What do you think about bringing together 4 sisters, their parents, their grandparents, their husbands and boyfriends, their husbands and boyfriend’s families, and their kids all under one roof? It sounds a little bizarre, but it is exactly what you can expect from our family. Last year I planned the best trip ever to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. This year was my sister Anna’s turn…a HUGE family vacation to the Ozarks of Branson, Missouri. Check out all the places we visited (with recommendations and tips), and be sure to watch our family vacation vlog to see the chaos ensue!
For those of us that arrived early, we stayed a few days in the downtown Branson Stone Castle Hotel and Conference Center. That place was huge and clean, but decorated oddly. The continental breakfast was really good, and they had two pools. The location was in the thick of downtown, convenient for activities but a hassle to go out anywhere. I would give it a 4/5.
We rented a huge cabin for the entire week, The Deer Pass Lodge. Truly the best part of vacation is the time we all spend together eating dinner and playing card games until bedtime. It is super important to our family to stay under one roof, even if there are twenty of us! We loved this place because it had a separate bedroom for every family, and most of them had their own bathroom. It was not cleaned the best, but the lake view from the back deck was unbelievable! We enjoyed the fact that it was out of town; Although that meant a farther drive for activities, it also meant tourist traffic was not annoying us on the daily. Overall, I would recommend the lodge, giving it a 4/5.
Our aunt and uncle exclusively travel by RV. They stayed at the Branson KOA. It was also out of town, well maintained, quiet and had a GREAT pool and waterslide for the kids to play. They also had a playground and offered a pontoon, kayak and paddle board to rent.
The Jackson Cash Showroom: This show is so worth it for any Johnny Cash fan…and it is free! Jackson Cash, the stage name of the impersonator, was spot on with mannerisms, raspy voice, and hospitality. While “June” took more of a backseat in the show, their duets were beautiful and engaging; even my toddlers loved them. They pass around a bucket for donations, but they even offer free hats and CDs! In fact, some of us went back again just to see the different songs. And my Porter finally knows the lyrics to the song he was named after… “Hey Porter!”. 5/5
Ruth and Paul Henning Conservation Area and Trail: The environmentalist in me craves nature, especially after a couple days in the car. We got right to the Conservation Area and parked with a beautiful view. Off to the left, we entered the trail head. With toddlers walking along, we only did part of the Glade and Streamside trails, about 1.5 miles total. We enjoyed the stunning mountainous views with Branson in the background. However, when we got home, Cambri and I both had ticks on us…so be sure to check yourself. 4/5
Branson Scenic Railway: What better way to explore the Ozarks than a train view with an emcee? My first time ever on a train was nice, and the staff was beyond friendly and accommodating…especially for my handicapped grandfather and crazy kids. I was bummed the speakers were not louder, because I could not hear a lot of the information given. It was super cool to walk from car to car, and they even served reasonably priced food aboard. Crossing into Arkansas was unique, as I didn’t realize how close to Arkansas we really were. Finally, the train comes to a stop so we can get a panoramic view of the Ozarks. I was less than impressed, however. The view was pretty and definitely panoramic, but it was mostly of a cow pasture. Then the train goes in reverse and takes you right back to where you started. I wouldn’t say this is a must-do. 3/5
Curling Vine Winery: This free wine tasting was great, even complete with sparkling juice for the kids. Our family’s favorites were the Perfect Red, Bubba’s Red, and Twisted Blackberry. So of course, we all bundled together to save when you buy at least 6 bottles. The staff was personable and knowledgable, although they didn’t offer tours. 4.5/5
Branson Landing: An outdoor mall with boardwalk, live music, and display boats made for the perfect spot for our “scavenger hunt.” We took some ridiculous pictures wearing other people’s hats and playing in the kids area, all while bonding with our family. Scavenger hunts might be my favorite way to start a family vacation. Branson Landing also has lots of good shopping, if that is your thing. 5/5
Bigfoot Fun Park Farm Tour: The Bigfoot Fun Park is set up downtown and has lots of different options. We wanted to do some sort of tour, so opted for the Highland Cows Farm Tour. We spent $80 for Matt, Me and the Kids, loaded up on a tour bus, drove on the highway for 15 minutes and arrived at the farm. The scenery was beautiful. The tour guide was educational and definitely loves the cows. We got to feed them right out of the windows, and one even bit Roxanne’s finger (of course this would only happen to Roxanne). We spent 30 minutes driving through the farm, seeing some fluffy baby cows but missing the wild turkeys. Then we spent the last 15 minutes of the hour long tour driving back to town. In hindsight, even with the kids, I wish we would have done the more adventurous Bigfoot Discovery Expedition. I thought $80 was way overpriced just to feed cows for 30 minutes, which we could do anywhere, not just in the Ozarks. 2/5
Ancient Ozarks Natural History Museum: Maybe the highlight of the trip, this beautiful Museum shows the development of the Ozarks, starting with beautifully preserved animal skeletons from thousands of years ago. It explores the Native American Heritage, English influence and brings you to the Ozarks of today. My only regret on this day was that we didn’t get the combination ticket for the golf cart tour of Top of the Rock. The museum got a little long for the kids, but the adults could have stayed in there forever. The building has beautiful views, a gift shop and restaurants if you are hungry. You do need to pay $10 just to enter the Big Cedar Lodge Property, but you also get a $5 voucher for an activity, like the museum. 5/5
Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery: This was free, super educational and very entertaining for the kids. We watched an 8 minute movie about the conservation efforts the hatchery is involved in, explored the live snakes and turtles on exhibit, listened as an employee gave a tour, and finally got to see the fish! They had “candy” dispensers filled with fish pellets for 25 cents. There was just so much to learn and see here, even for the small building. 5/5
Dewey Short Visitor Center: On the way out of the Fish Hatchery, we stopped by the Visitor Center. It sat right on the water, so again, beautiful views. They had a kids room that was set up really nice; the highlight was the outdoor dangers matching card game, complete with pictures of black widows, rattlesnakes and poison ivy. They also had some taxidermy animals, a brief history of the Indians, and a boat for kids to play in. This museum was more hands on, so better for the kids, but not as thoroughly put together as the Ancient History Museum. 4/5
Silver Dollar City: The attraction was only a mile from our house. Aside from the obvious rides, they showcase the absolutely stunning Marvel Cave, a cavern which inspired the creation of the entire park. They also featured shows that happened often, so you could see them all. Although they have a water park, most people in our group chose the Amusement Park. There were rides for all ages, a nice splash pad and good prices on merchandise. 4.5/5
Moonshine Beach: You can’t just visit the Ozarks without actually going to one of the many lakes! Situated on Table Rock Lake, we had the best time at this beautiful beach. We live near the ocean, so we were pleased this lake obviously doesn’t have sharks, jellyfish, or huge waves. The sand felt so good underneath our toes, and the water was calm enough for the kids to actually swim. I almost forgot how nice it is to be out on the lake, and this one had crystal clear water. There are showers and bathrooms, too. 5/5
Enjoy our Vacation Vlog here:
Overall Branson Impression:
It goes without saying that lots of tourist destinations have become just that…traps of overpriced activities (often the same from town to town), crowded streets, and chain restaurants. It was easy to get sidetracked in the mess of Branson and forget about the beauty of the nature around us. If I did it again, I would be sure to choose somewhere less touristy in the Ozarks so I could really appreciate the wilderness. I was less than impressed when I realized a lot of the attractions were the same as Pigeon Forge from last year’s trip…Dollywood Stampede, a theme park, wax museum, titanic museum, country music shows, mini golf, zip lining, zoo, etc. When I go on vacation, I really want to immerse myself in the local culture and not silly, expensive activities I can do in every city I visit. Overall, I felt Branson was too focused on making profits off of tourists than showcasing the natural beauty of the Ozarks. Thank goodness we spent the week with our family. This trip will be a lasting memory because of all the fun games, loud laughs, and being able to experience someplace new with our family by our side. They always make every trip worth it.