What to do in Branson, Missouri on a family vacation? Lots. Even for a travel snob.
Okay, let me start with a confession: I used to be the girl who made fun of people who said they vacationed in Branson, Missouri. Mind you, I hadn’t ever been there. But given that it was the kind of place that mocked on shows like the Simpson’s, it just didn’t seem like a place that would be a fit for my family.
But then I got called out as a family vacation snob. A good friend, who hails from that neck of the woods, told me that Branson, Missouri is actually a lot of fun. He told me of the gorgeous, rolling countryside with plenty of outdoor activities. He mentioned the great shows and entertainment options. He told me about the historic downtown area right on the river. And he mentioned the fabled Biker Church. He hitched up one eyebrow and scolded me, “If I described the same kind of place in France or Germany, you’d be itching to go.”
I couldn’t help but wonder if he might be right about my snobbery. Was I missing out on a great family vacation because of some preconceived notions? I was kind of feeling a little bit ashamed about it. So when Explore Branson and the Branson Airport invited Chet and me to head down and check out the city in honor of its 100th anniversary early this year, I jumped at the chance.
While I don’t know that you’ll ever find a place like Branson, Missouri, well, like, anywhere else in the world, I can say that if you scratch the surface of this loud, sequin-encrusted town, you’ll find a lot of good, old-fashioned family fun. Wondering what to do in Branson on a family vacation? Lots, actually.
1. Silver Dollar City
What to do in Branson with thrill seekers? An amusement park, of course. Who doesn’t love a great amusement park? Silver Dollar City offers thrilling rides with a down-home country flavor. There’s plenty for everyone here. Hit Outlaw Run to get your roller coaster fix. Let the kids run off some steam at Half Dollar Holler, a unique play area with ropes, sand and rides for younger folks. Ride the old time steam engine to get an idea of just how idea this park is. We had great day just walking in this shady, green park, eating funnel cakes and homemade fudge and getting our adrenaline up on the rides.
This is what Branson, Missouri is known for, right? The shows! And there are dozens and dozens to choose from at any given time of year. One of the most popular is Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede. It’s dinner and a show.
While you and the kid take apart a Cornish game hen with your bare hands, you watch a show full of trick riding, dancing and acrobatics loosely based on the Civil War. It’s good, campy fun. We also checked out the New Shanghai Circus. The acrobats were amazing — and it was a lot of fun to watch them practice their feats. But I only mention two shows. My curiosity was also piqued by Three Redneck Tenors– and Chet lobbied hard to see the Legends of Kung Fu. Next time!
3. Get outside!
What to do in Branson with nature lovers? Get out in that gorgeous, rolling green countryside — it’s perfect for hiking, mountain biking or just taking in the view. There are also several lakes in the area (this is the Ozarks, after all) so you can also partake in boating and other water sports. Chet and I had a lovely hike around Table Rock Lake. But for those interested in mountain biking, horseback riding or golf, there’s a little something for you in Branson, Missouri too.
Branson had always been described, to me, as this sort of busy, touristy town. But get a little outside the main drag and you’ll see just what an outdoor paradise it really is.
There are plenty of kid-friendly tourist attractions in Branson. Chet and I decided to stop by the Butterfly Palace and Rainforest Adventure. This fun and informative exhibit offers thousands and thousands of unique butterflies. While you aren’t going to kill more than a couple hours here, it was a nice, relaxing place to check out some butterflies and learn more about rainforests.
5. Historic Downtown Branson
What to do in Branson when you’ve had enough sequins? When the main tourist drag gets to be too much, drive on over to the old historic downtown area. It’s full of kitschy little shops. Chet’s favorite was the penny candy store, which had all kinds of candy that I barely remember. But I also enjoyed checking out Dick’s Old Time 5 & 10. The place is packed to the gills with all kinds of merchandise. You never quite know what you might find there.
After spending a weekend in the Ozarks, I’ll admit that Branson, Missouri was a little bit like what I expected. There is the glitz, the glam, the tourist traps and the over-the-hill stars still trying to pack the hordes into little dinner theaters. But this is a town with much, much more for families. Don’t let your own travel snobbery stop you from checking it out for yourself.