Branson, Missouri to most is synonymous with “shows and live entertainment.” It’s like country music is to Nashville. But Branson isn’t just lively shows and good music, there is really something for everyone in the family here. Sweeping vistas and some of the best caving in the country offer the nature-lovers in the crew a veritable playground set for adventure on a grand scale. The family members that like furry encounters will find every creature from winged butterflies to dingoes all within the city limits. Water rides? Mini golf? Go-karts? Branson has you covered. For those that simply want to escape the 9-5 and have a luxury resort experience, they’ve got that too. With all the fun that Branson has to offer, what should your family make sure to see when you plan your visit?
Here are our top 10 adventures in Branson to do with kids.
10. See a Show
Missouri is the “Show Me” State and if you want to really see a show, you’re going to want to go to Branson, hands down. This town is like the Vegas of the Midwest, except much more family-friendly! One could spend almost every hour on a two-week trip and maybe see more than just a sampling of the shows Branson has to offer! The Welk Theatre offers for your musical pleasure the Million Dollar Quartet, featuring impersonations of some of the greatest: Elvis, Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins. And hey, it’s a Broadway Tony Award winner! Buckets N Board is a family-friendly, kid-pleasing, make your head spin with rhythm kind of fun show. You wanna know how good it is? They hit the seas with Disney cruise line to entertain ship goers with their clean comedy and supremely talented percussion bit. My son’s favorite part? The screaming goat. Now you HAVE TO go see it to know what that’s all about, huh? You can also see magicians, acrobats, more singers than you can shake a stick at, attractions like the Hollywood Wax Museum and Ripley’s Believe It or Not?, and the Promised Land Zoo for close encounters of the furry kind.
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Tip: Kid-friendly shows are offered more frequently in the summer months. Make sure when you’re planning you consider this! After school is in session, many kiddo acts are elsewhere, making room for shows more likely to please snowbirds.
9. Branson Landing
Branson Landing includes a picturesque boardwalk setting along Lake Taneycomo with fun fountains that burst with water, sometimes fire, and in keeping with the Branson theme, lights and music too! The mist of the fountain can be just what is needed on a hot and humid Ozark day! Remember when I said Branson was like a family-friendly Vegas? Well, the talented folks that brought you the choreographed fountain and lights display at the Las Vegas Bellagio are responsible for this downtown gem too! Make sure to also grab an ice cream treat to devour at Mr. B’s while listening to renditions at the fountains of “The Star Spangled Banner” or “Livin’ on a Prayer.”
Tip: There is a schedule for the musical offerings at the fountains and the shows start at noon.
8. Titanic Branson Museum & Attraction
Near, far, wherever you are….it’s true. Your heart WILL go on if you don’t make it to the Titanic Museum. BUT, you’d be foolish to miss it! This behemoth is located along the strip in Branson and is chock-full of history and adventure on the high seas (well, this one is actually for landlubbers, since it’s a replica stationed securely on asphalt) BUT the adventure is still epic! Step aboard and be dealt your fate as you take on the persona of a real passenger and learn how the ordeal went for that historical figure. This one even tailor’s the experience to the wee ones, giving them a “child persona” and a “kid-version” of the tour to keep it at their level.
7. Dixie Stampede
No fork? No problem! At Dolly Parton’s signature show Dixie Stampede, part of the fun is getting a little messy (the kids will adore this aspect of the dinner show) since there are no utensils! As with any good show, there is audience participation, lots of action, a friendly competition, and plenty of clean comedy. The use of live animals during the show makes you feel like you’re part of the scene in the Civil War-themed spectacle. Many say this is THE show to see while in Branson, and indeed it’s promoted as the show that started it all. Definitely one that you should make room for if you want a well-rounded experience with a four-course meal! Each person gets a chicken (yes, as in a whole chicken), a pork chop, a biscuit, soup, corn on the cob, a potato, an apple desert, and a drink (with a possible variation of the menu), but it sounds pretty tasty, right?
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Tip: Trekaroo families say this might garner the attention of middle schoolers on up, leaving wee ones a little antsy before the big finish. Children under three are free if they are on your lap.
6. Marvel Cave
This cavernous adventure, originally called Marble Cave, was the first real draw to the area for families, way back in the late 1800s. Well, to be historically accurate, it was first discovered in 1500 AD by the Osage Indians who called it “the Devil’s Den” and refused to enter it. It was also once thought to contain the Fountain of Youth. Located under Silver Dollar City, Marvel Cave is still one of the most popular things to do in the area today. Your admission into Silver Dollar City includes a cave tour and they leave about every 30 minutes. The tour is around an hour-long and includes climbing about 600 steps! The cave is considered one of wet limestone that is still alive and growing new formations each day over time. For the real adventurous cave explorer, opt-in to the Lantern Light Tour to explore the cave just as they did in the early days! Plus, this tour takes you into an additional area called the Mammoth Room AND you get to see a “bat wall!”!
Tip: Many folks are anxious to get to the park and rides right when it opens, avoiding the afternoon heat. If you are mostly interested in a cave tour that isn’t crowded, do it first! Conversely, if you’re looking for a great cool down in the afternoon, head to the cave and seek solace from the sun!
Know Before You Go: The number of steps and the fact that it’s rather strenuous means that it’s not great for little kids or those with health conditions that might become aggravated by exertion.
5. Ride the Ducks
If you’ve never been on one of these WWII era amphibious contraptions before, it’s something everyone should do once in their lifetime. Little kids are thrilled by the splash of going from terra firma to making a wake in nearby Table Rock Lake. (There is also the option to splash down at Lake Taneycomo.) Ride the Ducks is a great tour to do when first arriving in Branson; there is a ton of information on the city and lots of corny, but clean jokes. The tour travels through the “entertainment district” or “the strip” and even up a mountain, before entering the water. The Ducks are a time-honored Branson tradition that have decades of fun under their feathers.
Tip: Once on the water, make sure your child is at attention and shuttle them up to the “captain” to take a turn at the wheel. They’ll also get a “Duck Driver’s License.”
4. Dogwood Canyon Nature Park
With 10,000 acres in Dogwood Canyon Nature Park, it’s certain somewhere out there in the wild green yonder you’ll find an adventure. With waterfalls and well-maintained bicycle trails meandering through the hills of the Ozark region, this park just outside of Branson (a mere 30 minute drive), can provide a serene getaway to wind down after a day or two full of entertainment and thrill rides in town. Owned by the man behind Bass Pro Shops, Johnny Morris, the park has streams filled with fish and fly-fishing workshops to hone those skills. You’ll be channeling Norman Maclean as you don waders and “watch your drift”. If you’re not a fisherperson, you can see the buffalo roam, alongside elk and Longhorns as a passenger on the tram tour within the park.
Tip: The bike trails are fantastic and bicycle rentals are available on-site.
3. White Water Park
It can be hot in Branson during the summer so take a break and cool off poolside — or on a trapdoor slide, like the KaPau Plummet! No matter what your ride style, White Water Park has something for everyone! The giant wave pool is a popular place to “haul-out” like a bunch of sea lions flopped over tubes, while the adventurous among the group may want to bound over to the Kalani Towers — which look like the kind of splashing good time that only the bravest will dare try! Open May-September, White Water is a fantastic summer day getaway. Enjoy a “night swim” on certain dates during the summer and take advantage of every last drop of sunlight and see the stars from the Aloha River. Dive-In movies are a hit with the kids, and are special screenings of family favorites like Disney’s Fire and Rescue, one the big screen at the wave pool.
Tip: There seems to be plenty of shade and seating all around the park without purchasing a cabana. Get there early and snag a good spot, using your towels draped over beach chairs to modify shady spots!
2. Shepherd of the Hills Hatchery
The Shepherd of the Hills Hatchery and Conservation Center was a spot that we happened upon while trying to nap our dear children on-the-go before a show. We stopped and had a picnic and ended up staying for a half hour, then came back the next day when we weren’t rushed. It’s a smaller property but admission is FREE and the opportunities for fun and learning are many. Make sure to load up on quarters; the hatchery has food pellet machines to feed the stock. Ever laid eyes on a Western Cottonmouth? How about an Alligator Snapping Turtle? The rare Blue Trout can also be seen in the stocked tanks. Both are residents of the hatchery, among other indigenous, crawly neighbors on display in the education center. The simple, yet fascinating sites that we sometimes wander up to often lead to the most rich and robust memories of the trip.
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1. Silver Dollar City
Some go to Branson for the shows, but if you’re a kid or a kid at heart, Silver Dollar City may be what seals the deal for Branson to become your family-friendly mecca this year. Trekaroo families adore the options for park goers young and old; this makes a perfect multi-generational destination! Live music and trade demonstrations captivate grandparents holding the hands of their grandchildren or even entertaining and educating a few generations at once. It’s a special place to be shared by the entire family. Mom and dad can get a little thrill ride on the Powder Keg or the new Wildfire while Grandpa bounces the baby and fills the big kids full of cotton candy. When the heat of the day starts to steam things up, jump in line for a “water ride” like Lost River of the Ozarks or RiverBlast! You would do well to prepare your stomach for a flavor-fest, having many choices including some of the best BBQ around, at least according to the conductor of the Frisco Silver Dollar Steam Train. Of course your admission fee includes a tour of Marvel Cave, too.
Tip: If you head right to The Grand Exposition, there is an “Official Measuring Station” where kids can see just how much they have grown and get a print out of the only rides they are unable to board (so mom and day can avoid melt downs and simply bypass those rides). They also give out wristbands with contact information for parents with phone number in case you are separated.
Good to Know: If you’re a breastfeeding mother, Silver Dollar City conveniently has “Nursing Stations” positioned around the park and are marked on the map with a smiley face. They are air-conditioned and have rocking chairs and a few baby maintenance amenities.
While there’s not a short supply when it comes to dining in Branson, once you’ve taken in the dinner and a show style feasting, I urge you to saunter on down to the Historic Downtown Branson area, in the neighborhood of Branson Landing, right next to Bass Pro Shops, and stop into the mouth-watering, air-conditioned goodness at the White River Fish House. The little riverside region of town has a very different feel than “the strip”. Enjoy an alligator appetizer and follow it up with some BBQ ribs or Mahi Mahi (you cannot go wrong with any menu selection) and wash it all down with some Sweet Tea, made only as they can in the southern states.
Must-Do Day Trips
Lake of the Ozarks Area
Dip into Arkansas
Eureka Springs is only a stone’s throw from Branson (about an hour) and is home to the Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge, where you can see some of the world’s most regal big cats. It’s also a fantastic destination for fly fishing and supreme in the land of shopaholics! The downtown district is on the National Register of Historic Places and offers walking tours. The Blue Spring Heritage Center is home to NW Arkansas largest spring and is chock-full of history; the area is famous for natural springs and has the namesake to prove it!
Also an hour away, Berryville, Arkansas is home to Cosmic Cavern where you can see the rare Ozark Blind Cave Salamanders; the perfect adventure for those little explorers that fell in love with Marvel-ous caves at Silver Dollar City and Bridal Cave and want more of the action! Budding naturalists will appreciate seeing unique cave life. A cave tour is a little over an hour and is not too strenuous, featuring mostly flat ground and a lot of beautiful cave formations. “Wild Cave Tours” are offered and they are a pretty authentic taste of spelunking fun, not just handrails and oodles of stairs!
For some nearby, off-the-beaten-path fun in Arkansas, and to have a bit more of a rugged albeit breath-taking adventure, head to the Ozark National Forest west of Fayetteville (around two hours from Branson) and hit the dirt roads to the Hawksbill Crag/Whitaker Point Trailhead. The hiking is spectacular and if you’re into experiencing nature in the raw, this is a great day trip for you! I would put it in the same special places as the Grand Canyon (responsible for many of the gray hairs on mother’s heads) but an adventure that is pretty epic to share at show-and-tell when the kids go back to school!
Check out our Top 10 Things to do in Missouri.