Branson is so jam-packed with incredible things to see and do, a trip to the city could be a bit overwhelming for a first-timer. It has a rich history as a destination for those looking to get away from everyday life and indulge in a little fun. From its first show cave and scenic lakes, to its role in "The Shepherd of the Hills," to shoutouts from "The Beverly Hillbillies" and "60 Minutes," Branson’s reputation as a destination has grown over many years.
There are a lot of decisions to make when visiting, from choosing hotels and shows to finding food and the most exciting attractions. And while it's kinda hard to go wrong with anything on a Branson vacation (depending on your idea of a fun time) there are a few essential and iconic experiences you just can't miss. If you're looking to plan a trip through the very best of Branson, this is the guide for you.
One of the first tourist attractions to open in the Ozarks was what is now known as Marvel Cave. It's one of the largest caves in the whole state, and the cave's Cathedral Room is one of the largest cavern openings on the continent. The Osage Indians and early Spanish settlers likely discovered it and were the first to explore it, but the first recorded expedition was in 1869. Legend has it that the Bald Knobbers, an early vigilante group, would throw their enemies off Roark Mountain and into the cave. For awhile, many hoped that marble or lead ore could be mined from it, but no valuable minerals were ever found inside. The cave has proved to be far from useless, though; it's actually been very popular as a show cave. William Lynch bought it in 1889 and opened it to the public. In 1950, it was sold again, this time to Hugo Herschend, who added a lot of modern updates to the cave, and later built a theme park, Silver Dollar City, on top. Today, visitors to Silver Dollar City can tour the famed attraction; ramps and stairs wind 500 feet below ground, and a cable train brings tourists half a mile up back to the surface!
The log cabin/gas station-turned-breakfast/lunch eatery that is Billy Gail's is an iconic stop in Branson. Homestyle, country cafes are part of the Branson experience, and this one, hidden a bit off the main strip of Route 76, is a local favorite. The whole place is crammed with rustic antiques (think bird houses and rocking chairs), most of which are for sale. Red-checkered tablecloths and mismatched vintage mugs set the scene for a big, home-cooked meal. Grits, massive hubcap pancakes, biscuits and gravy, and other Southern staples are all prepared with love... and served in ginormous portions. Come hungry, bring cash, and be prepared for a bit of a wait that will be worth every minute!
Branson has a touch of kitsch, too... just enough to keep things interesting. One of the more offbeat places to visit is Branson's Titanic Museum. The self-proclaimed “world’s largest museum attraction" is inspired by the famously tragic tale of the doomed ocean liner, once called "unsinkable,” this replica of the boat hitting the iceberg is also an interactive museum that lets you experience being on the ship... to some extent, at least. You get a boarding pass with a real passenger or crewmember's name, and as you tour the "ship,” from a first class stateroom to the engine room, you can talk to costumed interpreters and try to guess your fate. The "Sinking Room" features slanted decks and the chance to feel how cold the water was the night the ship went down, which is a sobering experience. At the end, right before the gift shop, you get to learn what happened to your assigned person. It's a pretty unforgettable attraction, and one that will add some edutainment to your Branson adventure.
Branson is famous for its shows. The city's main strip, Route 76, is lined with theaters that host nightly performances by musical acts. Branson's longest running first-generation show is The Haygoods. This family act (featuring 5 brothers and 1 sister) has the Haygood siblings playing, singing, and dancing in harmony. It all started when the oldest, Timothy, saw a violinist on Sesame Street as a child and asked to learn the instrument. Eventually, he worked his way through fiddle lessons from a famed Texas fiddler, and his brothers and sister started to learn various instruments as well. Now, they've been performing in Branson for over 20 years, and regularly sell out shows each season. They're all accomplished performers who even write their own songs, and each show is a guaranteed good time.
Branson is also naturally a stunning place. Table Rock State Park is a great example of Branson's outdoorsy side. It encompasses Table Rock Lake and the surrounding woodlands, and it's a favorite of those looking to spend a day on the water. Boats are available for rent at the marina, but fishing, hiking, biking, swimming, and even scuba diving are also popular here. The park has an awesome campground for those looking to spend the night in nature. If you don't have an RV or a tent, there is a yurt you can rent: a round canvas structure that's already set up, so all you have to do is bring your gear and make yourself at home! Whether you just visit for a day or camp out and make this your home base, it's worth it to experience the natural beauty that abounds here.
For a quick photo op, head to the 165 Scenic Overlook. It's just off highway 165 and offers a panoramic view of Lake Taneycomo and the rolling, forested hills of the Ozarks. It's an easy stop to make, right in between the 76 Strip and Table Rock Dam, and it offers an absolutely gorgeous view.
Located in remote Big Cedar Hollow, Big Cedar Lodge is an incredible resort. The 800-acre property feature a marina, riding stables, an indoor pool, an outdoor hot tub, and tons of walking paths. You'll find several restaurants on site as well. The rooms range from cottage and private log cabin rentals to luxury suites and value rooms, so there's something for every traveler here. The lodge also has a stellar spa and there are golf courses nearby, so you can get the perfect luxury resort experience.
Top of the Rock is part of Big Cedar Lodge. Meant to preserve and enhance the beauty and fun of the Ozarks, there's a lot to experience here. Three restaurants, a wine cellar, golf courses, and a Civil War cabin for rent (it has not one, but two grand porches and an outdoor shower offering lake views), are a few of the things to find here. Top of the Rock is also home to the Lost Canyon Cave Nature Trail, a nature park featuring waterfalls, covered bridges, and soaring rock formations. There's even a cave with a bar inside! The attraction includes the Ancient Ozarks Natural History Museum, inspired by Chicago's Field Museum and featuring exhibits and artifacts from the Ozarks’ past. Things like woolly mammoth and saber tooth cat bones are on display!
Branson is also a great destination for shopping. Hundreds of stores and restaurants can be found at Branson Landing, on the banks of Lake Taneycomo. Hop on The Paddlewheel, a riverboat-themed eatery that serves up great views and food, along with fun drinks. Live music, a farmer's market, and other fun events happen occasionally, so it's always a lively spot to visit. It's also home to an incredible fountain that puts on hourly shows that combine fire, water, and music between noon and 9:00 PM or 10:00 PM. It's an incredibly well-choreographed show, and the song changes each hour, so stop by to see it set to everything from the Star Spangled Banner to Kung Fu Fighting.
If you're looking for quiet accommodations, check into the Branson Hotel. Built in 1903, it's been well maintained, but still retains oodles of vintage charm. The rooms are impeccably furnished and have just the right amount of antique touches. Plus, right off the lush, peaceful garden, you'll find a cafe/wine bar that makes for a perfect spot to wind down a day exploring Branson. The central location is another added bonus to a stay here!
Another popular show is Dolly Parton's Stampede. The dinner theater performance combines comedy, musical numbers, and some incredible trick horseback riding into a fun and exciting Americana show. You get to enjoy a four-course feast featuring rotisserie chicken, barbecued pork, biscuits, corn, dessert, and more while you're entertained by the performance. It's one of the most popular dinner theater shows in town, so stop by and see why it's so well-loved!
Branson's Track Family Fun Park has epic go-karts, laser tag, mini golf, and more, but it's also home to one of the newest attractions in Branson: the Ferris Wheel. Chicago's iconic Navy Pier Ferris wheel was packed up and moved to the Track Family Fun Park, and now offers riders views of Branson and the Ozarks. The 150-foot-tall wheel's 40 gondolas can hold six passengers apiece, and as if that's not impressive enough, it's covered in thousands of LED lights for several nightly music and light spectaculars!
Branson is a special place that's made its quaint, country personality a huge draw. Whether you're there for the glitzy shows or the natural beauty, there's no denying that the city's distinctive personality has made it a popular destination for those seeking a taste of the good old days... with a modern flair, of course!
There’s nowhere like Branson, Missouri. With breathtaking natural beauty, family-friendly shows, exhilarating outdoor activities, world-class golf courses, delicious dining, fun festivals and thrilling attractions, there’s just no shortage of fun.