With its plethora of flashy attractions and live shows, Branson has been likened to Sin City — without the sin.
The Missouri mountain town also happens to boast a much better view than Las Vegas, unless you're looking for showgirls.
The Heartland tourist destination sits prettily in the Ozark Mountains, and the stunning Marvel Cave, which Silver Dollar City was built above and around, has been bringing in visitors since 1894. Branson also boasts two beautiful manmade meccas for boating, fishing and other water sports: Table Rock Lake and Lake Taneycomo.
Families eager to explore the great outdoors won't have to go far to find al fresco adventure:
Dogwood Canyon Nature Park: About 45 minutes southwest of Branson in Lampe, 10,000 acres of splendid forests, crystalline waterfalls and mysterious caves have been preserved for woodsy recreation. After hiking and walking the trails as a family, my son Chris, 18, and I took our first Segway rides, zipping after a tour guide up to the Glory Hole, a blue-green pool that's home to some of the preserve's largest trout. Meanwhile, my husband, Patrick, strapped our younger two children — Gabe, 6, and Brenna, 2 1/2 — into a kiddie cart and embarked on a self-guided bike excursion. We reunited for the wildlife tram tour, crossing into Arkansas to roam with herds of elk, bison and Texas longhorns.
Bear Creek Trail Rides: Hearty folks ages 7 and older and 250 pounds or less can saddle up for a fun and scenic jaunt through the Ozark Hills just seven miles north of Branson. The horses are gentle, the guides friendly and the trails rugged but not unmanageable. To my surprise, this was my teenager's favorite part of the whole trip.
Branson Zipline and Canopy Tours: Get a bird's-eye view, a fascinating history lesson and an adrenaline rush with a zipline tour of the wildly lovely Wolfe Creek Preserve, seven miles north of Branson. Zipline participants must weigh between 70 and 250 pounds, so my husband and I traded off zipping with Chris and taking a photo safari walking tour with Gabe and Brenna and knowledgeable nature guide Safari Dan.
Ride the Ducks: If you want to get on the water but don't want to bother with a boat, ride a converted World War II amphibious vehicle through the Branson streets and then splash down for a cruise around Table Rock Lake. (The Lake Taneycomo jaunt opens Memorial Day weekend.) It's a favorite of youngsters, who get to make all the noise they want with their plastic “Quackers” and even pilot the Duck on the water.