Branson may be known for its live entertainment and flashy attractions, but don’t overlook the abundance of outdoor adventures that await you in southwest Missouri if you decide to venture away from the water parks and roller coasters of downtown Branson.
State parks, fantastic caverns, cool lakes, and loads of accessible hiking trails in the Ozark Mountains are easy to find just minutes away from the downtown action. Here are 10 exciting ways to spend time outdoors with your family during your Branson vacation.
Outdoor Attractions Near Branson, MO
These 10 outdoor attractions are miles away from the extravagance of the fountains at Branson Landing, but make time to experience them during your trip. You’ll be glad your family had a chance to get back to nature!
1. Table Rock State Park
Outdoor activities abound at Table Rock State Park. Boating, biking, hiking, swimming, and camping are popular activities in the park, and you can rent everything from a ski boat to a paddle board at the park’s marina, too. Head out on a rugged mountain bike trail or opt for a more leisurely ride along a paved bike path. Pitch a tent, set up your RV along the lakeshore, or reserve a yurt for one-of-a-kind accommodations. If you left your bike at home, there are plenty of rental outfitters in the Branson area.
2. Talking Rocks Cavern
A beautiful glittering backdrop of crystals sets the scene for an unforgettable caving experience at Talking Rocks Cavern once known as “Fairy Cave” due to its otherworldly appearance. Today, visitors explore the cave with knowledgeable guides who offer insights and education about its unique geology. Talking Rocks is a vertical cave with stairs that descend into the cavern, so it may not be right for everyone.
Back on the surface, you can pan for gemstones, play mini-golf, break open a geode, or let the kids burn off some energy at the play area.
3. Moonshine Beach
With 800 miles of shoreline, there are many places to access the crystal clear waters of Table Rock Lake. One of the most popular is Moonshine Beach, where you can swim, sunbathe, picnic, and enjoy a day of fun in the sun. Moonshine Beach is a large sandy area where you’ll find plenty of space to spread out. There are also picnic areas and campsites, which are handicapped accessible. Access the beach via the Dewey Short Visitor Center Recreation Area.
Pro Tip: If you want to swim away from the crowds and boat traffic, head to the Beaver area in the southwest section of the lake.
4. Marvel Cave
The original Branson attraction, Marvel Cave has welcomed visitors since 1894. Today, the cave’s entrance is located inside Silver Dollar City theme park, and a guided tour of the cave is included with park admission. Tours leave every 30 minutes and last about an hour.
Keep in mind that the cave probably isn’t a good option for people with mobility impairments or health issues. Marvel Cave includes nearly 600 stairs and requires visitors to do a lot of stooping and crouching.
5. Butterfly Palace and Rainforest Adventure
Discover live tropical butterflies, birds, and exotic botanicals at the Butterfly Palace in Branson. Stroll through the aviary and enjoy your time among thousands of rare butterflies. Visit the Living Rainforest Center and find poison dart frogs, giant cockroaches, and brightly colored salamanders. Explore the Emerald Forest Mirror Maze and make your way through the interactive Banyan Tree Adventure, where a tangled web of vines, rocks, and pillars create a tricky labyrinth to traverse.
6. Lakeside Forest Wilderness Area
Situated in the middle of Branson, Lakeside Forest Wilderness Area encompasses 140 acres of wooded hills. More than five miles of trails wind through the forest and along the bluffs. You can access Lake Taneycomo via a stone staircase that leads to a waterfall and cave. Take a few minutes to relax on a covered porch swing while overlooking the lake below. You’ll also find a playground and pavilion near the entrance to the park off of Fall Creek Road, south of Highway 76.
7. Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery
Located six miles south of Branson near Table Rock Lake Dam, Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery is responsible for stocking most of the rainbow and brown trout in Lake Taneycomo. Up to 400,000 pounds of trout are produced each year at the hatchery! Along with seeing the trout pens, you’ll find loads of free things to do at the hatchery, including a nature center, hiking trails, picnic areas, and a boat landing.
8. Branson Scenic Railway
Chug through the foothills of the Ozark Mountains on a vintage passenger train car. The nearly two-hour Branson Scenic Railway excursion travels through tunnels, over trestles, and past ghost towns. There’s no assigned seating on the trains so you can explore the cars, including the Silver Lake car that offers concessions. A dinner train is offered between April and October. Be sure to make reservations early for this popular activity!
9. White River Balds Natural Area
Explore one of the unique landforms of the central United States at the White River Balds Natural Area. You’ll find dolomite glades, called balds, that take up entire hillsides throughout the steep terrain of the White River basin. Showy wildflowers bloom throughout the year, and some of the smoke trees are at least 300 years old. Animals more common to Oklahoma and Texas can be found here, too. For example, you might encounter an eastern collared lizard or a greater roadrunner. Access is through the Ruth and Paul Henning Conservation Area Scenic Overlook parking lot. A mile-long trail takes you through the area.
10. Lost Canyon Cave and Nature Trail
Ride an electric cart on a 2.5-mile trail to the Lost Canyon Cave. You’ll end up at a huge underground waterfall surrounded by viewing platforms. If you get thirsty, stop by the subterranean Bat Bar for a refreshing glass of lemonade.