With roughly 100 live entertainment shows to choose from at any given time, one could easily enjoy an escape to Branson while scarcely setting foot outside. But that, in my humble opinion, would be a dire mistake.
Not only must one do something to counteract the ongoing temptations of chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes, burnt ends, and blackberry cobbler at every turn; but the beauty of the Ozarks surrounding Branson is a showstopper in its own right.
Pristine waterways course through its core, teeming with trout and crying out to anglers, kayakers, and canoeists of all stripes, while the hills stretch wide with dogwood-dotted table rocks, hidden waterfalls, and legendary caves. Here are four of my favorite activities I recommend for nature-loving families heading to Branson.
Kayak Lake Taneycomo
More closely resembling a river, wending round curves with current, Lake Taneycomo (a combination of Taney + County + Missouri) is a glorious coldwater haven for brown and rainbow trout. It is also one of the prettiest waterways I’ve kayaked yet (the lead photo is an overview shot).
Kayak Branson can outfit your crew with any combination of single, double, or triple kayaks with no minimum age required (as long as parents sign the waiver), so you can even kayak with a baby on your lap if you have one and feel so inclined (just provide your own infant life jacket as they only offer small child size and up). You can opt to go on a guided tour or go it alone.
Kayak Branson also offers canoes and SUPs if you want to mix or match. Best of all, Kayak Branson will arrange to pick up you and your gear at the take-out point of your choice on Taneycomo. So enjoy going with the flow on an easy, beautiful paddle–and keep those eyes peeled for feathered friends. There is incredible bird-watching along Lake Taneycomo, too. Find out more here on the Kayak Branson website.
Bike Dogwood Canyon Nature Park
Touted as 10,000 acres of paradise, Dogwood Canyon Nature Preserve makes a great case for itself–especially in that motor vehicles are barred from most of park other than the guided park trams and the occasional service vehicle. Now, put your family on a pack of bicycles (bring your own or rent cruisers + kiddie trailers at the park) and start peddling stress free over miles of paved and gently sloping walkways beside the ridiculously clear streams, rocky outcroppings, and water falls.
Along the way, keep an eye out for beautiful trout–including startling yellow trout, which are all too easy to spot in the Dogwood Canyon’s crystal waters. I was even so lucky to spot a baby mink on my visit (you can see it in my Instagram feed here). If you prefer, you can also tour Dogwood Canyon on horseback, by segway, or on their guided stream-fording trams which take you all the way to Arkansas! Okay, it’s actually not all that far, but well worth the ride when you get to drive through buffalo, long-horn cattle and other exciting creatures. Click here for more information about Dogwood Canyon Nature Park.
Take a Swim at Table Rock Lake
With 745 miles of shoreline, and a much swim-friendlier temperature than you’ll find in Branson’s other popular waterways, Table Rock Lake sets the scene for serious water play. Spend the afternoon on one of its many beaches, such as Moonshine Beach–one of the widest and most popular with swimmers.
Or if you’re feeling more adventurous, claim your own patch of the lake’s 43,100 surface acres with a rented pontoon boat–or go whole hog with a two-story slide boat. Click here to see all the boat rental options at State Park Marina.
Descend into Marvel Cave
It’s America’s third largest cave system and Missouri’s deepest known. And while admission to Marvel Cave is included at no extra cost to your Silver Dollar City Theme Park entrance, you’ll earn your right to see it’s wondrous limestone caverns, stalactites and stalagmites as you climb more than 600 stairs during your 1-hour, 1-way subterranean tour. The good news is that when you reach the end of the tour, an old cable train chugs visitors up the half mile, 1070-foot climb back to the surface.
But I have to say, once I made the initial 300-foot descent into the cave’s Cathedral Room (shown above), I was so mesmerized by the caverns and passageways–and cascading hidden waterfall–that if my legs ever complained I couldn’t hear them till I was through. No minimum age requirement is stated, but I wouldn’t recommend the tour with toddler on foot as there are too many slippery steps and rails throughout.
Otherwise, barring fear of heights, claustrophobia (you’ll have to stoop for passageways as low as 4 feet), depth perception issues, or heart or lung conditions, I say go for it! 😀 It’s a fabulous cave tour and the guides have nearly as much fun as the visitors they lead. Find out more here on the Silver Dollar City website.
What’s that? You still want to go to a show?!
Of course, you might still want to squeeze in a show–as most visitors to Branson do! Click here to see my feature on Branson’s most visited show in the world (and one of the most family friendly): Dolly Parton’s Stampede.
Thanks to Explore Branson and local outfitters for providing the opportunity to review these services without promise of positive review. As always, my opinions and observations remain my own.
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