Sure, Branson is mostly known for its glitzy shows and epic attractions... but the natural Ozark beauty found here is absolutely worth exploring. Rolling hills; winding lakes with coves and nooks where you can swim, fish, and explore to your heart's content; and dark, mysterious caverns filled with history and natural science can all be found around the city. Whether you're lounging on a beach or taking a scenic train ride through the mountains, it's actually hard to escape the lush outdoor beauty here. This guide to the natural wonders of Branson will help you immerse yourself in outdoor adventure!
The Talking Rocks Cavern in Branson West has been enthralling visitors since the early 1920s. This cave is open to everyone, regardless of age. Over the years, the cave was referred to as "Missouri's Most Beautiful Cave,” and as "Fairy Cave,” due to its landscape of sparkling crystals. In fact, one of the cave's first explorers recalled that it resembled "a subterranean fairy land." Open year-round, Talking Rocks also features an on-site gift shop. The cave is a comfortable 62-degrees, and the focus of the guided tour is "edutainment." A crawling maze, several nature trails, picnic areas, and even gemstone mining are also offered.
Marvel Cave is Missouri's deepest cave, a Registered Natural Landmark, and an absolutely mesmerizing natural wonder. Located in the Silver Dollar City theme park, it also boasts the country's largest tour cave entrance room. In fact, the Cathedral Room is the fifth largest in the entire world, at 225 feet wide, 204 feet high, and 411 feet long. The cave entrance room is so huge, in 1963 a guy flew a hot air balloon inside the subterranean chamber. Then in 1994, to celebrate the cave's centennial, FIVE hot air balloons were flown at the same time inside the Cathedral Room.
Today, there are a couple tour experiences offered: One-hour guided tours during the daytime, complete with a cable car ride back to the surface; and Lantern Cave Tours, which take place at night. All electric lights are turned off, so visitors navigate the cave using only hand-held lanterns. During the lantern tours, guides wear period costumes and spend 90 minutes sharing historical tales and folklore. Tours run from March through October, with limited tours in November and December. Children under eight are not allowed on the lantern tours.
Lake Taneycomo is one of the Ozark's most beautiful lakes, and is considered home to some of the world's best trout fishing. Now, some people may say that the Colorado River has the best trout fishing. But, does the Colorado River also have a beautiful mile-long illuminated boardwalk? No. It doesn't. The Taneycomo lakefront features loads of places to dine, shop, and of course, rent boats.
The historic 1905 railroad depot in Branson is only a block away from Lake Taneycomo, and it's an absolutely essential experience. The 40-mile railroad tour is like a ride through history aboard a vintage passenger train. Passing through the Ozark foothills, over bridges and under tunnels, the trip is a romantic journey back in time. The train cars date back to the 1930s and 1960s, and offer either a one-hour and forty-five minute scenic ride or a two-hour four-course dinner by candlelight. Along the route there are opportunities to see wildlife as well as abandoned Ozark towns.
Surrounded by oak and hickory trees, Table Rock Lake is home to 800 miles of pristine shoreline, and is a perfect destination for campers, boaters, and anglers. In fact, it's frequently referred to as one of America's best bass fishing lakes. Today the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers maintains and manages the lake as well as Table Rock Dam. There are thirteen campgrounds, with swimming areas, picnic spots, and boat launches. There are also on-site vendors who rent out watercraft for visitors.
Scenic views of Table Rock and Taneycomo Lakes, waterfalls, and rugged woodland beauty are what make the White River Valley Trail such an amazing outdoor experience. The trail is in Table Rock State Park, and is well-maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Dotted with sycamore trees, this trail also showcases some of the White River Valley's wildlife, from collared lizards to roadrunners and blue herons.
Overlooking the beautiful Ozark Mountains, the Top of the Rock is the highest elevation in Taney County. There is literally something for everyone here, from the world-class Top of the Rock Golf Course, to the mysterious Lost Canyon Cave and Nature Trail, to the End of the Trail All-American Wine Cellar. Plus, there are several delicious places to grab a bite to eat. But it's not only the tourist attractions that make Top of the Rock so appealing. The heritage and culture preserved here make it extra special. Learn the "secrets of the Mighty White River" at the Ancient Ozarks Natural History Museum. Don't miss the gorgeous three-story Chapel of the Ozarks, and if you have time, be sure to see the painstakingly reconstructed Civil War-era Honeymoon Cabin.
Moonshine Beach is the perfect spot to spend the day soaking up the sun or splashing around Table Rock Lake. It's the only sandy swimming beach at Table Rock Lake, and it's pretty expansive, surrounded by oak and hickory trees. Over 5 million visitors spend time at Table Rock Lake every year. There are loads of recreational activities to enjoy, like picnicking, volleyball, boating, swimming, and even scuba diving. In addition, there's a great hiking trail that starts nearby at the Dewey Short Visitor Center. The Table Rock Lakeshore Trail is a two-mile hike especially beautiful in Spring and Autumn, when the trees are just coming into bloom, or the leaves are changing color.
Danna's BBQ and Burgers is a fantastic local, family-owned BBQ joint, that prides itself on always-fresh, homestyle, old-fashioned cooking. There are actually three locations in the area: Branson, Branson West, and Kirbyville. At Danna’s, the pork and beef are smoked between 12-14 hours on local hickory wood. The chicken, ribs, and sausage are smoked for four hours, two times a day. The Smoked Pork Plate is a local favorite.
Filed with natural wonders and off-the-beaten-path adventures, Branson has a little something for everyone. Enjoy a relaxing afternoon at the beach, get out on the water at the lake, or explore the depths of a cave. Whichever adventure you choose, you're sure to make memories!
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.