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When I told my friends and family we were planning a Branson family vacation for Spring Break, the most common question was, “Where?” I asked if they knew the show Ozark and told them it was filmed in and about that area. They would vaguely nod.
Through a series of unplanned and unfortunate events, our family trip to Branson, MO whittled down from the entire family to just Knox and me. I thought it would be nice to spend time with my 13-year-old son. He thought it would be hell and argued with me the entire way to the airport. But this is not unlike him, so I was hopeful anyway.
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Things To Do In Branson, MO With Kids
Family Fun In Branson Video! (Watch This!)
Pink Jeep Tours Branson
The boys’ favorite way to get to know a new area is through outdoor adventures. Think tours on segways, electric bikes, and speedboats. So, a Pink Jeep tour is perfect for adventurous kids and parents who want to learn about the area they’re visiting.
However, that first day we woke up in Branson, three hours earlier than our normal timezone, Knox was anything but speedy. He begged to stay in bed, and after I exhausted every means of persuasion, I let him.
I met Pink Jeer tour guide Barry and his trainee, Mona, at their downtown Branson office and explained why I wasn’t with the whole family. As we started the tour, I realized we were heading back to the area where our hotel, Chateau on the Lake, stood. It had been about an hour since I left Sleepyhead behind, so I asked if Barry would mind sweeping by and grabbing him. The extra time and the promise of an off-road experience motivated Knox to meet us outside the lobby, so we were off.
History of Branson
The tour we took was called Lakes and Landmarks, and we started by learning the history of Branson. The history of Branson starts with the birth of the Ozarks, also known as the Ozark Mountains, Ozark Highlands, and Ozark Plateau. Why Plateau? It turns out the Ozark Mountains are on a fault line that pushed the mountain rocks along the Ozark Plateau. That explained the horizontal claw marks layered in hues of auburn, cobalt, and gold along the rock walls we’d seen driving through Branson’s mountain roads.
Ruth and Paul Henning Conservation Area
Barry drove us to the Ruth and Paul Henning Conservation Area, its vantage point duplicating the view of what Harold Bell Wright saw when he penned his 1907 classic book, Shepherd of the Hills. The runaway bestseller depicts the area’s idyllic country folk who grappled with common struggles, many of which are still shared today. The book describes landmarks that can still be found within the 1,534-acre land. Enchanted by the area, the Hennings created blockbuster Hollywood shows like The Beverly Hillbillies and Green Acres based on the people around Branson. They donated the land to the state so outdoor enthusiasts could always use it and have it be protected from development.
According to the Ruth and Paul Henning Conservation Area website,
Please note that the gate at the scenic overlook is open from 8:00 AM – 5:30 PM from October 15 – March 15 and 8:00 AM – 7:30 PM from March 16-October 14.
Next, Barry launched waves of water as we raced through a crater-like old quarry that we dropped into from a private road on Baird Mountain. Knox loved it, eyes sharpening inside his fuzzy brain.
Baird Mountain is the highest point in Taney County, and we drove to an overlook, which, at its peak, was 1,234 feet up. We got out to admire the view of still green craggy mountains with tufts of rock poking out.
It was still early in the day, and it appeared the Pink Jeep guides were responsible for hoisting the flag that flew over the scenic point. Barry unfolded a flag and let Knox fix it to a pole. After a few attempts, Knox was able to grab it from the wind and affix it to the cable that he used to raise overhead.
A wooden cabin stood a few feet away from the pole. Barry led us inside and told us a young Herschend man built it. Ron Herschend undertook the challenge for about a year, using the skills he acquired from the craftsmen who worked at his family-owned theme park, Silver Dollar City. He wanted to prove he could build a whole cabin by hand in the same style as the first Branson pioneers. Furniture and items prospectors may have used rest inside. We looked around, imagining what it must have been like for the first people of Branson and admiring the gumption of this talented Herschend.
Table Rock Dam
We’d already driven by Table Rock Dam as I spotted the road leading to it on one of our trips to town from our temporary home at Chateau on the Lake. It’s still a gnarly sight with the controlled release of five thick sheets of water over the steel wall starting 252-feet above us. Waves of wind rocked against our bodies and filled our ears with a dull thud as we stood at the edge of the grassy bank to get a better look at the cascade flowing into the White River.
Tons of activities are available at Table Rock Lake, like fishing, hunting, boating, hiking, and good old-fashioned picnicking. Hearty souls can even camp. Check out the website to see if visitors need day passes for the activity they’d like to do.
Shepard of the Hill Fish Hatchery
There is a trout hatchery below the dam, and we made a passing curtsy as we drove by because we weren’t really into that. Families could visit, though, and I’m sure learn a ton. Most of the trout are released into Lake Taneycomo, where locals and visitors go fishing and boating.
Building hours are Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, 09:00 AM – 05:00 PM
Live Shows In Branson
There are over 120 live shows in Branson, and we got our first taste of how it all began when we got out of our jeep at the end of our memorable and worthwhile Pink Jeef Tour.
Showboat Branson Belle
We could see and admire the Showboat Branson Belle from the strip of land where we stopped about a mile away from White River Landing where the boat is docked.. The Showboat Branson Belle is a white paddle-powered 700-passenger boat used by the Herschel family to bring a bit of showboat history to families visiting Branson. On good weather days, she floats around Table Rock Lake while guests eat a three-course meal inside and watch a live show filled with music, comedy, and high country spirit.
The Herschend family made tons of improvements to the landing and areas around the lake. The Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for most of the operations of rivers and lakes in the area, but the lease agreement the ACE made with Herschend Family Entertainment has allowed the family to steward the land as their own.
Later, Knox and I got to board the Branson Belle, and Knox got to run along its wooden deck, past steam pipes from another century. The price of admission includes a three-course dinner. We ate on long tables situated stadium-style, ensuring great stage visibility. A family-friendly variety show, emceed by a comedian who had a great time poking fun at the audience, which the audience loved. The musical acts performed songs and dances from familiar show tunes and bands through the decades. In between, the comedian would call up audience members to play games while the rest of us roared with raucous laughter. There wasn’t vulgarity, no bad words, and even alcohol wasn’t served for the duration of the two-hour sailing. There really wasn’t any need for any of it, and the kids had as much fun as the adults.
4800 Historic State Hwy. 165 | Branson, MO 65616
General Seating starts at $65 for adults and $38 for kids under 12. Premium dinner is available at Captain’s Club which starts at $95 and $58
When I asked Knox what his favorite show of all the live acts we got to see, he said it was this one. The Hughes Brothers are five brothers who started a singing act and then got married to women who could also sing, who then gave birth to children who could sing. The generations kept growing, and one of the brothers had 11 kids, all performing in the show. Kids and adults performed acts in costume and played all sorts of instruments. It was hard not to smile and laugh and cheer them on. Knox loved it when the younger of the kids would perform on their own, standing so little and brave on the big stage with hundreds of strangers fixated. The whole thing felt lively and good and we could see the love between the families and the support they all gave each other to be able to live and work this way. We highly recommend this show for families of all ages.
3425 West Hwy 76, Branson, MO 65616
Tickets for adults start at $45 and kids 11 and under are free
Astounding aerials, brave balancing acts, and contortionists made my limbs hurt just watching them bend and twist. It was even more amazing when they reshaped into their original form. The whole Shanghai Circus made me wonder how people like them got into this line of work. These performers seemed supernatural. There were many spinning plates on outstretched toes and hoola hoops stacked in impossible formations and jumps that seemed too high for humans to execute. There weren’t any animals, but there was comic relief followed by even the clown exhibiting comic book hero talents. Their incredible skills seemed wasted on performing them solely as entertainment. Maybe the military could recruit them to undergo stealthy, top-secret missions. Until then, they’ll be dazzling families with bright colors and feats unrelatable for most humans.
Mickey Gilley Grand Shanghai Theatre
3455 West 76 Country Blvd.
Branson, Missouri 65616
Tickets start $47 for adults and $25 for kids 2-12 – there are dinner packages too
Dolly Parton’s Stampede
Dolly Parton’s Stampede arena-style cowboy/girl show had a lot of energy. Get there early to check out the horses resting in stalls before the dinner show.
The problem was that the servers had to move fast to feed the hundreds of spectators. They were going so fast that grease from the chicken splashed onto Knox’s brand-new jacket. He had saved up his own money to buy it, so I felt bad for him.
Not to say the riders and horses at the Dixie stampede weren’t talented. They were. They were super upbeat and knew how to ride horses in a way only superheroes did. The music was fun, and the people around us had a good time. It’s a great experience for families who enjoy singing cowboy shows and trick riding.
Super Fun Stuff – Branson Strip, aka Entertainment Row
Just going to say it here so it’s out there. Entertainment Row in Branson is like the kiddie version of the Vegas Strip. Everything is larger than life. Located along Highway 76, folks also refer to it as W 76 Country Blvd. These attractions are so big that they’re impossible to ignore. These are the ones we liked best!
The building that houses the Titanic Museum Attraction is a replica of the actual front quarter of the ship. The sight of this enormous vessel, set in a typical city parking lot, is so overwhelming it doesn’t seem possible that the structure is built only to half-scale. Guests “come onboard” the “ship” on a gangplank, with the museum continuing the passenger illusion deep into its interior. We passed galleys and cabins built to scale with simulated versions of personal possessions sitting in rooms where they would have been placed. The museum stewards $4 million dollars of actual artifacts from the doomed cruise liner. As mind-bending and unbelievable as the entire experience can be, it’s also very sad to think about all that loss.
When a family arrives, a “crew member” from the Titanic gives each guest a boarding pass. The front of this ticket has departure information listing the dates and times passengers boarded the doomed luxury cruise ship. The Titanic made three stops for embarkation: Southampton, England; Cherbourg, France; and Queenstown, Ireland. On the back of each ticket is the name of a passenger who actually sailed – and the story of what brought them on the boat. My ticket bore the name Pieta Ilmakangas, a third-class passenger emigrating with her sister to the United States. She was excited about the trip and the dream of a new life. It wasn’t until the end of our tour, in the Memorial Room, that we would find out the fates of the people whose tickets we bore.
The museum transforms modern-day families into passengers, from the turn of the century boarding the most current form of transportation, and that is the real magic of the experience. Kids can walk the hallways of third class and ascend onto an exact replica of Titanic’s Grand Staircase.
Stand on the bridge and pretend to be steering the ship like Knox did. Imagine suddenly realizing the screeching twist of metal you’re hearing is the sound of death lapping at your toes.
At the end of the tour, we got to put our hands in a bucket of water that, at 28 degrees Celsius, mimicked the temperature of the ocean as the people of Titanic slipped into the water.
In the Memorial Room, I found out my passenger had died. I had held her name through the entire exhibit and I felt heavy that she never got to complete her journey. As we walked back out on the gangplank, I left a bit of my heart on the ship.
3235 W 76 Country Blvd & Hwy 165
Admission for adults is $35 at the box office and $32 online. Kids between 5-12 are $15 and 4 and under are free.
Equally enticing is the Aquarium at the Boardwalk. With a sequined octopus making the top half of the aquarium building its home, kids can tell this ain’t no ordinary aquarium. Imagine squeezing an aquarium into a funhouse.
We’d never visited an aquarium like this. Not only did the Aquarium at the Boardwalk have fish, sharks (also fish but BIG fish), and gelatinous marine animals, but they also had them in fun displays, with some that involved crawling through tube-shaped tanks while yellow, green, and blue sea creatures floated freely living their best lives.
Even though Knox was determined not to have a good time, he said it was the best aquarium he’d ever visited, and we both enjoyed the creativity of the animated displays. The aquarium takes families through 10 types of ocean zones and teaches about each in a unique way. The entire museum is ADA and stroller-friendly, and there aren’t any age limits except for the Submarine Adventure, a 5D ride for those over three years old.
Tickets for those 12+ range between $44.99-$64.99, and kids over three are $19.99-$24.99. There are discounts for locals, those who live around the area, and military personnel. The aquarium has partnered with four other local family attractions to bring what they call a Five’r deal for all five!
Butterfly Palace & Rainforest Adventure
The Butterfly Palace is the perfect place to take a family member who loves animals. Especially beautiful, delicate ones. Thousands of tropical butterflies live in the aviary. Visits include a butterfly feeder shaped like a bright red flower. The visitor wristband is good for three days so younger kids can enjoy the butterflies one day and explore the Banyan Tree Adventure, an area that is designed to look like the dark underground where the roots of the tree hang down, on another. There is also a Living Rainforest Science Center with 25 live residents and an Emerald Forest Mirror Maze.
Three-day wristbands are $26 for adults and $17 for kids 4-14. Kids under 3 are free.
Track Family Fun Parks
The Track Family Fun Parks is a great way to spend a few hours with the kids. There are three locations that have various entertainment options. All have go-kart tracks designed for different ages and an arcade, but some have HIGH-RISE go-karts, mini-golf, bumper cars and bumper boats! There’s even a batting cage.
Knox and I did the Heavy Metal High Rise, a four-story go-cart track, and let me tell you, he may have gone faster than me! There are seven track options throughout the three parks and some are perfect for the rookies in a family that are just four years old!
Beyond The Lens
First of all, we had no idea what this place was supposed to be before we got there. After, we wondered if this place knew either. The outside of Beyond The Lens is a giant camera with equally large banners of words surrounding the lens. The lens is the walkway into the structure.
The building is a compilation of every amusing activity they could think of rolled into one area. Visitors walk from room to room without a clue what they will find because there was no common theme to any of them except it was all super fun. One section was a 2-minute escape room.
Another had virtual reality games. There was a statue of Michael Jackson randomly lying in a glass coffin between rooms.
In other rooms, exhibits focused on the moon landing, JFK’s assassination, and the way we process information.
We had allotted half an hour to this activity, but I couldn’t tear Knox away as he dove into the immersive fun of the rooms. The escape room had us trying to figure out how to connect wires in a way that would prevent a bomb from detonating. We almost made it.
At the end, there is a separately ticked experience called a FlyRide where those who want to hang glide across the United States can do so without the fear of, you know, crashing. We ended up staying for almost two hours to participate in the over 150 diversions and had to run through the last few because our reserved ride time on the FlyRide came faster than we expected.
Tickets for the Beyond the Lens exhibits are $28.99 for adults and $16.99 for kids. FlyRide is $19.99 for adults and $14.99 for kids. Combo tickets are available for $36.99 and $24.99.
Of all the outrageous exterior facades, this may be the most insane. It’s an upside-down house! Families can’t miss Wonderworks as they drive down W 76 Country Blvd!
This was at the top of our list of things to do in Branson when we visited but unfortunately, it was closed when we arrived in Branson due to a mishap with one of their S.T.E.A.M experiments – they have over 100- that encourage kids to have fun while they’re being smart! The story of the upside-down house goes back to Professor Wonder and his tornado experiment in the WonderWorks laboratory in the Bermuda Triangle. Apparently, he lost control of the wind factor, and before he could shut it down, it picked up the lab and dropped it askew in Branson. There are experiments kids could do with space, as in, floating in zero gravity. There are light and sound trials and impossible physics conundrums (though that’s a high bar inside an upside-down structure).
There are six locations across the country so we will try to visit another one soon! Tickets are $31.99 for those 13+, $22.99 for those younger than that, $14.99 for those 60+ and if you happen to be four or younger, you can play for free! There are also VIP bundles with discounts on food.
Downtown Branson and the Branson Landing
One of the best things to do is to walk the main street of Downtown Branson. Knox and I had breakfast at the Farmhouse Restaurant and walked through the historic area. I took him into a five and dime store that had everything imaginable stocked in its rows of shelves.
The whole vibe is so old-fashioned and sweet. Not far is the Branson Landing. Set on the waterfront of Lake Tanneycomo, it has over 100 more modern shops and entertainment options.
What To Do Around Branson
Shepherd of the Hills Adventure Park
Shepherd of the Hills Adventure Park is a miniature amusement park itself. There is a ropes course, a zipline, and the Copperhead Mountain Coaster. We came to ride the mountain coaster and this was a blast. Daredevils sit in a car that’s NOT PERMANENTLY ATTACHED to the rail, meaning it can be removed. There aren’t any cables to keep it in place. It uses gravity to propel riders through the lush forest, dressed in hues of green and dappled with sun. The serene setting almost makes one forget that the car might fly off if it hits the curve too hard. Almost. But I asked a ton of questions, and they told me the young ride operators have actually attempted to get the cars to disengage (of course they have) and have been unsuccessful. Plus, there are nets protecting the deep bends, so that was reassuring.
This area, about an hour from Branson, is like a national park on steroids. Because it is privately owned, it is meticulously maintained, so there are fairytale waterfalls, rivers, and lakes to appreciate on a one-hour tram tour through this curated outdoor experience. There are also plenty of hiking and biking trails. Families could try their luck at trout fishing or take a leisurely horseback ride. Get ready to meet the resident wildlife, bison, deer, and other critters, or at least get a good photo of them.
Eat lunch at the Mill & Canyon Grill Restaurant with waterfall views and a taste of the Ozarks. Last seating is at 2:30 as it closes at 3 pm.
2038 State Hwy 86, Lampe, MO
We spent our final day in Branson, high above it, riding the Branson Ferris Wheel. It was beautiful and bittersweet. Families who love theme parks, outdoor activities, and live music will love Branson. There aren’t many places that are this kid-oriented. Knox had a great time exploring Branson and now has tons of stories about the Ozarks that he can share with friends. Families looking for wholesome fun can easily find a ton in this kid-friendly wonderland.
When You Go
Getting to Branson from Los Angeles
Although Delta, United, and American all fly into Springfield-Branson National Airport, only Allegiant flies non-stop. It’s roughly a 3-hour direct flight. Branson is about 50 miles from the airport, so families will want to rent a car. Luckily, there are rental counters at the airport.
An excellent discount site for flights (and cars, hotels) is Expedia! This is where we start our research for the best deals!
If you’d like to be in the know for exclusive discounts to fly anywhere in the world, check out Going (formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights). Their website shows current deals, and they send emails when they find crazy cheap discounts. Some can even be booked with points.
Where To Stay In Branson, MO
Chateau On The Lake
We stayed at Chateau On The Lake Resort Spa and Convention Center, which our tour guide Mona had confirmed was the nicest hotel in Missouri. Luckily, that doesn’t translate into a hefty room rate. Families will find it affordable. We loved the lobby atrium with tropical foliage spreading through a rock-lined river and a glass elevator that runs to the 10th story (where we stayed). There is a free movie theater playing kid-friendly movies. There is an ice cream shop/convenience center. There are two restaurants and two bars. There are two tennis courts and both an indoor and outdoor pool. There is a sauna, a steam room, and a fitness center. Our room had a gorgeous view of Table Rock Lake.
Big Cedar Lodge
Big Cedar Lodge is a great place to go as your next family vacation headquarters. Besides a meticulously constructed luxury lodge with award-winning dining, the 4,600-acre property is full of outdoor adventures. Built by the founder of the Bass Pro Shops, Johnny Morris, the lodge overlooks Table Rock Lake. Families can choose to stay in the lodge, a cabin or a cottage. There is a golf course, a shooting range, four outdoor and indoor pools, eight restaurants, six bars, and a full-service spa. Oh, there’s a playground for the kids, too.
Hilton Branson Convention Center
The last time I visited Branson was for a convention, so we stayed in the Hilton Branson Convention Center, a downtown hotel that was perfect because it was within walking distance to tons of downhome shops and eateries. It has great views, a restaurant, and a bar. There’s a pool for the kids. Plus, the Branson sign is right outside the front door.
Silver Dollar City Campground
Stay close to everything in a cabin constructed by the craftsmen at Silver Dollar City! Cozy log cabins at Silver Dollar City Campgrounds give families the opportunity to play out their old-fashioned Western dreams. Just don’t turn on that TV! There’s a large outdoor pool and play structures. Plus, they provide free shuttles to local attractions.
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