Marvel Cave And Silver Dollar City: A Cave So Good, It Built A City

by | Mar 30, 2024 | Destinations, Family Adventures, Midwest, Traveling with Teens, USA

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Coming from Los Angeles as a young teen, he thought he was too cool for Branson, Missouri. As a 13-year-old, he actually thinks he’s too cool for most things, but a visit to Silver Dollar City, an internationally awarded 1880s-style theme park, changed that. A bit. This theme park made him realize that there are amusement parks outside the LA empire that are equally as fun as the ones back home. In some ways, the Silver Dollar City theme park is even better. 

Learn what we loved about Silver Dollar City and Marvel Cave – which started it all. Use our visit to find the best things to do with your family and plan the perfect trip to Branson!

 

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Video of Family Trip To Silver Dollar City

History of Marvel Cave

The whole thing started with a deep hole that swallowed boys and bears. The Osage Indians, the original residents of the Ozark Mountains, carved warnings into the trees around the hole to warn wanderers away. This worked for hundreds of years.

Eventually, though, people got curious and found ways to go inside the sinkhole. Early explorers believed that the hole led to caves full of marble, and a company formed around the newly anointed Marble Cave to excavate all that precious rock that unfortunately never materialized. What the miners did find, though, was millions of bats. Bats that flew out punctually during the warmer months, leaving behind the predictable mess that living things leave after they eat. Guano, otherwise known as bat poop, filled the many rooms of the cave.

This was still a good thing because the industrious company that had formed to mine the marble pivoted to focus its energy on the nitrogen-rich guano used to make gunpowder and fertilizer. They earned $700 a ton, which translates to $20,000 per ton in today’s economy.

A real town they named Marmonedes (Greek for marble) sprang up around the hole and thrived until the guano was gone four years later.

The Lynches, a Canadian family,  bought the cave in 1889 and started giving visitors tours, making this natural wonder the longest continually operating tourism attraction in Branson. The Lynche sisters would descend through the sinkhole on a wooden 100-foot ladder into the first section of the renamed Marvel Cave. The drop took them into the Cathedral Room, the largest cave room in the United States. In fact, Marvel Cave is the largest cave in Missouri and the third largest in the United States, and when Scientific America wrote a cover story about it in 1893, it drew more visitors wanting to explore.

 

cave entrance with ladder - Branson Family Vacations

Boy, this is what people did before the internet. Photo Courtesy of Marvel Cave

 

Eventually, the Lynche sisters retired and leased their operation for 99 years to a vacuum salesman named Hugo Herschend and his wife, Mary. Five years later, Hugo Herschend passed away, but Mary and her sons, Jack and Pete, continued to operate the cave. They improved access to the cave by building a ramp to take visitors down and a train to quickly bring them up instead of having to climb and scale their way back.

 

cave entrance with ramps - Branson Family Vacations

The new and improved magnificent cave entrance – © Rina Nehdar

 

How Silver Dollar City Came To Be

People needed something to do while they waited for their turn to tour Marvel Cave. At the opening of the cave entrance, the Herschend family built storefronts that recreated the 18th-century Marmonedes village that once stood there. They brought in musical productions and craftspeople to demonstrate 18th-century skills like glass-blowing and blacksmithing. 

The village grew over the years. The Herschends added other Silver Dollar City attractions like roller coasters, brought in more live performances, and turned the village into a city.

 

Spreading The Word

Silver Dollar City didn’t market the new extension of Marvel Cave. Instead, they gave visitors silver dollars to take back home. When former guests would use these silver dollars to pay for gas or groceries, a conversation would ensue as to the origins of these coins, and the amusement park’s fame grew.

The city created a “mayor” and a newspaper called the Pathfinder, a comprehensive guide where families today could get the rundown of what live shows are available the week they visit, learn what time craft demonstrations are happening, and ride some of the most thrilling coasters in the world. And yes, they could still go down into the much-improved cave with lights and tour guides and hear the story of the hole that built a city.

 

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Touring Marvel Cave Today

The entrance to the cave is now located through the gift shop that visitors pass on their way into Silver Dollar City. Families visiting the old-fashioned theme park could easily tour the cave as they arrive or leave.  Knox and I decided to check out the cave at the end of our day. Tours run every hour and last about that long.

We qued in line, and our guide, Tony, briefed us on what to expect. Cave visitors need to be able to descend stairs and walk on ramps. The ramp has about 600 steps that go down 500 feet into the largest cave entrance in the United States, the Cathedral Room. In 1994, they floated five hot air balloons in the cave to celebrate 100 years of cave tours!!

 

hot air balloons in cave - Branson family vacations

Now that’s a lot of hot air! Photo courtesy of Silver Dollar City

 

Knox got thrown off when Tony told us there were 80,000 bats still living in the cave. He didn’t like the idea of running into any.

 

Tony took us down paths and showed us the various limestone formations while explaining the history of the cave. Stories about the people of the cave are best heard in the place where those people walked.

At the end of the tour, Tony created a crisis, telling us the cable train had been having problems, and boy oh boy, he hoped it could make the 1000-foot ride out of the cave. It was fun, and we all cheered when we arrived back at the gate.

 

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Things To Do In Silver Dollar City Today

I know. I know. All that history is interesting but what’s important to know is the whole point of Silver Dollar City is to honor the history of the Ozark Mountain people. Upon arrival, families will see actors dressed in colorful period garb. Ostentasionally clad women, some in saloon skirts, some dressed as flowers, and men with miniature telescopes on their heads, dressed in suits ready to travel through time. All the buildings are modeled after what one might find in the 1880s.

 

woman in a flower dress and hat - Branson Family Vacations

Pick me! Pick me! © Rina Nehdar

 

How To Plan Your Day At Silver Dollar City

So, what’s there to do in Silver Dollar City today? To plan your day, grab a copy of the Pathfinder from one of the news racks positioned around the “city.” The “city” publishes this newspaper weekly with a full calendar of events. Pick a few demonstrations or live shows and plan your day around those.

Families will have to pace themselves. The park is spread over 100 acres and has a top and bottom level. We didn’t find the bottom section until the end of our visit, so don’t miss it.  There’s a wonderful cinnamon bread bakery there!

 

bakery - Branson family vacations

Finger linkin’ © Rina Nehdar

 

Take the free map at the entrance, which shows where everything is located. There are tons of fun rides, and if families visit during the warm summer months, they can also enjoy Branson’s only outdoor water park, White Water. Summer visitors can also take part in the Southern Gospel Picnic, which features musicians belting out gospel tunes throughout the park.

 

Holiday Season At Silver Dollar City

Sure, summers at the park are fun but fall brings a harvest festival and winter enjoys an award-winning old time Christmas with the park full of colorful Christmas lights. In 2023, for the sixth time in a row, USATodays’s 10Best has named the theme park “Best Theme Park Holiday Event.” 

 

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Silver Dollar City Map

 

Silver Dollar City Map - Branson Family Vacations

Silver Dollar City Map Courtesy of Silver Dollar City

 

Crafts At Silver Dollar City

Bring money because there are 60 shops selling items not easily found outside of Silver Dollar City. Families can watch 100 resident craftsmen demonstrate how they created those souvenirs.

I have to admit my boys aren’t the type to be enthralled by creative arts, but I did get Knox to watch the glass blowers. There is a fascination with seeing glass heated so high that it turns orange and starts to melt. I don’t think up to that point, he had thought about how glass is shaped.

 

men firing glass - Branson Family Vacations

Behind the glass curtain © Rina Nehdar

 

Live Performances at Silver Dollar City

There are 12 stages for live shows. The showtimes and performers can be found in the Pathfinder newspaper or online. The shows change throughout the year as this old-fashioned theme park is dedicated to the seasonal memories that make the holidays so special. 

 

Food At Silver Dollar City

The food is insanely good, so we spent all day stopping and sampling the 18 restaurants, many of which have awards to recognize their value. Most of the items are locally sourced and made in-house by folks dressed in appropriate Western garb.

 

 

Rides At Silver Dollar City

Silver Dollar City has over 40 rides and attractions. I couldn’t wait to take my LA theme park-jaded teen to ride my favorite rollercoaster! Yes, I visited Branson in 2018 when the Time Traveler roller coaster first opened, breaking six records for speed and height.

 

Time Traveler Rollercoaster

The Time Traveler Roller Coaster is the fastest, tallest, and steepest spinning ride in the world. The world! These cars are round, with two people sitting side by side and two more back to back. As the cars speed through the track, inverting and shooting 90 degrees straight down (!), they’re also spinning. Yes. Spinning. So, the ride is never the same twice. Thrillseekers are twirling and seeing the terrified expressions of different people as they all rotate. It’s pretty hilarious if you think feeling like you’re about to die is funny.

Knox couldn’t believe how great it was. Of course, he couldn’t take my word for it when I first told him about it. So, after our first ride on it, he was surprised. Lines weren’t long, so we went again. And again!

 

Time Traveler rollercoaster - Branson family vacations

Ready for a spin? © Rina Nehdar

 

A new ride is coming to Silver Dollar City in 2024. Fire In The Hole, a favorite since 1972, is being replaced with a new version of Fire In The Hole with a $30 million dollar price tag. Can’t wait!

 

Outlaw Run

Outlaw Run is the only wood coaster in the world to twist upside down three times. It drops more than 16 stories at 81 degrees. It’s one of the fastest wooden coasters in the world, clocking in at 68 miles per hour.

 

Powder Keg

Like a rocket ignited by the flammable nitrogen-rich bat guano in the Marvel Cave mining days, the Powder Keg rollercoaster blasts off from 0 to 58 mph as it shoots out of its hold. The ride reaches speeds of 64 mph and has a 110-foot drop.

 

Giant Barn Swing

Swinging from one side to the other and reaching seven stories, riders will feel their stomachs leading the way as they dip and then soar. Don’t forget to open your eyes when you’re at the top—the view is fantastic!

Other rollercoasters are Thuderation and WildFire. Wildfire has five inversions, a 15-story vertical drop, and speeds that reach 66 mph!

 

Things To Do For Younger Kids At Silver Dollar City

This theme park is very wholesome and family-centered. There are many rides that will thrill the little ones, but not too much. Over 20 rides will appeal specifically to the toddler and young kid sets. There’s even an 1880s reconstructed school and church to explore!

 

Grand Exposition

A great rollercoaster on training wheels, this ride will thrill the very young and the very old. It tops out at 20 miles per hour over the 20-foot course. Woohoo!

 

Silver Dollar City Seasonal Hours

The fun has to stop, unfortunately, for all these actors and craftspeople to rest and take a break from the cold. The park closes its doors until March after Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Check the opening hours here, but know that they vary depending on the season and weather.

 

Silver Dollar City Tickets

There are limited special offers for the western hemisphere’s best theme park, Silver Dollar City. Check out discount tickets on their website, to better plan your visit. Also, season pass holders get extra perks like discounts on food and merchandise and even reduced admission to the Showboat Branson Belle. Plus, they can bring friends with them for free throughout the year.

There are one-day and multi-day tickets that start at $89 for those 12-64. It costs $10 less for those older and younger plus kids three and younger are free.

 

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.

To save time (and because we travel so much), we got an annual travel insurance policy for the whole family from this site. They have affordable policies for individual trips too and tools to make picking one easy.

 

Where To Stay Near Silver Dollar City

Chateau On The Lake

We stayed at Chateau On The Lake Resort Spa and Convention Center, which our Pink Jeer 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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