner cruise and show aboard a paddleboat on Table Rock Lake.
- Live Shows – Branson’s hosted live country music shows since 1967 when the Presley family (no, not Elvis) opened Presley’s Country Jubilee now in its 50th year. In the 80’s country legend Roy Clark opened the Roy Clark Celebrity Theatre, and the race was on for a boom in celebrity live theaters. There are currently over 30 different entertainment venues in Branson hosting over 50 shows, concerts, and performances easily at any one time. Families can find everything from cirque & acrobats to dinner shows to animal acts to live concerts by headline performers. Of course, there are still plenty of country music acts on stage, and even if country music isn’t your cup-of-tea you may be surprised at the level of talent. For example, I saw “Raiding the Country Vault,” and was thoroughly entertained by the lineup singing popular cross-over country hits from my youth.
- Family Fun Attractions – once theaters sprang up on the Strip, it was only a matter of time before more family entertainment centers popped up to go along with them. Branson has some unique takes on the typical mini golf and go kart tracks. Bigfoot on the Strip offers Yeti-themed mini golf in addition to an hour-long off road safari truck expedition for Bigfoot. The Track Family Fun Parks have four different hi-rise go kart tracks that would give Mario and his friends a thrill. Plus, Chicago’s iconic Navy Pier Ferris Wheel found a new home as the Branson Ferris Wheel at Track Family Fun Parks Track 4. Branson’s Titanic Museum was a huge surprise, and an incredibly moving tribute to the passengers and crew on the ship. The museum contains a number of recovered artifacts, recreated staterooms and common spaces (like the Grand Staircase), and tells moving stories such as the musicians’ gallery dedicated to the eight musicians that played while the Titanic sank. Other attractions in Branson include Ripley’s Believe it or Not, Hollywood Wax Museum, Jet Boat rides, ziplines, a historic scenic railway and the Branson Landing shopping, dining, & entertainment complex (complete with water and fire spectacular).
Branson, Missouri, is definitely a road-trip destination. With nearly 80% of visitors bringing their personal vehicle, the roads and “Branson Strip” can get congested. Take a look at the Branson/Lakes Area driving map to identify Highway 76 bypass routes to get you to the nearest theater/attraction. There is a free trolley available (named Sparky), but service is limited to the historic downtown and Branson Landing area.