Branson is best known for its numerous (and awesome) old-school attractions, but there are few things more classic than a good, old-fashioned scenic drive. A spin down a road such as the Mark Twain National Forest's Sugar Camp Scenic Byway (with the windows down, of course) is the perfect way to really experience a place. Of course, on your way, you'll pass by more than a few fun things to see and do; this is Branson, after all!
Start off your adventure at Lake Taneycomo. It's a unique body of water: when Table Rock Dam is generating power, it looks like a lake, but otherwise, it appears more like a river. The Dam turned Taneycomo from a warm water lake into a cold water one, allowing for more fish to inhabit the waters. Record-breaking trout can be caught here, and the lake offers both fly and bait fishing. You'll find parks and marinas along its shore, as well as a few public access points (including the Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery). One of the best places to enjoy the lake is from the historic downtown Branson Landing. The mile-long lighted boardwalk offers shopping, dining, and excursions galore.
Leave the lake and head for the hills for to relax and enjoy the offerings at Mount Pleasant Winery. Its history dates to 1859, when two brothers from Germany, George and Frederick Muench, established the winery. They built the cellars in 1881, using local wood and limestone. During Prohibition, much of the vineyards and wine-making equipment were burned, but the cellars survived and are still used today to age estate-bottled wines and ports. Today, the winery has been revived, and the proprietors now grow 12 grape varieties on 78 acres. The winery has a spacious tasting room (that includes a terrace with a view) where you can sample award-winning Mt. Pleasant wines and even take a cellar tour.
Table Rock Lake also offers lots of beauty and fun on the water. A favorite spot to visit on the lake? Moonshine Beach State Recreation Area. It's a spacious, sandy stretch of beach that almost feels seashore-esque. There's a boat ramp available here, as well as a visitor center and some nice hiking trails, for anyone who might get bored sunning themselves on the sand or swimming in the clear, blue waters of Table Rock Lake.
If you're looking for a truly unique experience that will take your Branson trip over the edge, book a night at Branson Treehouse Adventures. They have cabins and campsites for RVs and tents, but the treehouses are obviously the way to go here. They're gorgeously designed cabins on stilts that put you among the trees. Some come with swanky bonus features like outdoor showers, jetted tubs, gas fireplaces and private porches. Even to get a cottage with real beds, cable TV, and private bathrooms is a lot comfier than your average night of cabin camping! Stop by the hospitality center in the morning to grab coffee and a pastry before heading out for another day of fun in Branson.
Believe it or not, beaches and lakes and forests with treehouse cabins are just the beginning of the natural wonders in Branson! There's even excitement to be found underground, like at Talking Rocks Cavern. The first man to explore it called it "Fairy Cave," because the crystals and unique geological formations made it look like “a subterranean fairyland.” Today, you can take an hour-long guided tour of Talking Rocks Cavern, which provides a great overview of the history and geology of the cave. Back above ground, you can take part in the other activities offered at the site, like mini-golf, hiking, and gemstone mining.
The Mark Twain National Forest is a sprawling, wild woodland covering about 3,068,800 acres all across southern Missouri. In a lot of ways, this part of the National Forest is where the forests that mark the Eastern United States start to fade into the more desert-y land to the West. Stands of oak-hickory and shortleaf pine give way to open glades of tall prairie grasses. It's a region of shady hollows, rugged hills surrounded by ridgetops and stony slopes, lush pastures and crystal-clear streams. This district is home to the Forest's only three scenic drives: Blue Buck Knob, Glade Top Trail, and (of course) Sugar Camp.
Roaring River State Park is a haven of outdoor recreation nestled in a deep valley in the southwest Ozark hills. The park boasts loads of amenities, like a nature center, developed campgrounds with cabins, even a swimming pool and a conference center, complete with an inn and onsite restaurant. The trout fishing here is renowned, and there are lots of opportunities to hike as well. The Deep Leap Overlook Trail offers a view of a fish hatchery; the Devil's Kitchen Trail leads past caves and rocky outcroppings that were, according to legend, used as hiding places by soldiers during the Civil War; and the Eagle's Nest Trail takes you past an old homestead to one of the highest points in the park.
The Sugar Camp Scenic Byway is 28 miles of pure Ozark beauty. It climbs rolling hills for sweeping views, then winds down into forested valleys and through farms and pastures. Pack a picnic and hop out of the car to bask in the views for a moment at one of the two spots that serve as rest areas: Onyx Cave and Sugar Camp Tower. It's a quick drive that can be done in an hour or two, depending on where and how long you stop, but it's a worthy destination that makes the hustle and bustle of Branson feel a world away.
On your way back into Branson, make one more stop at the Dogwood Canyon Nature Park. The canyon is a jagged, waterfall-and-cave-lined ravine surrounded by forests and meadows (which are home to long-horned cattle, American bison, and elk!). Single-day admission gets you access to all of this beauty, along with the treehouse, an artifacts display, the Nature & Conservation Center, the mill, and the Hickory Ridge Trail. Go for a two-day pass to get additional fun, including the two-hour Wildlife Tram Tour, a pass for catch-and-release trout fishing, access to more trails and discounts on Segway tours and horseback rides.
A drive through Branson and into the forests around it is the perfect way to experience all the city has to offer. Not only will you get a taste for the fun in town, you'll also get to immerse yourself in the Ozarks, which provide the backbone of Branson's distinctive personality.
Banner Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Tequask
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.